We really didn’t start the fire
MONDAY, MAY 07, 2012 - 15:45
by Lee Yew Men,
a former newsman and now advises a government agency.
BARDOT, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev, Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez ... Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again, Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, Punk rock, Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline, Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russian’s in Afghanistan ... We didn’t start the fire; it was always burning, since the world’s been turning ..
Billy Joel’s classic We Didn’t Start The Fire, released in 1989. It’s a commentary on events and the various conflicts and turmoil during his lifetime, at age 40 then. Malaysia too, never had more politically-charged events and queries about the administration packed in such a short period as that of postgeneral election 2008.
My second daughter, 21-year old Jun-Elle and I went to show support for the “free and fair elections” sit-in. We were dropped at the far end of Jalan Loke Yew (Jalan Sungei Besi roundabout) by her mum. Then a brisk walk towards Jalan Maharajalela, turned into Jalan Hang Tuah and Jalan Hang Jebat, with the sole intention of reaching Merdeka Stadium (the proposed venue of the authorities).
There was no activity, so we trudged down to Jalan Petaling and decided to check out the situation nearer to Dataran Merdeka.
Upon reaching Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, we saw a sea of yellow, with a sprinkling of green, approaching us from the Central Market vicinity. It was 1.24pm. We reached Jalan Tun Perak and the marching stalled one traffic light away from Jalan Raja (the road along Dataran Merdeka). That was as far as we could reach by 2.18pm.
Massive crowd. From our side of this assembly, it was a truly Malaysian gathering for some carnival of sorts. Some wore determined looks but mostly have the “glad to be there”. I am also reminded of the Wesak Day night procession along Burmah Road in Penang when I was kid. In some spots, there were Malay speakers expounding political messages, mostly ending with “Hancur ... something or other”. When someone shouts “Bersih”, the marchers echoed but the “Hancur” shouts didn’t catch on. Nope, the crowd were not there to confront but to make a statement!
The attendees looked no different from those queuing outside cineplexes or at any air conditioned workplace. There were many young women and some not so young. They held toilet brushes and other cleaning utensils and a few home-made placards. I didn’t notice any signs of political party affiliations. It was very hot and humid. I could only marvel at the exuberance.
By 3.03pm messages trickled in that the “sit-in” was over. We walked back using the Central Market route, hoping to cut across Dayabumi to reach the Royal Lake Club. We were stopped along the Klang River by police personnel, so we turned back towards Brickfields. My wife Annette who was in Penang for an assignment called at 3.31pm to inform that her parents; Andrew and Mabel were gassed 10 minutes earlier.
They were at the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman side. They didn’t break through any barricade. They were a few hundred metres away. Both are in their 70s.
Jun-Elle and I were home just after 4pm.
By now many of us would have read various first-hand accounts from news portals and blogs. The three core takes; the fantastic camaraderie among the various communities, the police highhandedness, and that they will definitely attend the next gathering.
Bersih 2.0 indicated an emerging third force from civil society. Bersih 3.0 left no doubt of this phenomenon. For now, it could be just confined to the cities and larger townships ...
Pakatan Rakyat has been quick to support Bersih and consequently identified with civil society’s anguish and anxiousness. Of course PR thought there are political points to score. I can only wonder why the BN did not demonstrate similar anxieties. Surely, they can’t disagree with all the eight points nor think the Election Commission has already overstretched itself?
I have only read of Bersih/Datuk S. Ambiga being made use by PR and so on. If indeed Ambiga and her committee are not sufficiently savvy, it is unexplainable that the numbers kept increasing with each Bersih rally. Hence, these remarks sound to me more like being unhappy because civil society is reacting wrongly. I would focus on listening to this third force, as it is their right to react whichever way, rather than getting riled by PR’s “making use” or “taking advantage” of Bersih programmes. The former naturally leads to “winning hearts and minds” while the latter usually promotes unproductive retaliation.
What say Datuk Abdul Rahman Dhalan and Khairy Jamaluddin, Umno MPs, who were a delight to watch and listen to during this paper’s two Spark the Debate events with DAP’s Tony Pua, and Ambiga respectively? It was a wonderful “worthy adversaries” experience.
If civil society seeks a twoparty system, it must be equally desirous that these two parties be “worthy adversaries” so that they play by the same rules.
ISA, UUCA, PPPA, EC, NFC, IPCMC, MACC, SJKC, PKFZee. I can’t take it anymore ... I didn’t start the fire. It was always burning, since my world’s been turning, I didn’t light the fire. No, I didn’t light it. And I’m trying to fight it.
If I were the PM, this could very well be my lyrics.