One activist of the People's Awakening Association (Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat) who succeeded in mobilizing 500,000 protestors in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a year ago was 58-year-old Mohamad Sabu. Familiarly known as Mat Sabu, he is vice president of the All-Islam Malaysia Party (PAS). His activism began with his youth, earning him two stints in jail under the Internal Security Act (ISA), because he opposed the government, from 1984 to 1986 and from 1987 to 1989.
He said the object of the Bangkit (Awakening) movement was to oust the government in the upcoming general elections, which is now scheduled to be held in March. "The biggest sin of the government today is raising the corruption index," said the former student of Industry at Makanan Institute of Technology in Mara. He spoke to Tempo contributor in Kuala Lumpur, Anne Muhammad last week.
When did the opposition movement begin to grow in Malaysia?
It first grew in 1946. At that time, the British allowed only UMNO (United Malay National Organization) to take the reins of power after Malaysia gained independence in 1957. The opposition movement started with the Hizbulmuslimin movement in 1948, followed by PAS in 1951, the DAP (Democracy Action Party) and then by the People's Justice Party (PKR). The establishment of these left-leaning parties also led to the birth of many activists which have struggled from one generation to another.
Today the Malaysian opposition acts through the People's Awakening Association. What is its objective?
The People's Awakening Association 112 is a series of demonstrators which first acted during the era of reforms (1998), the protest to eliminate the ISA, anti PPSMI (against English in schools as the language of instruction), and the Bersih (Clean) demo on November 10, 2007. Leaders, civil society and students gathered and merged with cultural icons, like A. Samad Said and Ambiga, who hold the same objective, and that is to have a clean government.
This movement is a peaceful group established before the upcoming 13th general elections. We are a merger of 80 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), employees, academics and anti PPSMI activists, anti-LYNAS activitists (an Australian company to set up a plant in Pahang to produce rare earth milk), anti-oil industry whose 20 percent of revenues go to the Kelantan government and children of transmigrant groups (FELDA). This movement came from people who want a clear and fair election.
How big is the role of Bangsar Utama community in such actions?
Radio Bangsar Utama receives money fom the the Selangor state government (dominated by the opposition). Many originate from this, like Amin Iskandar (editor of the Malaysia Insider). The regenerated activities in radio have motivated new young activists at the Bangsar Utama community, people like Sidiqin Omar, Hadi Khalid and Adam Adli. These are the new generation which will operate Radio Bangsar Utama, who is kin to Hishamuddin Rais. This radio can broadcast online, succeeding in making contact all over the world.
Do you see similarities in the Malaysian revolt to some in Indonesia?
Politics in Malaysia is very tied to Indonesia. The cultural factor cannot be separated.
What was the government's sin?
The biggest sin has been to allow conditions that raised our corruption index. The data we obtained from the State Audit Board. The cheating by officials cannot be forgiven. The change in the index has taken us back a few steps. Malaysia has lagged behind as a consequence, far from Japan and Korea. Malaysia also faces big debts.
Will a change in the regime solve problems in Malaysia?
In my view, of course a change in regime will bring new opportunities and solutions. That's what we are fighting for all this time. People need not be nervous of the new government, when it does come about.Tempo
No. 22/13, January 22, 2013