The Spark Is Lit

September 20th, 1998

I just got back from Dataran Merdeka.

I'm bad with numbers - so I can't tell you if it was 100,000 people. It certainly was very easily in the tens of thousands. Also pretty difficult to tell when the whole stretch of the road from Dataran Merdeka to the National Mosque was an ocean of people, they were spilling into the side streets, and in the mosque compund, in the nearby Pusat Islam compound.

They had apparently been told to move from Dataran Merdeka, so the crowd proceeded to the compound of the National Mosque facing Pusat Islam. To their credit, the police kept a low profile, and the crowds behaved peacefully. It was a mixed bag - families, students, yuppies - of all races, though the majority was Malay. Though it was hear-warming to see this 60-year old Chinese pensioner standing next to me punching his fist into the air and shouting "Reformasi!" - who says it is only the young who want change?

Dato' Seri Anwar arrived about 4:30 pm to deafening cries of "Reformasi". They didn't have a proper P.A. system, so he had to use a loud-hailer. He played the fiery orator to the hilt - but the person who won me heart-and-soul was Datin Seri Wan Azizah. She was tower of strength by his side - and when she spoke it was electric - she had all the passion of a woman who's husband had been wronged and the calm determination of the righteous confronting the full forces of darkeness.

There was a moment of tension when someone shouted that there was a TV3 crew around, and a few rowdies pelted them with empty drink packets momentarily to shouts of "Penipu!" "Anjing!"... I, unfortunately, had a Coke bottle, and I didn't want to hurt anyone accidentally :) But Dato Seri ordered them to calm down, quipping "Let them do their job ... I definitely know that particular crew secretly supports me!"

The crowd proceeded to Dataran Merdeka after that - no one could stop them now, there was a virtual sea of people. From the stage of Dataran Merdeka, Datin Seri Wan Azizah again spoke, delivering the Pledge of September 20th, and she was even more electric than at the mosque. The crowd was then asked to disperse peacefully.

I think we are seeing a real leader come out from the wings - they say real character emerges and the best comes out of people during adversity - whatever happens to Anwar, Datin Seri has my unreserved vote. Definitely First Lady material, maybe even first woman PM material too!

Today's rally was also, personally, a nostalgic experience. 24 years ago in 1974, I was a young punk going to what was then the Selangor Library (behind the Selangor Club) to do some mugging for my LCE exams. I walked down towards the Selangor Club Padang only to see hundreds of young people running towards me being pursued by FRU troopers. It was the 1974 student demonstrations against poverty in Baling. Tear gas canisters were exploding around me, batons were waving, some kids had blood on their clothes. I was caught in the wave of people running for sanctuary in the National Mosque - but they were pursued even there. FRU with batons and shields strutting in their boots in a National Mosque that choked of tear gas is a something I will never forget in all my life - it changed me forever. A few days later, a young ABIM kid Anwar Ibrahim delivered a speech at Bukit Kerinchi to the protesting students - I was there too. Today, my apartment block rests on that very spot where he talked to them.

How things have changed - and not changed.

Some hours after this was written and posted over the Internet, police and demonstrators clashed just outside the residence of the Prime Minister. Anwar Ibrahim was arrested that evening and detained without trial under the ISA. He was not to be seen until many days later at his first court appearance, with an injured eye

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