By Mariam Mokhtar | FMT
On May 14, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had a taste of his own
medicine when supporters of Bersih interrupted his speech and chanted
“Bersih, Bersih” while others demanded that overseas Malaysians be
allowed to vote.
If Najib wanted support, what he received instead was a sobering “Padan muka!”
The irony of it is that the prime minister suffered extreme
humiliation in a country in which he is desperate to redeem his image,
both among Malaysians and the international community.
On one side of the English Channel, it is Bersih which haunts Najib.
On the other side of the water, it is the French and the opening salvos
of the Scorpene trial.
Najib should realise that in Britain, the British prime minister and
his ministers occasionally get booed and heckled. Freedom of expression
frightens the person who thinks he is above the law or who abuses his
For years, social activists, human rights defenders, the opposition
and ordinary people have been harassed by people who are allegedly
linked to Umno. The police, mainstream media, judiciary and other public
institutions have acted as agents of the state and never in the
interests of the people. The government fails to censure those who
commit acts of aggression.
Najib now knows what it feels like to be hounded. Not all crowds
behave like the Umno rent-a-mob who clap at his every word and kiss his
The prime minister allowed things to slide under his rule, and his lack of leadership has undermined the rule of law.
Did he condemn the people who threatened Bersih’s S Ambiga at her
home? Was there any censure, when last August, Umno senator Ezam Mohd
Nor threatened to burn down the offices of Malaysiakini and The
Malaysian Insider? They were silent when in January, the organisers and
participants of the Anything But Umno (ABU) and Hindraf ceramah in Shah
Alam, were attacked.
There was no criticism when last February, Umno Youth and Perkasa
members attacked anti-Lynas protesters at the Speakers’ Corner in
In all these acts of thuggery the police merely looked on as observers instead of protecting the public and their property.
Proham, the human rights watchdog, expressed “deep regret” over the
people who disrupted Najib’s speech. What has Proham to say about the
above acts of disturbance?
The Malaysian High Commissioner to Britain, Zakaria Sulong, hired the
O2 Arena, or “The Dome”, as it is commonly known, for “An Evening with
the PM” session. Coaches transported students from all over Britain for
the event involving cultural performances, free food and drink.
One person who went said, “If not for the promise of a fat ang pow, very few people would have turned up.”
Another complained, “I came for the makan, all I got was a dry sandwich.”
‘Can you stop it?’
Minutes after Najib opened his speech, the chants of “Bersih, Bersih”
distracted Najib and he was forced to acknowledge the Bersih
Despite his cries of “Can you stop it?” the chants increased in tempo
and frequency: “Bersih. Bersih” were followed by “We want to vote.”
“Can you please stop it?” the prime minister pleaded, his voice
getting shriller. When faced with a public show of opposition, Najib was
The whole arena was watching the spectacle, and enjoying it. Finally Najib managed a desperate: “You can talk with me later.”
In any press conference, Najib does not like to be asked sensitive
questions. He mumbles, “No comment” before terminating the interview
abruptly and walking out. In this seemingly hostile crowd in London, the
prime minister cannot deploy tear gas or water cannon.
A Malaysian at the O2 event said, “When Najib and the High
Commissioner went onto the stage, the only clapping came from where the
High Commission staff were seated.
“When Rosmah [Mansor] joined them on the stage, hardly anyone
clapped. Not many students clapped when Najib stood on the podium.”
Despite Najib’s promise to a Bersih supporter that he would meet him
after the event, that meeting did not take place. This is like many of
Najib’s other promises which have failed to materialise.
So great was Najib’s fear of being embarrassed for a second time that
night, a member of his entourage lied and said that the prime minister
had cancelled going to the launch of a new Malaysian restaurant in
The red herring was presumably to deter Bersih protesters from
turning up at the restaurant, where 50 Malaysian businessmen and
bankers, were waiting to enjoy a sumptuous dinner with him, in more
Clearly, ordinary Malaysians waiting at the O2 were rebuffed by Najib.
Najib’s plan to “get close” to Malaysians in London backfired.
Instead of being warmly received, he was hounded by Bersih supporters.
Instead of the promised evening, mingling with the prime minister, only a
handful of Malaysians managed to be photographed with him as he
scurried to the exit, prior to being whisked away.
Despite his talk of engaging with Malaysians, Najib, who does not
tolerate dissent, has set the machinery of government against the
student body in the United Kingdom. Students were photographed at the
event by Special Branch officers and each government scholar identified
and matched to his sponsor. Now, many fear that their scholarships will
Hopefully, this culture of fear is something which many young
Malaysians will take into consideration when they vote in future
If Malaysians want further food for thought, they should question how
much this and other frivolous events in London have cost the Malaysian
The government is morally bankrupt and lacks conviction when tackling
corruption and cronyism. Before long, the nation will be bankrupt if it
continues to be mismanaged by an Umno government.
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.