“What’s the dollar to ringgit exchange rate today?” I ask Ren as I slide into the passenger seat. He has just pulled over in his car to pick me up.
Ren looks at me, shaking his head. “I didn’t check….it’s annoying me too much, I don’t want to know anymore”
It’s coming up to the end of my time in Malaysia, and after a full, awesome week of training I’m looking at finding a new destination to fly out at the weekend. Ren is about to give me a reason to stick around for another couple of days.
“It’s Bersih 4.0”, Ren tells me. “No training this weekend! I’ll be out in the centre of Kuala Lumpur with another 100,00 people”
I’ll admit, I’m completely ignorant of Malaysian politics but after a discussion with Ren and a bit of consultation with the ‘magic box of all information ever ‘(my laptop) I had a bit of background. The 4th iteration of this rally, continuing from rallies in 2007, 2011 and 2012 listed the main objectives as:
- Free and Fair Elections (Pilihan Raya yang Bebas dan Adil)
- A Transparent Government (Kerajaan yang Telus)
- The Right to Demonstrate (Hak Berdemonstrasi)
- Strengthening the Parliamentary Democracy System (Memperkukuh Sistem Demokrasi Berparlimen)
- Saving the Economy of Malaysia (Menyelamatkan Ekonomi Malaysia)
And a subsequent further addition:
- Resignation of Prime Minister, Najib Razak (Perletakan Jawatan Perdana Menteri oleh Najib Razak)
…..which, after speaking to Ren and others, seemed to be a real focal point of the protest. Najib Razak is currently undergoing a corruption investigations around a certain $700,000,000 (USD) being transferred from a state-owned investment firm (of which Najib is the chairman) into his personal accounts.
“It’s affecting everyone!” Ren tells me, “The scandal and his policy cuts are causing the currency to plummet. Every day…literally every day the currency is falling and cost of living is rising!”
“So, what will happen after 100,000 people turn out in protest?” I ask
Ren lets out a sigh, “Probably nothing. He’s straight up gangster…..he literally does not care. This is the 4th protest, the largest one yet and nothing changes. Popular opinion doesn’t seem to matter to him, he’ll just insult the protestors…But what else to do?”
“I’m gonna check it out”, I say, “I’ll push my flight back a day or two”
Ren gives me a look, “Be safe bro! I was at the last one and it can get a bit out of hand….the police here are not used to these types of protest, they don’t know how to handle it. Last time there was violence, fighting, water cannons…tear gas!”
“Yeah, it burns like hell. If you’re seriously going to go, we’re going to need to get you some stuff.”
15 minutes later we are in a $5 store. “Excuse me miss”, Ren asks one of the girls who works there, “do you have some swimming goggles?”
The girl makes a face that this isn’t the first time she has been asked this in the past few days and leads us to the correct aisle. The goggles are for the tear gas! I’ve also been told to bring some salt and water to scrub it off my skin if it’s fired (something I didn’t realise it affected), but for the eyes, swimming goggles are the best way to go!
Either, we weren’t in the best store or the demand for goggles recently had taken a hit on the stock levels. “This is all we have left”, she says and passes me a set of swimming goggles for children in the form of yellow chickens.
“Shall we try somewhere else?”, Ren asks pointing at the goggles.
“No man! These are perfect…….I guarantee no-one in the history of mankind has been intentionally violent to a person wearing yellow chicken swimming goggles!”
Fast forward a couple of days and I’m heading into the Kuala Lumpur city centre with a backpack filled with salt, water, camera, a spare t-shirt, and my chicken goggles. I was really interested to see how the turnout would be, how the police response would behave, and weirdly, what everyone would be wearing! Bersih 4.0 had official yellow t-shirts which have been on sale for the previous couple of weeks, but the very evening before the rally, the Ministry of Home Affairs had placed a ban on the wearing of yellow clothing with the wording ‘Bersih 4’ and any pamphlets promoting the rally. God! Ren might be right! That does seem like a pretty gangster move…..“don’t like what’s about to happen? Ban the T-Shirts! That’ll solve the issue right?”
I arrive about 30 minutes before the official ‘kick-off’. The streets are already packed and the new law on clothing did not seem to have much of an effect at all!
It was a really interesting day. Thankfully no violence, water cannons or tear gas occurred where I was….although I admit that I was slightly disappointed to not a have a reason to wear my goggles.
Everyone seemed very friendly and keen to talk about why they were there. The 700 million corruption scandal seemed to be topic number 1 in the list for the majority of people! The nicest answer I heard was, “Because I just love my country”.
Fun as it was, it’s time to leave Malaysia. Next stop, Singapore.