I woke up last Sunday to a wonderful sight in my neighborhood. A local traffic roundabout had been transformed into a beautiful sea of color and motion by the planting of some 18,000 little flags by local residents. Landscape architect, Ng Sek San, came up with the idea of a “Malaysian Spring” campaign for political change.
Now Malaysia is gearing up for its 13th General Election in the first week of May. Since independence, there has only been one ruling coalition in government, Barisan Nasional, but with increasing discontent over a spate of corruption scandals, it is believed that this election will be a close one. There has been also a lot of concern about fairness in the electoral process which had led to a number of mass demonstrations for electoral reform in the last few years and there has been a push for polling agents to monitor the elections to prevent fraud.
And so, last Sunday, there were blue flags, white flags, red flags and yellow flags. The blue and white colors represented one of the main partners of the Opposition coalition while red was the color of another opposition coalition member. Finally, the yellow represented the BERSIH campaign for fair and just elections. Together they formed a riot of color. It was amazing.
However, late on Sunday evening, just before dusk, officers from City Hall came in a van and started to pull out the flags. Local residents came out and asked them what they were doing. The officers said that the flags were illegal and a danger to motorists. The residents challenged this noting that political posters were allowed legally in the run up to an election. The officer in charge then claimed that the flags were not political posters but put up illegally by an NGO. However, the resident’s were able to furnish proof that the flag campaign was protected under the auspices of one of the opposition political parties. All this time, the city hall officers were pulling and removing the flags.
When confronted with the fact that the flags were part of a political election campaign and therefore protected by law, the officer then tried to argue that it contravened instructions on how political posters were to be put up. He said, “Rule 1 – it cannot be on lamp posts; Rule 2 – it cannot be on trees….” Immediately the residents pointed out that the ruling government election posters were all clearly on trees and demanded that those be removed first. The residents continued to argue that the flags should not be confiscated and that if there was to be a fine for planting the flags then they would gladly pay the fine. By this time, more people have started to arrive and join the protest. At the same time, passing motorists were also blowing their horns in support.
Finally, the city hall officers relented and allowed the crowd to retrieve the confiscated flags. The crowd then helped to replant the flags and celebrate their victory in the fight for their flags.
What can I say! I am so proud of my neighborhood. I used to be disappointed by Malaysians’ apathy in the face of political and social injustice and corruption. But it seems that time has passed. I am proud of Malaysians again even for the small victory at the Battle of Flag Roundabout for it showed a unity and integrity that crossed race and religion and is a sense that we are one people who love our country.
(Photo Credit: Ng Sek San)