When public protests become a nuisance

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

— John F. Kennedy, Former US President

AT the outset, let me declare that I find nothing wrong with peaceful protests or rallies. I would support any such initiative if genuinely held in the interest of the people and that, in my judgement, its goals and degree of impact are solid.

What is a peaceful protest? It is the act of expressing disapproval through a statement or action without the use of violence.

Study.com explains that this nonviolent resistance or nonviolent action has been used to advocate for a number of different causes, including human rights issues, anti-war campaigns, and expressing disapproval of various political/governmental policy issues.

Some general methods include boycotting certain products, participating in a march or a sit-in, displaying a particular symbol, and handing out flyers.

I suppose this is the standard offer for staging a peaceful rally. Well and good.

The thing is I’m not sure whether we, Malaysians, really know why we organise protests and rallies. I honestly feel that we could have our priorities all mixed up at times.

Last Saturday’s ‘Tangkap Azam Baki’ rally is an example of what I would describe as an act of public nuisance. Held in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, it only attracted some 200 participants despite the hype in the run-up to the event.

(The 200 figure was reported by MalaysiaKini and this reputed news portal has been quite accurate with the numbers at public rallies.)

Early that morning on Jan 22, I expressed my disappointment with the protest’s goal in a chat group: “So, the ‘Tangkap Azam Baki’ rally today (Sat) has the support of some 30 NGOs and several political parties.

“More than 1,000 police personnel will be deployed to manage the protest in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

“I am perplexed that Azam Baki who has only RM2 million worth of shares is such BIG deal while other sharks and whales are allowed to get away scot-free.

“The biggest whale in Malaysia (name given) — we do nothing. For an idiot of a civil servant, we hold a protest and inconvenience others who are not interested in rallies, demos and protests. (I am not keen at all to join a protest at this ‘Azam Baki’ level but will not hesitate to sign up for rallies involving the corrupt at the very top, if there is one.)

“If we need to stage rallies against corruption, we have to do it every day. There is no end to this societal ill.

“Many of our political elite, whether in the government or opposition, are corrupt to the core.

Any wonder why many are not keen to vote at all. Who wants to give their one sacred vote to the greedy, self-serving and corrupt?

“With so much corruption, Malaysians have reasons to hold protests and rallies every other day, if not every day,” I concluded.

Why do I disagree with staging the protest last Saturday? The publicity generated over the proxy share trading involving the MACC chief, Datuk Seri Azam Baki, is more than sufficient.

Political and civil society leaders have spoken up on the issue. If the prime minister wants to take action, he would have done so, even without a public rally.

Those who are still unhappy with the inaction can continue to nudge our MPs to bring it up in Parliament. A public protest is unnecessary.

Think of the strain on our public purse when 1,000 policemen have to be deployed to handle a rally involving just 200 participants. It doesn’t make sense.

(What makes sense is when you have a public rally like Bersih with 500,000 protesters. Then, deploying 2,000 cops and imposing a city lockdown does not only make sense but is necessary and understandable.)

The ‘Tangkap Azam Baki’ rally also forced the authorities to lock down parts of Kuala Lumpur, the greater Bangsar hub in particular.

A previous office of mine was located in Bangsar and I used to commute by LRT, the Bangsar station being a regular stop. The protest must have greatly inconvenienced businesses and residents in Bangsar last Saturday.

For what? Just because some youth members of opposition parties feel like displaying their strength and prowess, imagined or otherwise, in public.

But let me say this to the youth members who are probably politically ambitious too. Instead of winning public support, the protest has the opposite effect. The people are very unhappy as the rally is a public nuisance. So, think carefully next time if you want to stage public protests again. Don’t be a public nuisance.

I would also be prepared to organise a peaceful protest if seriously warranted for the greater societal good. Before that, I must have confidence that the event will achieve its desired purpose and its after-effects are impactful.

Anything less is a waste of my time and effort.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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