At the Kedai Kopi

October 29th, 1998

You have always made your stand that Reformasi has gone beyond Anwar Ibrahim, that it is about justice and freedom. But is that the same with the rest of the people out there? How many of them are marching for the same reasons as you?

There are certainly many Anwar Ibrahim supporters in the Reformasi movement. There are also many PAS members. There are many people with no political affiliations or liking for Anwar Ibrahim. I did not attempt a survey poll on Jalan TAR - I was too busy avoiding being drenched by acid rain.

Not only are these gatherings proving unproductive, but they are becoming more violent.

It is not the demonstrators who are becoming more violent - it is the police who are becoming more violent. Remember my account of the October 10th rally? There were even more people on Jalan TAR that day and much, much fewer police - and the whole demonstration was peaceful. Some idiots even carried the Chief of Police on their shoulders and shouted "Hidup Police!"

Is the aim of the reformation to change the government?

Yes. We want a government that truly respects our rights to free speech and assembly, defends the institutions of our democracy and repeals oppressive and unjust laws. This government doesn't.

Is the aim to free Anwar?

If Anwar is proven innocent by a fair trial and a truly independent court, according to due process - he must be freed. If he isn't, he must rot in jail like any other criminal.

But is he, or any of us who gets on the wrong side of Mahathir, going to get a fair trial and a truly independent court, according to due process?

Is the aim to topple Mahathir or make him change?

If he can change for the better, Alhamdulillah! But I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you .......

Are you speaking for the majority?

I speak for myself and many friends I know who share my views. Anybody who thinks and says he speaks for 'the majority' is a fool. And a lot of those people in the silent majority just don't want to be so silent anymore.

I'm sure there are many people out there who support some of the changes demanded by the reformation. But at this moment in time I do not want to have any change in Government! I do not see anybody more capable than Dr Mahathir to handle our country at this present moment, but that is just my personal opinion.

That is your opinion. And my personal opinion is that I do not want him to use the excuse of a economic downturn to turn my country into a police state and use our money to bail out his friends and family.

Our country is in such a precarious situation now with the economy in shambles and we certainly don't need any more trouble. Why can't we all exercise Patience and if the situation worsens, then the next general election would be the right time to voice out.

Imagine the economic crisis takes a turn for the worse. The government decides that it needs money to revive the economy and decides to freeze all EPF and SOCSO withdrawals and increase income tax by 500% to kickstart the economy again. Or imagine you are Chinese and some crazy lunatic in the Cabinet decides that the best way to promote the national language is to ban the use of Mandarin.

Are you then going to tell me "Why can't we all exercise Patience and if the situation worsens, then the next general election would be the right time to voice out?" You may want to - but I sure as hell ain't. I'm not saying those things will happen - but the principle of a true democracy is that if things like that do happen - you don't have to wait for another four or five years to make things right.

Does it occur to you that there may be other Reformists who have differing opinions from yours? What is reformation is all about? Do all the people gathering out there have the same objectives?

Read Anwar's Permatang Pauh Declaration of Septmber 12th. If there's anything that all the different shades of Reformists have in common, it is this.

We all have different shades of opinions. We would all be stupid sheep if we didn't. Unfortunately, that's how the government and the local media regard the Malaysian people.

If Anwar is not the issue, then why are there still posters of Anwar out there and why are they shouting for his release on the streets?

No one can deny that it was Anwar's sacking that lit the spark. I must confess that when I first heard of Anwar's sacking, I was shocked - but relatively unmoved. Like many people, I thought this was coming and it is an internal UMNO affair - let them sort it out themselves. If there was one thing that first pushed me squarely into the Reformasi camp, it was this hate journalism and pronographic reporting that followed the sacking. Ensuing events - the detentions, the famous black-eye, the mass public outrage, the brutal beating of demonstrators - simply entrenched my feelings that powerful men were making a mockery of the institutions of freedom, justice and democracy which our founding fathers worked so hard to build.

Anwar Ibrahim is a symbol, a rallying point for a leaderless and unorganised outpouring of dissatisfaction and dissent. But the struggle has gone well beyond the fate of that one man.

But aren't these demonstrations organised by people who just want violence on the streets to bring down the government?

