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ATimes: More Malaysians ready to rock the boat
By Anil Netto

7/3/2001 9:09 am Wed

[Kaum Cina selama ini kurang menyerlah dalam memprotes tindakkan kerajaan BN di jalanraya. Tetapi isu SRJK Cina dan Plaza Tol menyaksikan mereka sudah tidak selesa lagi kepada kerajaan BN yang langsung tidak mahu bertolak bertolak ansur. Kehadiran kaum lain seperti melayu untuk berdemo bersama-sama dalam isu ini pasti membuat BN tidak dapat tidur lena. Rakyat berbilang bangsa sudah jemu dengan sidang parlimen yang asyik lengang dan kosong serta tidak berbincang hal yang sepatutnya. Mereka sudah tiada pilihan lain melainkan berada di atas jalanraya. Bukan salah mereka tetapi salah menteri-menteri yang semuanya dipilih khas oleh Mahathir juga. - Editor]

Source: Asia Times

6th March 2001


More Malaysians ready to rock the boat

By Anil Netto

Some 500 Malaysians with lighted candles gathered to protest against a government decision on March 2. But for observers accustomed to Malay anti-government protests in recent months, the gathering looked somewhat different.

For one thing, it was not a reformasi demonstration. The protest was organized by an "SOS committee" trying to save a school; the crowd sang songs and held lighted candles, the flickering flames bathing the school walls with a warm glow. The candlelight vigil was followed by a jumble sale of fresh vegetables and cut flowers to supporters. Oh, and the crowd was largely ethnic Chinese.

The vigil to save the Damansara Chinese vernacular school in Kuala Lumpur appears to reflect a new trend. While Malay dissatisfaction has been apparent through regular reformasi demonstrations since September 1998, observers have noted that many non-Malays have tended to remain on the sidelines. But in recent weeks, more non-Malay groups appear to be asserting their rights and taking a stand on specific issues while remaining non-partisan. This is in contrast to their previous passive attitude and reluctance to rock the boat.

The Damansara school case is without doubt a case of defiance against officialdom and has drawn national attention. Parents of 67 pupils are holding out against an Education Ministry decision to close the Chinese school and relocate them to the Puay Chai (II) Chinese vernacular school farther away while a new school at nearby Tropicana is built. Although 95 percent of the children have already relocated, the remaining 67 are staying put. The parents insist that these 67 will study in makeshift classrooms near a temple in their area until the ministry reverses its decision and reopens the school. Education Minister Musa Mohamed said in Kuala Lumpur on March 2 that the decision to close the school was final and would not be reviewed. "We have made up our minds and our stand on the matter remains unchanged," he declared.

But the parents have other ideas. One parent was reported in the Sun newspaper as saying, "We all have no problem waiting. The message is that we want our school back."

The SOS committee is the latest such body to be formed. When rent control was lifted last year in the historical Chinese enclave in Georgetown, the capital of northern Penang state, the largely ethnic Chinese low-income tenants were put in a fix. With rental payments soaring and alternative affordable housing scarce, the residents banded together to form a group called "SOS Penang". The group has lobbied the Penang state government to look into their plight and its initiatives have put the tenants' plight in the spotlight.

In another display of residents' power, in Kuala Lumpur 17 resident associations representing more than 60,000 households met eight members of parliament and state assembly representatives on February 28 to protest an impending toll imposition on a highway that runs through their area. The associations have pointed out that the highway was built over an old toll-free road in their neighborhood. Most of the highway's cost, they have argued, was incurred elsewhere and they are therefore pushing for a lower toll rate at the Sprint-Damansara link toll plaza in their neighborhood. A news report showed a picture of a group of Chinese members of the Petaling Jaya Residents Action Committee displaying "No Toll" car stickers for the press.

In nearby Shah Alam, the capital of central Selangor state, the Roman Catholic archbishop filed an application on February 9 for judicial review in the High Court to challenge the Selangor state's decision to withdraw its approval for the construction of a church and community hall. The controversy over the on-off approvals for the proposed church and alternative sites offered to the church goes back a long way. A report in the March 4 edition of The Herald, a fortnightly church newspaper, said the Catholic community in Shah Alam has been waiting for more than 10 years for its own church and would be put to unnecessary hardship in having to wait for an indefinite period for a church to be built.

"Having been twice relocated for no satisfactory reason, there is every likelihood that the site would be relocated from time to time without any church ever being constructed," said the Herald report.

While non-Malay groups are resorting to their own initiatives to resolve disputes and highlight grievances, the Malaysian Chinese Association, the No 2 party in the ruling coalition, has been rocked by a rift among its top leaders. That adds to the woes facing the main party in the coalition, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), already trying to stem eroding Malay support over alleged abuse of power and the leadership's treatment of jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

On Saturday evening, a large crowd of opposition supporters thronged Jitra in northern Kedah, the home state of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, to mark the end of a weeklong fair to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opposition Islamic party (PAS). Also at the rally was the president of the National Justice Party (Keadilan), Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Anwar's wife. The AP wire service estimated the crowd at "more than 25,000". That's telling and analysts say such rallies are making the government jittery.

Said a foreigner working in Malaysia: "From reading the newspapers here, I get the sense that they are referring to something between the lines, but I can't quite place my finger on it."

That lingering "something" - erosion of support for Umno and the lack of economic reforms - could perhaps explain why the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange remains in the doldrums despite rosy GDP figures for 2000.

Ruling coalition politicians are now warning the people that the opposition is planning more demonstrations to "topple" the government. This, they argue, is undemocratic and would jeopardize the nation's stability. "If the people really want to throw out this government, they can do so in the elections," said Mahathir, in power for 20 years.

The problem with that is the next election is only due in 2004. And given the disquiet among sections of the population, three years is an awfully long time in Malaysian politics.