Najib‚Äôs plan to ‚Äúget close‚ÄĚ to Malaysians in London backfired. Instead of being warmly received, he was hounded by Bersih supporters.
On May 14, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had a taste of his own medicine when supporters of Bersih interrupted his speech and chanted ‚ÄúBersih, Bersih‚ÄĚ while others demanded that overseas Malaysians be allowed to vote.
If Najib wanted support, what he received instead was a sobering ‚ÄúPadan muka!‚ÄĚ
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 power.
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 hand.
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‚Äôs 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‚Äô Corner in Penang.
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 ‚Äúdeep regret‚ÄĚ over the people who disrupted Najib‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúThe Dome‚ÄĚ, as it is commonly known, for ‚ÄúAn Evening with the PM‚ÄĚ session. Coaches transported students from all over Britain for the event involving cultural performances, free food and drink.
One person who went said, ‚ÄúIf not for the promise of a fat ang pow, very few people would have turned up.‚ÄĚ
Another complained, ‚ÄúI came for the makan, all I got was a dry sandwich.‚ÄĚ
‘Can you stop it?’
Minutes after Najib opened his speech, the chants of ‚ÄúBersih, Bersih‚ÄĚ distracted Najib and he was forced to acknowledge the Bersih supporters.
Despite his cries of ‚ÄúCan you stop it?‚ÄĚ the chants increased in tempo and frequency: ‚ÄúBersih. Bersih‚ÄĚ were followed by ‚ÄúWe want to vote.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan you please stop it?‚ÄĚ the prime minister pleaded, his voice getting shriller. When faced with a public show of opposition, Najib was clearly shaken.
The whole arena was watching the spectacle, and enjoying it. Finally Najib managed a desperate: ‚ÄúYou can talk with me later.‚ÄĚ
In any press conference, Najib does not like to be asked sensitive questions. He mumbles, ‚ÄúNo comment‚ÄĚ 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, ‚ÄúWhen Najib and the High Commissioner went onto the stage, the only clapping came from where the High Commission staff were seated.
‚ÄúWhen Rosmah [Mansor] joined them on the stage, hardly anyone clapped. Not many students clapped when Najib stood on the podium.‚ÄĚ
Despite Najib‚Äôs 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‚Äôs other promises which have failed to materialise.
So great was Najib‚Äôs 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 Paddington.
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 relaxed surroundings.
Clearly, ordinary Malaysians waiting at the O2 were rebuffed by Najib.
Najib‚Äôs plan to ‚Äúget close‚ÄĚ 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 be revoked.
Hopefully, this culture of fear is something which many young Malaysians will take into consideration when they vote in future elections.
If Malaysians want further food for thought, they should question how much this and other frivolous events in London have cost the Malaysian taxpayer.
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.