I talked to some of these people on the streets. They're not hardened criminals or anarchists or revolutionaries. There were marketing execs, teachers, postmen, housewives - the kind of people you'd meet in your office or at a party. They have as much stake in guarding their rice-bowl and the economy as you have. None of the people I met had met any of these mysterious 'organisers' you talked about. Why did they come? They just hoped against hope that other Malaysians who were as frustrated as they were would be there too. All other avenues for venting their concern and anger at what has been happening to this country have been denied them - a fair media, public forums, independent-minded elected representatives - what else can they do?

These people are convinced that our democracy is in danger - they could take the abuses before, but what happened over these past two months was just too much for them to stomach. They believed they were being made fools of by those in power. They love their country and they believe this situation must change. These people have a deep conviction in that belief. They had the guts and courage to face well-armed, well-protected policemen - risking life and limb - because of that conviction. They were attacked by batons, acid, tear-gas, punches, kicks, for just standing there and being counted with other concerned Malaysians.

Is anyone speaking out and being heard during all the gatherings? Are any issues being addressed by the gatherings?

How about the issue of freedom of assembly, as enshrined under the Constitution under Section 10 (1) (b) ... "all citizens have the right to assemble peacably and without arms " ? You do remember the Constitution don't you - that document that guaranttes other petty issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, education, equality and citizenship.

Is PAS taking advantage of Reformasi? Is DAP taking advantage of the situation? Are outside countries taking advantage of them in ensuring Malaysia remain depressed? Are the Reformists being being made fools of by these people?

No more than the so-called 'patriots' are being made fools of by UMNO, Daim, Halim Saad and Renong, Mirzan Mahathir and the others. You read the garbage in our papers today and you ask yourself - who are the ones being made fools of?

I do love my country very much. I have seen the "good" of our system compared with many others so called developed nations - they have their "bad" side too. Ask the Australians if they are fair towards the Aborigines? Australia also needs reforms too.

Why do people like you always compare our country with other countries? Maybe if you were living in Burma, you'd be saying "but, gee, isn't it better than living in North Korea." Our country is our responsibility - if Australians need reforms, let them do it themselves. If you're so satisfied with things the way they are in Malaysia, so be it - I'm not going to beat you over the head with a baton for thinking that. I feel our country can be a much more beautiful place.

While admitting that the draconian ISA is unjust, we do need it. BUT with sufficient checks to prevent abuses.

Our Sonia's father was arrested under the ISA this month and released after one day - this was a record time in ISA history. A mistake? Where were your so-called 'checks' then? In a landmark appeal case this month, an ex-military man Guracharan Singh won an unlawful detention suit for losses suffered during his unjust detention from Oct 31, 1991, till Feb 5, 1993 under ISA. The court awarded him the princely sum of RM 1 for losing three years of his life. Where were your so-called 'checks' then?

Does sitting in my armchair at home make me a coward? Does marching in the streets make people heroes?

Sitting in an armchair doesn't make you a coward. I know dozens of people who believe as deeply in Reformasi as I do, but they would never go to a demonstration. They wouldn't even discuss it with people they don't know personally.

Who are the cowards? They are the ones who order well-armed, well-protected policemen to assault and beat unarmed, peaceful men, women and children.

You're also not a hero just because you march on the street. I certainly am no hero. But I believe some of the people I saw on the streets were heroes. Like the guy who pleaded with the policeman beating the boy who picked up that flyer on the ground - he risked a beating himself and got arrested for his trouble. That was a hero. Or last week in front of Masjid Negara, there was this guy who saw an old lady trip and an FRU officer beat her repeatedly with a cane. He ran to her and covered her so that he got the beatings instead. Now, that was a hero.

These people showed courage and care for others - attributes any Malaysian should be proud of - no matter what side of the political fence you are on.

You Reformists have other available avenues - like the media and the courts - to voice your dissent. Why the street demos?

The reason so many people are angry now is that see those avenues are rapidly being blocked off by FRU and water cannon. Even a die-hard UMNO supporter will agree the government has the media by the balls. Try writing a letter to the press criticising the police handling of the demonstrators. Or asking the government why the investigation on Anwar's beating is still not complete, but a comprehensive police report of the Kg Baru 'riots' was already with Mahathir in Langkawi on the very same day? Ask the few hundred middle-class PJ residents at the ISA Forum last Saturday - they were in a hall, sitting down, behaving themselves, listening to people speaking - only to be driven out of the hall in the middle of it and being greeted by FRU outside. Ask *them* if there is freedom of speech.

I must admit, there is some freedom of assembly - if 150 people hold a demo outside the Philippine embassy supporting the government, or another 50 people demo in Kg Baru supporting the government.

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