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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 ― After genuine belief that their lives could be improved by joining the controversial #Merah169 rally, the sense of pride and optimism among the many poor urban Malay youths who took part in that movement is now fading.
Less than two months after the controversial gathering here in the capital city, ostensibly to uphold Malay dignity in the face of Chinese insults, the angst that drove them to proudly don the movement's colours has found a new and ironic source ― #Merah169's own backer, Umno.
“My family was upset about the toll hike. My mom only sells kuih and my dad has little income. Can you imagine what the increase will do to our expenses?
“And who did this? It’s the Umno government… it's a Malay party,” Alif Fikri, who was interviewed by Malay Mail Online in a special report on urban Malay racism, said when met last week.
Like other urban Malay youths who took to the streets on September 16, Alif believed that much of the economic hardship that he and his family endure was caused by the oft-claimed Chinese domination of the economy.
But that view has since changed just three weeks after the writer spoke to him; the catalyst to the reversal of Alif's anti-Chinese conviction is the rise in living costs brought about by Putrajaya's announcements of intracity toll rate increases in the Klang Valley.
“My father was infuriated. My mom looked saddened. The increase is definitely going to shoot prices up. How can a government of Umno people say they want to help the Malays, but do this?
“And what did the #Merah169 organisers do? Did they even speak up?” the 20 year-old unemployed graduate lamented.
Two weeks ago, Putrajaya announced that tolls at highways operated by 11 concessionnaires in the Klang Valley would be raised between 20 sen and RM3.
The reception to the increase was naturally hostile as the announcement came amid inflation concerns triggered by ringgit's sharp drop and a new consumption tax introduced in April.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak subsequenly announced a raft of “people-friendly” measures in Budget 2016 for the lower-income group, including a RM50 to RM100 increase in the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) cash handout programme.
“RM50 increase? What do you expect to do with RM50? Less than half a day it’s gone.
“You take the AKLEH toll alone you pay RM5 a day. In 10 days you'll finish up that RM50 and you still have 20 more days left from the month,” noted 21-year-old Adeng, who lives in Cheras and frequently uses the Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway for work.
Like Alif, he also joined the #Merah169 rally out of belief that the reasons behind the Malay's economic plight is the claimed Chinese control of the economy. But that has since changed, he admitted.
“I'm not too sure anymore. On one side, people are saying it’s the Chinese’s fault. But when you look at it carefully, the prime minister is Malay. His deputy is Malay. This government is Malay (controlled). It's not the Chinese who decided to increase the tolls,” he said.
In the Malay Mail Online report on October 12 delving into what drove youths to join #Merah169, Yin Shao Loong, executive director of PKR-linked think tank Institut Rakyat, said he believed that most poor Malays who resented the ethnic Chinese were systematically trained by the ruling party to blame their problems on the minority community instead of the policy makers.
“Grouses about being poor are legitimate. They are also victims of economic structure… poorer Malays primarily consume government-controlled media sources which shape their perceptions,” he said.
Another youth who joined the so-called “Red Shirt” pro-government rally admitted that he no longer believed in #Merah169 as a genuine movement to help the Malays, but saw it as a facade created by politicians for personal gains.
“If they really want to help us speak up against GST. Against the toll hike. I feel stupid sometimes..I don't know lah. To me I'm quite disappointed that Umno is doing this to us,” the youth, who asked to be named only as Adik, told Malay Mail Online.
When asked how he now feels about the Chinese, Adik replied: “I don't know anymore. It's the Malays that are actually stepping on our head. Macam harap pagar, pagar makan padi (harmed by those that are supposed to protect us) “.
Thousands of Malays wearing red shirts marched at the pro-government #Merah169 rally here on Malaysia Day.
#Merah169 leader, Umno Sungai Besar division chief Datuk Jamal Md Yunos, continues to hold and plan rallies, this time to protest against the Selangor government for allegedly failing to keep its election promises.
But while an estimated 50,000 attended the September 16 rally, just 200 showed up for the movement’s latest protest in Ampang earlier this month.
“Maybe people have grown up. Maybe they know now it’s all a lie. I certainly have opened my eyes,” Alif said.