More Malays at Bersih 5 due to greater awareness, observers say

Bersih 5 protesters march towards Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur, November 19, 2016. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Bersih 5 protesters march towards Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur, November 19, 2016. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 ― Growing awareness on issues concerning the Malay community is among the reasons for the increased participation by the country's largest ethnic group in Saturday’s Bersih 5 rally, according to political analysts.

Observers have noted that there seemed to be more Malay attendees during the mass rally’s fifth iteration in Kuala Lumpur, a departure from the previous year that was seen as dominated by the ethnic Chinese.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak Associate Prof Dr Jeniri Amir said this indicated that the country’s dominant community are now seeking greater participation in the push for institutional reforms.

“The Malays are becoming more aware with what's going on in the country, getting involved and charting the future of the nation,” he told Malay Mail Online on Sunday.

Like Jeniri, Institut Darul Ehsan deputy chairman Datuk Dr Mohammad Redzuan Othman said the shift could also be signs of a new generation of Malays coming of age politically.

He pointed out that the Malay attendees at the Bersih 5 rally appeared to be younger, instead of older folks as had been the case when PAS had still backed the movement and mobilised their own supporters to join.

“Most of them have subscribed to Bersih's ideas and they see this as a space to voice out their dissatisfaction.

“It's a manifestation from them on issues such as unemployment, and if the current government doesn't look into this discontentment, it will be reflected in the next general election,” he said.

Another debatable factor could have been Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s overt support for and participation in the rally. The former prime minister appeared in an online video prior to the event to urge the public to join Bersih 5 and express their dissatisfaction with the government.

The analysts contacted by Malay Mail Online were divided on how much of an influence Dr Mahathir played in generating more Malay support for Bersih 5 ― Jeniri considered the former prime minister a “prime mover” but Redzuan and International Islamic University’s Dr Maszlee Malik were less convinced.

“Tun Mahathir has his influence but it is not the main factor,” Redzuan said.

“It is not like the mass rally held in Kuala Lumpur following Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's sacking, so they are not creating the wave, they are just riding on it,” he said, referring to the Reformasi rallies in 1998.

Maszlee suggested that the increased Malay showing was more indicative of the growing support for PAS offshoot Parti Amanah Negara and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

Amanah supporters also attended the rally in purple, and performed the security and crowd control role that had once been filled by PAS’s volunteer corp Unit Amal.

He also pointed out that Amanah could not be blamed for the lack of Malays at Bersih 4 last year as the party had not yet been formed.

“[On Saturday] when you look at the security, medical team and all those involved, you notice that they are from Amanah,” Maszlee said.

But he also acknowledged that Dr Mahathir and his PPBM had drawn new faces to Bersih 5.

Malay Mail Online reporters covering Bersih 5 observed noticeable more Malay participants at Bersih 5 compared to the rally last year, but the group remained the minority despite being the largest ethnicity in Malaysia.

Critics of the Bersih rallies have used the Chinese majority in the crowds to depict the protests as a Chinese and Christian agenda usurp Malay-Muslim political power, prompting the backlash by the Red Shirts movement.

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