Malaysia

Claiming back the future — Walter Chui

JULY 16 — I stayed at home during the 2007 Bersih march out of indifference and fear for my own safety and that of my family’s. This time round, I wanted to take a stand and be counted out of conviction that it is only through clean and fair elections that the ballot box has meaning.

Speaking to friends and acquaintances further strengthened my resolve that this is a just cause worth supporting, come what may. My family was not in total agreement and was genuinely concerned for my well-being.

I attended the Bersih 2.0 launch at KLCAH and was further convinced that it will be the turning point in our country’s history when people of all ages and ethnic background unite to stand up for justice and fairness. No amount of rumour mongering and rabble rousing by extremists was going to deter me from participating in the walk on July 9.

As with thousands of others, I started my journey early on the morning of July 9 and found a way to bypass the police roadblocks by driving through the side roads to get to the Kelana Jaya LRT station. There, I met up with a friend to begin our journey into the city.

We got to KL Sentral and were careful not to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves. As much as I wanted to wear my yellow Bersih T-shirt, I decided that it would not be wise to be provocative and a walk is a walk, whatever colour shirt I was wearing.

We got to Brickfields and found a noodle stall where we enjoyed a bowl of hot curry mee. We then proceeded to Old Town Coffee opposite the YMCA for a cold drink and waited for a couple other friends to join us.

Looking around, I saw many people, young and old, in threes and fours.. Each had a back pack and it became obvious that they were there waiting for the right moment to begin the walk.

While waiting, I heard the police car siren and saw a police truck pass by carrying a few people who had been arrested. I didn’t know the reasons as some of them were not in yellow and I surmised that they might have made known their intentions too early and were easy targets when they were few in number. I anticipated that when the right moment came, the participants would get up from their seats and start the walk.

True enough, at about 12.30pm and as if on cue, people began to gather their things and soon began the sojourn to Merdeka Stadium. We took the side roads again to avoid unnecessary confrontations with the police. 

Along the way, there were police cars and roadblocks but none of them attempted to stop us, as there were so many of us.

The poignant moment for me was when we got to the bridge near the railway station. I looked ahead and saw a large crowd of people coming from different directions, walking in single file and all converging towards the Syed Putra roundabout to walk towards Stadium Merdeka.

There were people of different ages and ethnic groups coming together as one Malaysia. At that moment, it didn’t matter whether we were Malays, Indians, Chinese, Ibans or Kadazans. We were one in spirit and purpose to stand against tyranny and oppression.

For a moment, there was hope in the air as it became obvious that the human spirit that had been shackled for so long was breaking free at last. The police stood by quite helplessly as there was little they could do in the sea of people who were consumed with such passion and determination to have their voices heard.

The road to Stadium Merdeka was blocked and we just followed the crowd to walk towards Puduraya. It was peaceful and there was excitement as we witnessed history in the making. The subsequent use of water cannons and tear gas did not dampen the spirit of the people.

I lent my voice to the shouts of “Hidup Bersih” and “Hidup Rakyat.” Even as the Bersih 2.0 leaders were arrested, others rose from the ranks of the crowd to take their place in leading the chants and co-ordinating the movements. It was truly a people’s movement as there were politicians in our midst but they were not leading the cheering.

It was the first time I had experienced being tear gassed and had to run to escape from the barrage of more tear gas canisters fired by the FRU. Mine was a little inconvenience compared to others who had to endure much more, including arrests and beatings.

They were the unsung heroes of the day. As if to convey its approval, the heavens opened and poured out showers of blessings and the heavy rain helped to neutralise the effects of the tear gas.

It was a momentous occasion and one that we can look back as a real turning point in our country’s history when we decide to take back our future for the next generation. Hidup rakyat.

 

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