Jul 4, 2011

Democracy, Freedom And The Malaysian Summer

Bullets and government repression might have stalled the youthful push for an Arab Spring, but  the Arab Spring has now  led to a Malaysian summer here in Southeast Asia and the heat and humidity is leaving many here thirsting for freedom and democratic reform.

In 2007 then-Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi brought the calls for reform to an abrupt end using the old tried and true methods of repressing the media and then quelling the peaceful  protesters with chemical-laced water cannons and teargas.    It's questionable whether such old-school tactics will work this time and quite possibly they could backfire.

Not unlike their Arab counterparts, Tech-savy Malaysians have taken to the internet to spread their message of civil resistance using social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to organize, communicate, and raise awareness in the face of traditional government attempts at repression and media censorship.

Seemingly oblivious to the sociopolitical changes and technology advances being employed,  the authorities in Malaysia have in recent weeks detained over 100 people for supporting a political rally in Kuala Lumpur by wearing yellow T-shirts blazoned with the words "Bersih 2.0" - "Bersih" is the Malaysian word for "Clean".  - In response, Malaysians have taken to Facebook and Twitter urging their supporters to defiantly don the yellow t-shirts.

Sorry No Yellow T-Shirts
The opposition political parties and NGOs that operate under the "Bersih 2.0" banner are demanding more honest elections. They are campaigning for measures to ensure that each person votes only once, the removal of fraudulent names from electoral rolls and an end to gerrymandering of constituencies to benefit the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO). All are reasonable requests that would boost political competition.    Instead of responding to the substance of these demands, UMNO has chosen to intimidate  and threaten those who make them. 

Malaysian officials have declared the rally illegal because, they say, the participants are trying to overthrow the government.   Authorities have warned people not to attend with the police threatening to use everything at their disposal to prevent the rally from taking place.

In 2007, the social media was in it's infancy as was the widespread use of internet enabled devices.  This time around the revolution wont just be televised it will be on Facebook and Twitter as it happens and the world will be watching.

Prime Minister Najib Razak should be welcoming democratic reform rather suppressing it or Malaysians  might come the conclusion that the government cares more about retaining power than it does the country's well-being.

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