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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Janji Demokrasi: A sign of discontent?

The frequency of social movements has increased tremendously in the country and this phenomenon should not be ignored.
Khoo Ying Hooi
The emergence of social movements in the last few years has coloured Malaysian politics. On this eve of Merdeka, we will again witness another “gathering” in the country.
The coalition of about 50 NGOs, who called themselves Gabungan Janji, will hold its Janji Demokrasi gathering at the fountain near Dataran Merdeka from 11pm to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Merdeka Day.
At the same time, similar gatherings are also planned in several other states such as Malacca and Johor. The group has also urged participants to turn up in yellow for this “celebration” of Merdeka Day.
The theme of Janji Demokrasi is formerly known as Janji Bersih, in which it resulted in much confusion as many of the members of Gabungan Janji are also key leaders of Bersih 2.0. This separate group then changed their name to make clear it is not linked to the Bersih 2.0 coalition.
Despite the numerous statements by the coalition that the gathering was not a demonstration, protest or a rally; rather a celebration of Merdeka Day, it has received much criticism. The gathering was declared illegal by the police as it contravenes Section 9(1) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, for failing to notify the police 10 days in advance.
The Election Commission has also accused the gathering of having a political agenda.
Maintaining movement commitment
Although some of the Janji Demokrasi’s members have repeatedly reiterated the aim of gathering is merely to celebrate Merdeka Day, nevertheless, the name itself whether you like it or not, indirectly shows that it is also a form to counter the government’s much controversial theme of “Janji Ditepati”.
In whichever way it is, it is a positive scenario.
Since the last few years, the frequency of social movements has increased tremendously in the country and this phenomenon should not be simply ignored particularly on its impact. Social movements play a crucial role in contemporary societies.
We should not ignore the phenomenon because movements are one of the main sources of political conflict and change. They are also key agents for bringing about change, often the first to articulate new political issues and ideas.
Social movements are now seen as a compulsory part of Malaysian politics, and a step forward for democracy.
Social movements have a number of outcomes on societies; some are intended while some are not. Success in the short and long terms may not co-exist. Anyhow, movements are at least considered to a certain extent successful when they push the government to act upon their grievances.
Challenges of a movement
In an interview with Bloomberg recently, Bersih 2.0 co-chairperson S Ambiga said that she would step down from Bersih 2.0 after GE 13 as she intended to pay more attention to her law firm which specialises in commercial, intellectual property and industrial law.
Recruiting activists and supporters is visibly one of the biggest challenges for the survival of a movement. Meeting these challenges is incredibly vital because political consequences of such movements do not happen immediately. Rather, movements commonly need to work for many years or even decades to bring about desired changes.
If a movement constantly needs to replace recruits who have dropped out and cannot be replaced, then the movement will gradually decline or disappear all together.
Movement commitment does not last by itself. Janji Demokrasi is a spill-over effect from the Bersih 2.0 and in whatever form it is, it is therefore much needed to maintain the momentum.
The writer is an academic staff in Universiti Malaya and a PhD candidate in the University Putra Malaysia. She is a FMT columnist and can be contacted at yinghooi@gmail.com.

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