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There has been some discussion recently about whether street protests are appropriate. It comes after the bar council organised a march to protest interference in the judiciary and renewed calls by others to protest rising food prices.  

Many in power appear wary of street protests and demonstrations. The way the police acted to prevent the bar council’s recent march – as peaceful and dignified a protest as ever there was – just shows how uneasy they are about allowing citizens to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful protest.  

They invoke many reasons to justify their opposition to street protests. Demonstrations, they say, are unMalaysian; citizens can have their say through the ballot box. But we have seen time and again how the will of the people through the ballot box are nullified by money politics, by MPs who jump parties if the price is right and by backdoor governments. Parliament itself has become increasingly toothless especially when we have a speaker who is quick to shut off debate on important issues. 

They also say that street protests create instability which in turn drives away investors and undermines the economy. It is a sophistic argument at best. What really undermines investor confidence is corruption, religious extremism and abuse of power. Those who are concerned with the investment climate would do well to focus on these issues rather than taking aim at citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights.

The other thing that is worth noting is that some of the same people who are quick to condemn public demonstrations are not averse to promoting it themselves when it suits their interests. It is no secret, for example, that many of the demonstrations that took place during the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration were engineered by certain political figures intent on discrediting the PH government. 

Malaysia has, in fact, a rich history of public dissent and protest. Indeed, modern Malaysia would not exist in its present form if not for the massive protests against the Malayan Union proposal. UMNO itself grew out of that protest movement.

And then there were those mammoth Bersih protests that shook the establishment to the core. Far from being a black mark on our nation’s history, it was one of our finest hours. It awakened citizens to their collective responsibility to protect our democracy. In the end, it brought down one of the most corrupt governments in the world. 

Now many are thinking that it is time to take to the streets again – this time to protest rising food prices. Their angst is understandable. Our politicians are clueless. They have shown themselves utterly corrupt, self-serving and disinterested in the plight of the people. They and their cronies reward themselves with higher and higher renumeration packages and then turn around and tell the people who pay their salaries to grow their own vegetables or take a second job. They rake in billions and throw peanuts at the poor. 

Nothing exemplifies their utter disdain for the plight of the people than the incredibly asinine suggestion that floods could be turned into a tourism opportunity. Thousands of people have lost everything and their lives have been upended and this member of the privileged elite who has never known a hard day in his life since entering politics has the audacity to add salt to their wounds.

So, if disaffected citizens want to peacefully demonstrate to express their unhappiness over rising prices, they should go for it. It is their democratic right.  It’s time the leeches who pass for leaders feel the wrath of unhappy citizens. With elections looming, it could become another tipping point. 

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 27th June 2022]