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FAC: Reformasi Needs to Reinvent Itself
8/11/2001 9:33 am Thu
[Masalahnya berakar di kepimpinan parti yang sebenarnya masih belum
mereformasi strategi, pemikiran dan cara. Mereka berhenti di jalan besar
bila disekat sedangkan jalan yang lain (mengikut undang-undang) masih ada.
'They have failed to reengineer the masses and seldom appear even in this
cyber atmosphere. If you can't shake them there you should stir here. Because
they will soon end up all there.'
Tuesday, 23-Oct-2001 4:45 PM
The foreign media talks about the demise of Malaysia's Reformasi
movement. Some newspapers are a bit kinder though. They say,
"Reformasi may be down, but not out". On Monday, 15 October
2001, the Kuala Lumpur Federal Court discussed at length the
Reformasi movement. Were the ten National Justice Party (keADILan)
leaders and non-party political activists arrested under the Internal
Security Act (ISA) in April 2001 really a threat to national security as
the police claim, or were they arrested because they are the
backbone of the Reformasi movement?
The jury is still out on this one and it should not be until next week
that the verdict is known.
The Federal Court has recognised the existence of the Reformasi
movement. There was even a debate between the bench and the
defence as to whether it is being suggested that Justice Augustine
Paul should have recused himself from hearing the Writ of Habeas
Corpus filed by the ten ISA detainees since he could be perceived
as being anti-Reformasi.
But as much as no one disputes the existence of the Reformasi
movement, no one yet has been able to pin down who is behind the
movement and in what form it exists. Reformasi has no leaders. The
movement has no structure. It is not a registered organisation. There
are only organisers of Reformasi demonstrations. Is Anwar Ibrahim the
founder or leader of the Reformasi movement? Well...yes and no!
The Reformasi movement saw birth soon after Malaysian Prime
Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad sacked Anwar from the government
on 2 September 1998. It reached its peak on 20 September when
Anwar was able to assemble an estimated 100,000-strong crowd of
protestors in Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), prompting
Mahathir to arrest Anwar under the ISA to neutralise what was about
to become a revolution.
With Anwar out of the way, the movement started to slow down. It saw
temporary reprieve when news broke that Anwar had been poisoned
with Arsenic. Masses took to the streets demanding royal intervention
and calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to establish the
perpetrators behind the deed.
On the days of Anwar's sentencing on 14 April 1999 and 8 August
2000, demonstrations again broke out - though on a much reduced
scale. The anniversary of the sentencing - known as "Black 14" - as
well as on Anwar's birthday, small gatherings were held. But it was a
mere 1,000 or so die-hard supporters and nowhere near the big one
of 20 September 1998.
Today, the Reformasi movement is struggling to stay alive. Its death
blow came in April 2001 when keADILan Youth Leader Ezam Mohd
Nor and his inner circle such as Lokman Noor Adam, Tian Chua,
Saari Sungib, Hishamuddin Rais, Dr Badrulamin Bahron, N.
Gobalakrishnan, and Abdul Ghani Haroon were rounded up under
the ISA. Gobalakrishnan and Ghani were eventually released by the
Shah Alam court much to everyone's surprise but the rest are being
detained indefinitely at the Kamunting Detention Center where they
can no longer pose any danger to the ruling party.
The Reformasi movement made a comeback in November 2000 when
it brought the Kesas Highway to a standstill. Much to the surprise of
even the organisers themselves, they managed to rally a crowd of
about 50,000 people. Due to this success, a decision was made to
make this a regular affair. The next attempt though - the Hari Raya
gathering two months later - attracted less than 5,000 supporters.
After that, the crowds dwindled to only between 1,000 and 2,000 and
all attempts to repeat the Kesas Highway performance failed.
The police believe that the brains behind the Reformasi movement
are the five keADILan leaders and one political activist currently
under ISA detention in Kamunting. That was why they were detained
- to kill the movement. With them safely tucked away, the movement
now has to depend on a handful of second liners. But these
second-liners - the Reformists - are mostly non-party people and
are unable to tap into the party machinery to mobilise the crowds.
Without party endorsement, support from the party members is
lukewarm at best.
On Friday, 31 August 2001, the Reformists tried to test the waters to
see whether they could still get the crowd without party support by
organising what was supposed to be the second biggest event after
the Kesas Highway gathering almost a year before. However, they
managed to get only about 400 to 500 supporters. Some estimates put
the crowd at only 100 to 200 - the rest being curious onlookers and
bystanders who had spilled out of the nearby mosque after Friday
prayers. The police outnumbered the protestors two to one.
The Reformasi movement must come to terms with itself. It must accept
the fact it no longer has what it takes to get the crowds onto the
streets. Its successes of the past were due to certain factors that are
no longer prevalent today. The movement needs to assess its
strength and recognise its weaknesses if it wants to continue playing
the role of pressure group for change.
