Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Protesting The Fuel Price Hike

I was disappointed at Sunday's PROTES rally.

Firstly, the atmosphere was one akin to some pesta or festival.

Protests, demonstrations or rallies are not meant to be confined to stadiums. They are meant for the streets - to raise awareness and to provoke thought (not violence).

This one seemed more like a private pity-party.

Not that I don't endorse the sentiment behind it. I do. Very much.

I am proud that the organisers had the gumption to stand up and speak their minds instead of being cowered by the government.

And oh, how the government tried to intimidate. Both the NST and TheStar carried reports on security being beefed in anticipation of a violent demonstration.

In Malaysia, if an anti-government demonstration turns violent, it's usually the government agent provocateurs that instigate trouble.

But this time all was calm. Even the police presence was (almost disappointingly) low-key.

An aside, I usually judge the potential impact of an event based on the police presence. If the government (and subsequently, police) think the message is barely reaching out to the masses, it ignores the protest/rally/demonstration.

I don't know if people were indeed intimidated by the tabloid (mainstream media wannabes) spin.

Because that leads me to the second reason why I was so disappointed - there were so few people there! (Though I'm sure there were more than whatever it is that the tabloids have claimed).

Seriously, people. Have you decided to resign yourselves to being screwed by the government?

Evidently a few Malaysians wrote emails to Michael Backman complaining about the reduce in fuel subsidy and asked him to write a column attacking it.

He did just the opposite.

I did a brief google check to see how many Malaysians had copied his article (like they have with many of his previous articles in the past) to their blog, verbatim. The answer: None.

Obviously, it wasn't a very popular sentiment.

I find himself agreeing with most of his points, but I have my reservations on some - notably, his suggestion on what the government should do with the money:

Of course, one thing the Malaysian Government should now do with the billions it will save on a reduced subsidy is to improve public transport infrastructure.

Now where have I heard of this before?

The previous fuel price hike, no?

Have we seen much improvement in our public transportation system? Do we see better connectivity between the suburbs and satellite cities to the central business district?

No, you say???

Hell, our transportation may be cheap.

I've travelled through almost 10 countries in Europe and can attest to that fact after paying (what seemed to be) through my nose.

Munich, as I recall, was the worst. I paid €8 (RM40) for a trip that would probably cost me RM2.50 here.

But people in Munich don't earn what we do.

People in Munich wouldn't stand in the cramped, sardine-packed LRT cabins that we do.

People in Munich don't stand ages on dusty roads waiting for the bus to finally arrive.

I can appreciate that we are not Munich. We are not Singapore. We are Malaysia.

We need that goddamn "improvement in public transport infrastructure" more than anything else. But our interests are not necessarily those of the government.

The people who represent our government are more interested in personal gain.

They are pretending to pay out fuel rebates to citizens while emptying national coffers.

They are buying luxury yachts, private jets and lovely mansions in Australia.

Now if that fuel subsidy is reduced, that money is not going to go into improving public transport infrastructure. It will go straight into someone's pocket.

And that is Malaysia's fate. We find ourselves in this cesspool purely out of our own doing (or lack of it).


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