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There was no tear gas in Belgrave Square today, but plenty of dripping umbrellas amid a sea of banners and masks, worn by students determined to defy threats and menaces that they could lose their grants if seen to support Bersih 3!
The rain had not deterred the crowd, who were conscious that their friends and family were facing far more testing conditions back in KL.
About a thousand or had turned up by the time the march was ready to set off in the direction of Parliament Square.
The most striking feature was the number of masks being worn, or scarves carefully pulled almost up to meet headgear, so that only eyes peaked out! You may try to intimidate us, was the message from the young men and women alike, but you can’t stop us!
If these students are among Malaysia’s future elite, then the future is not with BN and certainly not with the existing management of the Election Commission! Familiar slogans deploring the corruption, vote rigging and gerrymandering that have kept BN in power for over half a century dominated the gathering.
It was a very good natured group, seeking constant updates from each other about the news from the main march back in Malaysia and delighted at the huge numbers being spoken about. However, concern started to grow towards midday as more and more information filtered through about tear gas, water cannon and arrests.
Many individuals seemed anxious to explain to the policemen, who were protecting stragglers from traffic, about the situation in Malaysia that they were demonstrating against. The Bobbies received an education on Malaysia’s problems with corruption and vote-rigging and listened politely!
Cheerleaders led the crowd through a series of chants and songs, belted out with enthusiasm. Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter, Ilham, herself a student in London, gave a short and well-received speech.
She admitted that it had made her “pretty nervous”, but her age matched that of most of the crowd and they buoyed her up with enthusiasm.
However, the Embassy opposite were clearly not listening! Staff had shut down and cleared out.
They had even pulled down the national flag. Many felt it was a sign of shame and a wish not to be identified as the butt of the criticisms from outside.
This time the flags were on the outside, waved by the crowd itself. The message being that patriotism is not the preserve of BN.
The marchers made their way on towards Whitehall. Because numbers were so much higher than expected the stewards arranged with the police to break the crowd down into three groups. No fuss, no problems, not threats or aggression.
Message for David Cameron
The London rally was just one of nearly a hundred by Malay expats worldwide, much with the same template. However, there was a particular determination here in London to get one clear message over to David Cameron, just back from a trade visit to KL.
A lengthy letter was ceremoniously prepared by Suaram International’s London branch to be handed in to the Foreign Office by the marchers, so as to educate UK officials in a few home truths.
The main frustration has been over the British Prime Minister’s pat on the back for Najib in response to the PR stunt over repealing the ISA.
As the letter explained, this repressive law has been replaced with even more effective instruments against democratic political opposition and freedom of expression.
And the letter also pointed out that within days of the departure of the British PM, new provisions had been raced through parliament to make it easier than ever for officials to rig the elections unmonitored and unhindered.
If even Burma and Malawi have permitted election observers, why is it that Malaysia refuses along with a whole lot of other basic measures to prevent election rigging?
Next time Cameron seeks to praise Najib Razak could he please also seek to promote some freedom and democracy in the country he is so eager to do business with?