Artwork by Pangrok Sulap

As Malaysians, we pride ourselves on being a peace-loving, harmonious society, but there comes a point when enough is enough. An entire nation being on prolonged survival mode for almost two years, with ongoing threat to our health, state of mind and economic prospects, warrants a break from the veneer of peace we like to perpetuate; especially when the country is pushed to the brink by an incompetent administration.

We try to be patient, still. We know the risk of flooding the streets in the height of a pandemic. We know it would only put more strain on a collapsing healthcare system. But when medical frontliners themselves organise a strike against the very administration that only seems to be making matters worse for us, what choice do we really have? 

With the rakyat becoming increasingly restless and anger on the ground escalating with every misstep of the Perikatan Nasional government, social media becomes fair game. The palpable dissatisfaction against the backdoor government barely a year into its administration birthed #KerajaanGagal, which became a Twitter trend in a matter of hours, lasting for days, and eventually becoming an internet meme.

The flurry of angry tweets directed at a “failed” administration eventually made way for other hashtags of a similar nature, as a sign of protest from netizens. At a time when physical protesting is made difficult, internet users, especially the youth, take to social media to express disappointment in the country’s leadership. But more than that, the hashtags which take social media by storm also provide a space to build solidarity, enabling Malaysians to share our grievances and lean on each other, albeit in cyberspace.

With the Covid-19 pandemic unrelenting in its brutality, the people are somewhat caught in limbo as we struggle to reconcile political apathy with anger, both perpetuated by the inept governance of a backdoor administration. And we have reached a point where online protests, though effective in raising awareness and garnering support from the rakyat, spur enough frustration that we begin to realise we need to do more.

Participating in a physical protest is a tricky business in Malaysia. We have authorities that use the law to stifle and silence us, to prevent us from exercising our right and freedom of expression. Many brave Malaysians have initiated peaceful assemblies in the pandemic, like the Mana Undi Kami protest, Buka Puasa Buka Parlimen, and the #Tawau7 who protested in solidarity with villagers of Kampung Muhibbah Raya, who were left without food and aid during an Enhanced Movement Control Order. Despite the protests causing no physical harm or altercation and even abiding by Covid-19 standard operating procedure, activists were called up and investigating papers opened against them.

It is this very treatment that fans the flames of civil disobedience.

For almost two years we have been held hostage by the people who are supposed to look after our interests. With an Emergency declaration, the closure of parliament and now a botched vaccination rollout programme, our options are becoming increasingly limited to express our worries and demands. 

There is a new, angry hashtag trending almost every week, but it’s sounding more like an echo chamber than anything else because who is listening to us, really? Loud as we may be on social media, that does not come near the impact of a physical assembly, where we gather for a common purpose and aspiration. 

The sheer intimidation by police hauling protesters in for questioning is indication enough of the impact of physical assemblies. With the country’s resources stretched so thin and priorities shifting in an unprecedented time, bringing protesters and protest organisers in for questioning should be the least of their concerns. 

Most of us do not have the privilege nor the resources to uproot our lives and start anew overseas. Malaysia is all we have. They say the grass is green where you water it, and that is why we should choose to fight.

We should choose to uphold the dignity of our Malaysia. We should choose our future as a Malaysian, and the futures of Malaysians to come. We should choose to take back our country. The only home we’ve ever known. 

The act of protesting seems to go against the very nature of our polite society but if the treatment we’ve received from the administration in the last two and a half years is any indication, we are past the point of politeness. 

If we do not fight for our country, who will? There should be no more doubt that we cannot rely solely on politicians to lead the nation into better days. We as the rakyat play an equally important role in ensuring there is a check and balance, to keep leaders on their toes, to remind them of their duties and promises in serving the people. 

We are the ones who elect them into power in the first place, and therefore have an equal responsibility to ensure politicians deliver on their word. 

A healthy democracy does not end at the ballot box. If anything, that is only the beginning. Now with parliament barely operational and excuse after excuse being thrown to us, we are pushed to the brink. Protests are the only way to capture the attention of those in power, who have become drunk with titles and allowances, to remind them that they still have a duty to us. And that, until that duty is met, we will not be silenced. 

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