At the Penang leg of the recent nationwide anti-ISA vigil, a 3rd kind of politics was encountered upon – a kind that imposes their ways through threats, violence, and brute force.
In politics we are familiar with the 2 sides who oppose each other on ideas. No matter how fiercely they may disagree, they can resolve their differences through a vote in a legislature or a referendum among the public. However at the anti-ISA candle light vigil tonight I encountered a 3rd kind of “politics” – that which imposes their ways through brute force.
I arrived at the vigil scheduled for 9.00p.m. some half an hour early. I noticed police blocking the entrances to the Esplanade. I walked towards the Esplanade field where there are already some scattered crowds. Before I could say hello to a few familiar faces – the crowd started retreating from the sea side, dogged by a few uniform police. When the crowd was pushed out of the field the police stopped. So the crowd was milling around the edge of the field, just inside the walkway besides the main road. Then a group of fierce looking and foul-mouthed people in their 30’s or 40’s marched towards the scattered crowd. They did not look like the anti-ISA civil society type. I could not resist taking a photo of them – that made them focus in my direction.
I pretended to sit down on a concrete fencing at the edge of the field, adjusting my camera. Some of them then spoke in Bahasa Malaysia and instigated each other to do something about me. Then one of them emboldened himself and came to sit next to me. He pretended to speak to his hand phone but pushed his elbow till it touched my face. He was muttering “Mau cari pasal? Mau cari pasal?!” He must have been trying to pick a fight with me as instigated by a few other voices from that fierce looking crowd.
I stood up and moved into the walkway slowly, avoiding the eye contact which could be interpreted as a sign of agreement to engage with him in the only way he wanted. Then guy next to me declared his victory by laughing with his friends. They weren’t satisfied yet and made even more instigation, eg. to pull off my beard.
Before the guy could come closer to me, a police marched in and shouted at them to disperse. The police only asked them not to force the police to make arrest of them – which is in strong contrast to the police’s preemptive arrests of 3 organisers of the peaceful anti-ISA candle light vigil earlier.
The group quickly crossed the road and assembled defiantly at a corner outside a building of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
The other side then moved to Jelutong Police station where the 3 persons arrested were said to be held. Later a 4th person was also arrested at the Esplanade.
The close encounter of this 3rd kind who try to impose their will by force shows that our 1-sided, politicised enforcement of law had allow some political opportunists to push their luck. At the time of writing I received SMSes saying that the arrests had gone over 30 in PJ and Penang.
Who knows how many more have lost their freedom tonight. But none from the brutish group who pushed their way into the peaceful anti-ISA crowd were apprehended. Why did the police act against peaceful citizens but allowed those who blatantly instigate violence to go free? Do the police not understand Bahasa Malaysia or they had been given a different set of instruction when it comes to upholding law and order on this special class of people?
This 1-sided attitude of the police will tempt the above type of political opportunists to keep pushing their luck until one day they may just embolden themselves enough to raise their hand to smite. Why and how did the situation was allowed to deteriorate into such a stage – where I came close to being a victim of violence under the watchful eyes of the police?
Maybe some politicians calculate that by allowing these thugs to threaten and frighten the peaceful public it helps them to compel the public into submitting to their power. This is a thought is more frightening than the thugs themselves – fierce as they may look!
LB: This article was originally published in Penang Watch. Ong BK currently runs an election observation network called Malaysian Election Observers Network. The main activities has been organising election observation missions locally and to organise monthly road show to Sarawak to conduct voter education, voter registration and training in election observation. Ong’s personal interests are organic farming & making human rights and environmental films.