What Malaysians want
KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Where shall I start? From beginning? The ending? The conclusion? Everyone has their side of the story and mine is just a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Maybe in the end, the jigsaw puzzle will be solved by somebody.
I received a call from my brother, Ikbal, at 5.30am. “I think we should move now. People are gathering. I heard there are more than 10,000 people now in Dataran!” he told me in a high-spirited voice. “Pick me up at 6am. I need to take a bath and pray my Subuh first” I replied. So I rose from my bed and took a bath. After preparing all of the stuff needed for the rally, I put a Bersih T-shirt in my bag. I did not wear the yellow shirt yet fearing the cops would catch me upon arriving at the station as what happened during Bersih 2.0 last year. Before I finished my cup of Milo for breakfast, my brother had arrived. I told him, I need to pray first, and I told him to wait for me. “No time! You can pray at Kelana Jaya LRT station. I heard they will close the LRT station!” So I left my cup of Milo, and went to my brother’s car. We then arrived at my mother’s house and waited for my younger brother Fazlan, who was still in the house, preparing. “ Did you bring the salt as well?” Ikbal asked Fazlan as soon as he stepped inside the car. “Yes, I put it in a small plastic bag,” Fazlan replied. “But I didn’t manage to find any earplugs. Maybe this cotton wool can help.” Then Ikbal drove the car towards Kelana Jaya LRT station, taking the LDP route. There were no roadblocks. The traffic was smooth.
We arrived at Kelana Jaya LRT station around 6.45am. After Ikbal parked his car, we saw a young Chinese guy wearing a yellow Bersih T-shirt. “Look at that Chinese guy. He is not afraid to wear yellow. Why we are?” I asked my brothers. “Hahaha, that is because he is not ‘penakut’ like us!” my brothers replied. We then got on the escalator and were very surprised to see so many people in yellow shirts in the LRT station! “Ahh… everyone not afraid! Why should we be? Let’s wear our yellow T-shirts now!” So I went to the surau at the LRT station and performed my Subuh prayers. Then I changed to Bersih’s yellow T-shirt with its Bersih logo and tagline “Duduk Bantah” in front and eight demands of Bersih at the back. We then bumped into my brother’s friend: a Malay guy who came with his Chinese girlfriend. I can’t recall his name but this guy is a hardcore supporter judging from his hatred towards the government when he started to talk.
We arrived at Pasar Seni LRT station at 8am. One of the gathering points of the pre-rally was Pasar Seni, or Central Market, but at that time, the area seemed to be quite empty. There were a few dozen people in yellow mingling about. We then decided to have breakfast at the mamak in front of Central Market. In the restaurant, already packed with customers, there were some guys in blue uniform, Rapid bus drivers, and a few Bersih supporters.
“The crowd is at Jalan Tun Perak. Maybe we need to head there since there aren’t many people here,” I told Ikbal.
“Yup, we need to go with the crowd to stay safe,” Ikbal replied.
We proceeded to walk through Central Market heading to Jalan Tun Perak via the HSBC building. After we had arrived at the junction of HSBC, we realised a few dozen policemen had already condoned off the area. Our path was blocked.
“Never mind, we gather at Jalan Sultan, the other meeting point,” I told my brother. We then walk along Petaling Street and were very relieved to see crowds already building up in that area. Most of the crowd were youngsters. Around 20-30 years old. There were old women and children singing the Bersih song. Some were taking photos of each other. Some were distributing Bersih pamphlets and yellow ribbons. It was a festive atmosphere and very peaceful at around 11am. The crowd then moved to Jalan Sultan where a bigger crowd had already gathered. One medical unit booth was visible at the corner shop house. We also were given free mineral water distributed by a supporter from one lorry. A row of policemen in blue uniform also divided the crowd in Jalan Sultan from their counterparts in Jalan Petaling.
Then, at 12pm the crowd moved towards Jalan Silang and joined up with another crowd at Pudu near Menara Maybank. The crowd was huge. It was the biggest I have ever seen since September 21, 1998 — the Reformasi rally at Masjid Negara. Everyone was singing the Bersih song — the ole-ole football kind — and “Negara Ku” while others were chanting “Reformasi” and “Hidup Rakyat”. My brothers and I went to Menara Maybank to get a better view of the crowd. On the left was the Pudu Bus Station; on the right heading to Jalan Tun Perak was a sea of people in yellow. Massive! Then around 12.30pm, the crowd led by Unit Amal Pas, wearing red shirts, moved towards Jalan Tun Perak heading Dataran Merdeka.
This was the epicentre of the rally. It was so packed you couldn’t even walk properly. It was like taking a commuter train at rush hour. I could see a truly multi-racial Malaysian crowd who were peaceful. I also saw a few university students wearing purdah — to cover their faces. I managed to reach the end of Jalan Tun Perak, where the barbwire was located. The end of the crowd was at the DBKL water sculpture near Bank Negara. The crowd at Jalan Raja Laut ended at the KWSP building while the Jalan TAR crowd ended at Coliseum Café. From there, the crowd towards Pudu was endless. It was too huge! Here I saw Adam Adli, Safwan Anang, Mahfuz Omar and a few opposition leaders give their speeches. The loudhailer couldn’t be heard by most of the crowd as it was too huge and noisy.