For starters, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, keADILan's Vice President, does
not believe street demonstrations are the way to go. And he has
publicly stated so. He feels the benefits are few and the downside
just too great. It was street demonstrations that resulted in the ISA
arrests of April 2001 and six party leaders and activists are now out
of circulation because of it. Dr Chandra believes that street
demonstrations do not achieve the desired result and only gives the
police a good excuse to round up the party leaders under the
disguise of national security.
Even if keADILan supports the demonstrations, it would still do no
good. The Kesas Highway success was not due to keADILan alone,
but because all the four Alternative Front (BA) parties were involved.
In fact, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) was the biggest
contributor as it is estimated that 90% or so of those that turned up
were its supporters. Furthermore, in the Kesas Highway event, all the top opposition
leaders came out in full force - its Presidents, Deputies, Youth
Leaders, and so on - so getting the crowd was more possible. On
top of that, the crowd was not limited to those just from the city.
People came from all over Malaysia a day or two earlier to join the
protest. In short, it was a national affair, not just a local thing - and it
was a BA supported and sponsored event.
Furthermore, in the Kesas Highway event, all the top opposition leaders came out in full force - its Presidents, Deputies, Youth Leaders, and so on - so getting the crowd was more possible. On top of that, the crowd was not limited to those just from the city. People came from all over Malaysia a day or two earlier to join the protest. In short, it was a national affair, not just a local thing - and it was a BA supported and sponsored event.
But the Kesas Highway rally took a lot of planning. Six weeks ahead,
meeting after meeting were held where the organisers went through
every minor detail and left nothing to chance. Half a million flyers
were printed and circulated, and 100,000 full-sized posters pasted
all over town. The mosques were "attacked" every Friday with flyers
scattered at all the main entrances.
At every ceramah throughout the country, announcements were
made urging the opposition supporters to come down to Kuala
Lumpur to participate in the gathering. All four party Presidents
pledged support and the crowd rallied around their Presidents. It was
a full-time job for the organisers but that ensured the success of the
Kesas Highway gathering.
Now, PAS no longer seems interested in supporting street
demonstrations - at least not the pro-Anwar or Reformasi events. It
too has lost 19 of its leaders to the ISA and according to speculation
it can expect to lose 30 or so more in the near future. Needless to
say, without PAS' support, there would be no crowd.
PAS' prowess was demonstrated last Friday, 12 October 2001, when
they managed to get between 7,000 to 8,000 supporters to
demonstrate in front of the US Embassy after Friday prayers. Compare
this to the Reformasi event after the Friday prayers of 31 August
where not even 5% of that number turned out.
The police believe they have succeeded in crippling the Reformasi
movement with the detention of the six Reformasi leaders in
Kamunting. They are further convinced of this at the sight of the many
failed attempts at crowd mobilization since. Unless the Reformasi
movement can convince the police otherwise, the six are going to
remain under detention for some time to come to ensure that the
movement stays dead.
The Reformasi movement blames keADILan Youth for this. It says
keADILan Youth lacks the guts to fight after what it saw happen to its
leaders in April 2001. KeADILan Youth, however, sees no purpose in
more of its leaders ending up behind the barbed wire fence of
Kamunting in pursuit of a lost cause.
The Reformasi movement is going to try and prove its critics wrong.
On Saturday, 27 October 2001, it is planning a convoy to the
Kamunting Detention Center. The police, for sure, will try to thwart
this plan. The question is, will this be just a Reformasi thing or will
PAS come out in support of it seeing that 19 of its leaders too are
under ISA detention?
When the ten Reformasi leaders and activists were detained in April,
there was a backlash that made even the police wonder whether they
had made a mistake. But when the next ten were detained - all PAS
leaders this time - nothing happened. Clearly PAS does not react as
violently as keADILan when its people get arrested. So, another
group was rounded up and, possibly, more arrests will come in time.
Many feel PAS will not put its full support behind the 27 October
convoy. Look what happened when Ibrahim Libya got killed, they
argue. The first thing PAS did was to deny he had anything to do with
the party. Furthermore, when ten of its leaders were arrested
recently, PAS denounced extremism - as if to declare the ten were in
fact extremists - rather than come out in their defence by denying
their involvement in any terrorist acts.
27 October 2001 is a day to watch. Can the Reformasi movement pull
off an impressive enough convoy? If it can, then there is no denying
the movement may be down but definitely far from out. If, however,
nothing much happens, then the police are going to wring their hands
in glee and declare that the best thing they have ever done is to
arrest Ezam and his gang under the ISA.
As they say, one more for the road, and the road may yet prove to
be a long and winding one indeed for Malaysia's Reformasi
movement. 27 October 2001 is the acid test for the movement. If the
movement proves that, without Ezam and the rest, it is not able to
make a dent, then Ezam will be in for the long haul.