January 22nd, 2013 by Hafiz Noor Shams
A lot have been said about the opposition rally in Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur on January 12. Pro-Barisan Nasional individuals and groups are either downplaying it or claiming that it is a flop. That harks back to the pre-2008 era of denial that ultimately proved disastrous for Barisan Nasional. They can close their eyes at their own expense. On the other hands, many pro-Pakatan Rakyat are overemphasizing the importance of the rally.
The rally was big and pro-BN groups can say whatever they like. Overwhelming sources of independent origins will lead to the conclusion that the rally was big. The thousands who took similar photos cannot lie at the same time. These are the days of social media but BN-controlled and friendly media are still operating as if the masses do not have access to the internet.
Some spins work because its truth cannot be ascertained. Others do not because it can be decisively disproved. BN operatives tend to find themselves in the latter group.
I find these individuals and groups have zero credibility, much like Utusan Malaysia and TV3, which has been sued too many times and lost too many times. The proceeding of the cases is enough to damn Utusan, never mind the eventual judgment. How does one react to things like “I don’t have enough time to proofread or fact checking”? I can only conclude that they maintain low standard of journalism or even decency.
On the other end of the spectrum in the camp of Pakatan Rakyat is one of self-aggrandizing. According to them, the rally is historic, a watershed, the opening of a new Malaysia, the retelling of Malaysian history (by virtue of having the rally in Stadium Merdeka where the independence of Malaya was first celebrated) and among many other outrageous claims, the rise of the people.
The rise of the people… maybe these people just watched Les Misérables and got carried away by it. I know, rally such as this can lift up the spirit. I remember during the 2012 Bersih sit-in, I sang “Do You Hear the People Sing?” to myself as I packed up my stuff to go into the city. It was exciting and I am sure the attendees of the January 12 rally felt the same as I did. Yet, the living in the moment and looking stuff from a macro perspective are two different matters.
Beyond songs, the word people is problematic since it is very likely that the electorate is split right in the middle. If the people describes only half of the whole, what does that make of the other half? I have been critical of this kind of rhetoric only in the past, it was BN that liked to use it. They still do it. These days, PR is committing it as well.
The main point of all this is that I think Malaysia has one too many rallies already. This is not saying that we should prevent rally from taking place. No. I personally am suffering from protest-fatigue because large opposition protest is the new normal these days.
The adjective historic should be used when something new and big happened, like when Bersih made its impacts initially. But big rallies are not new. What differ from rally to rally are only insignificant aspects.
And this is the not the first time a peaceful assembly has been held within a stadium. The stadium in Kelana Jaya had one although that was smaller than the one of January 12.
Like I said, the new normal. There is finally a compromise between the two camps, despite the heaty exchange. And that is not new anymore.
As for the retelling of history and the subversion of narrative that UMNO had dominated in the past, again, the January 12 crowd neither started it nor enhanced it. All Anwar Ibrahim did was that he shouted “Merdeka” at Stadium Merdeka. Mere symbolism and too many attach too much meaning into such mere gesture. And Anwar Ibrahim is a man of grand gimmicks. Have we not gone wiser over the years?
It is only everyday politics. The wider repercussion, well, here we are, in a new normal. The new normal maybe historic, but the rally itself is not. It is a speck of a wider trend. To describe the January 12 rally as historic is to debase the very meaning of the word historic. It is an exaggeration.
What was historic was the beginning of the new normal. We are already well into the new normal. The next historic moment may be the next general election, depending on the results.