At around 2 pm, I could see that the FRU were preparing to fire tear gas. They had already made the formation — thanks to my Reformasi experience years ago. I asked one uncle standing beside me:
“Uncle, do you think that they will fire the tear gas?”
“No, I don’t think so. Look at the crowd. It’s like sardines. If they fire, there will be a stampede. Many people may die,” he replied.
“But looking at their formation, it’s like they are preparing for it?” I said.
“No lah! Can’t be. If people die, the government’s situation will be much worse,” came the reply.
I decided it would be safer if I left that location. I called my brothers to find out where they were. Due to the noise, I couldn’t hear what my brother was saying on the phone. He then sent me a SMS.
“We are at Masjid Jamek. Nurul Izzah, Ambiga giving speech in a jeep,” my brother texted me.
How on earth would I make my way through the crowd? I then walked along Jalan Raja Laut, took Jalan TAR to the right and walked behind Jalan Masjid India. Restaurants along Jalan Masjid India were full with Bersih supporters having lunch. Who said that they were not making money! Then, I saw the jeep carying Ambiga, Nurul Izzah, Lim Kit Siang, Chegu Bard and a few opposition figures right in front of the Masjid Jamek LRT station.
“Today is our day! Nobody can take it from us!” Ambiga told the crowd. She then told them to disperse. Surprisingly, at this time, all communication started to breakdown. I couldn’t reach my brothers on the phone. SMSes failed to be sent. This was due to the frequency jammers that were used for the first time in a Malaysian rally. You might have seen the photo of the pick-up truck with an antenna on Facebook. This is one of the reasons why the crowd failed to disperse. Then the people started cheering very loudly. At around 2.30pm, I went to Masjid Jamek to perform my Zohor prayers. The mosque was full of Bersih supporters. Some were praying, others were just lying down, and some were even sleeping — maybe they were too tired because of the heat.
After that, the crowds looked like it was moving towards Dataran. “Did they manage to get into Dataran?,” I wondered. I was at Jalan Tun Perak between Masjid Jamek and Dataran. At around 3pm, I saw white gas near the intersection right in front of the barbwire. The fumes were so powerful. The crowd started to jeer at the cops. Some shouted abusive words. The crowd then retreated towards Pudu. The retreat moved at a snail’s pace — because it was so packed. Some were pushing, others fell down. Some fainted. It not only affected your eyes, and throat, but your movement as well. I felt like I was losing energy. Then I retrieved the towel from my bag to cover my face and nose. Then I saw a Malay girl sharing salt with others while telling them to put some on their tongue. I took some of the salt and put it on my tongue and surprisingly, I felt re-energised. Upon reaching Masjid Jamek LRT Station, I saw a very touching drama unfold.
“They are shutting the station!” I heard somebody shout. Some already managed to get inside the station and were heading towards the LRT platform. At this time, the gas fumes had already reached the station. Shouldn’t this crowd have been allowed on to the platform in order to disperse via train? What was reason behind the closure of the station? Then suddenly, the gate of the LRT came down, not unlike the scene in “Titanic” where they closed the lift door to prevent Jack and Rose from entering.
“Open you stupid! Tear gas is here!” I heard people shouting at the LRT officer.
We can’t. We have to close. We have received the instruction” the officer replied.
Then the crowd chanted “BUKA! BUKA!” but the officer did nothing.
I then ran behind the HSBC building heading towards Central Market. Then another round of tear gas was fired at Masjid Jamek. I picked up pace. Then at Jalan Medan Pasar, another round. Upon reaching Central Market, a few more rounds of tear gas were fired from the bridge in front of the Bar Council. Followed by the water cannon. People were dispersing, but police still fired tear gas.
I then reached the Pasar Seni LRT station. I saw from where I stood, tear gas being fired at the bridge near Central Market that is connected to Dayabumi. People were clearly trapped. Some even jumped off the bridge! I got on the escalator at the LRT station. There were two roller-shutters at this station. One was already closed. At this time, another round of tear gas was fired at the Central Market area. The fumes reached the LRT station and everyone panicked! Again, the other door started to close.
“Don’t close! It’s tear gas! Let us pass through!” I told the officer closing the shutter.
“There are too many! We have to clear this first. We have to close!” he told me.
I had no choice. The door was half-closed. I just ran at it and managed to get inside. So many people panicked, it was chaos. You had to buy a ticket at the machine in a situation where you were enveloped by tear gas fumes. The queue was too long. I have to salute the woman officer at the Pasar Seni station who made an announcement. She told us to just go to the platform without a token and pay at the exit.
So I reached safety at last. I tried to call my brothers. This was around 3.30pm. I couldn’t get through. SMS had also failed. I waited on that platform until around 4pm, before I finally received an SMS from my brother.
“Fazlan and Aca already at Times Square. I’m trapped at Jalan Masjid India. See u at Kelana Jaya LRT station,” the SMS received at 4.10pm said. I was relieved my brothers were safe. We met at Kelana Jaya LRT station at around 6pm and reached home by 7pm.
The next morning, I went to 7-Eleven to see the mainstream media headlines: “Bersih is violent,” “ Bersih kotor dan ganas” and so on and so forth. Well, I was at ground zero from seven in the morning. If we had wanted to be violent, we had ample time to do so — but we no such thing. Two hundred and fifty thousand brave Malaysian joined the largest rally in the country’s history to ask for one thing: free and fair elections. Is that so difficult to understand?
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.