KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 ― Despite all the buzz surrounding the “red shirt” rally organised by a little-known silat movement, the September 16 street demonstration is likely to fail given the lack of traction among the more vocal and established Malay groups, analysts said.
Political pundits contacted by Malay Mail Online pointed out that while some Umno leaders and lesser known Malay groups have pledged support for the rally touted as an avenue for the race to defend their dignity and counter the purportedly Chinese dominated Bersih 4 protest, those that usually champion racial rights like Perkasa and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) have been quick to distance themselves ― at least in active support of it.
“I think people know the rally is a reactionary rally, it is not organised for a proper cause, it is completely reactionary to another rally,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, referring to last month’s Bersih 4 rally.
“When you have a rally which campaigns and backs calls for electoral reform, then there is a cause. The ‘red shirts’ rally is going to be held at locations which can turn out to be provocative… and people are clever enough to know whether a rally is about an honest cause,” he added.
Promotional posters and representatives of the “red shirt” rally organiser ― said to be a Malay martial arts movement ― have said the rally will be held at several points in the capital city’s Golden Triangle commercial business district, such as Bukit Bintang, Low Yat Plaza and Petaling Street, which they claim to be controlled by the ethnic Chinese.
Dr Lim Teck Ghee of the Centre for Policy Initiatives said that groups like Perkasa and Isma have probably distanced themselves from endorsing the “red shirt” rally for fear of being equated with an event that will likely be viewed as “fascistic” and “ultra-nationalistic.”
“The red shirts rally is clearly an overreaction to the Bersih rally. It will hurt the groups endorsing it rather than be add to their stature or support.
“Perhaps most important of all, a counter rally with such a vague and amorphous objective, to restore or recover Malay dignity and to directly link it with condemnation of the Bersih rally, will look bad for any group wanting to participate,” he told Malay Mail Online.
University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director James Chin believes that the upcoming rally is an excuse to divert attention away from Umno's internal problems as well as issues surrounding Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“Some people think it will be an excuse to trigger a mini-1969 riot so that press spotlight can be taken away from Najib.
“The anti-Bersih and anti-Chinese thing is just a cover for internal Umno problems,” the political scientist told Malay Mail Online.
The September 16 rally, named Himpunan Maruah Melayu or alternately Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu, is purportedly organised by Malay martial arts movement called Persekutuan Silat Kebangsaan Malaysia (Pesaka).
Proponents for the Malaysia Day rally have asked Malays to wear “red” on that day and gather at various points in the city, including Padang Merbok and outside the former city jailhouse in Pudu before beginning their march to the “Chinese-dominated” areas.
Umno Sungai Besar division chief Datuk Jamal Md Yunos, who has been acting as spokesman for Pesaka, has said that the organiser is hoping for a turnout of 300,000 with the aid of 500 Malay groups.
Yesterday, Jamal said the “red shirt” rally will also be a chance to teach the ethnic Chinese whom they claimed to have been “brainwashed” by the opposition DAP to turn out in mass numbers for the Bersih 4 rally, a lesson not to be rude to Malay leaders.
The 34-hour Bersih 4 rally on August 29 and 30, was organised by polls reform group Bersih 2.0, which demanded the federal government take responsibility for the current political instability and economic downturn by carrying out institutional reforms.
Other Malay leaders, including Umno veterans like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, have also weighted in on the issue and insisted there was nothing racial about the Bersih 4 protest.
The police have said that the September 16 rally will not be permitted to proceed due to “security” concerns, but the event continues to receive unofficial support from Umno leaders.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said his party does not endorse the “red shirt” rally but added that members could join in unofficially as it is a “free country”.