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Chaos in the streets

Traffic jam in KL city (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)

1 AUG 2009 was a nightmare for Klang Valley residents. Once peaceful streets — what many rightfully expected on a Saturday — were gridlocked in massive jams caused by police roadblocks all over Kuala Lumpur. Many were trapped in the horrendous traffic. Those who did not experience it themselves were spared untold misery.

Who should be responsible for such a massive traffic jam? The KL police chief, Deputy Comm Datuk Mohd Sabtu Osman, blamed it on the organisers of the “illegal” anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) gathering. The protest, the largest since Datuk Seri Najib Razak became prime minister, saw thousands of Malaysians take to the streets to protest against a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial.

There are those who agreed with him, such as this statement on Facebook. A friend who was stuck in a two-hour traffic jam released his anger by blaming the organisers of the 1 Aug gathering. He wrote: “F*** those people who planned all these anti-ISA gatherings! You think the traffic is not bizarre enough? Get a life, losers!!!!”

Upon seeing this message, I wondered if I should sigh over the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s victory, or mourn the failure of the education of democracy in Malaysia.

In Berlin

Christopher Street Day 2006 (Pic by CSD2006 / Wiki commons)

On 27 June 2009, I attended a discussion and meeting in Berlin, Germany. Coincidentally, 27 June was also Christopher Street Day, which featured a procession called the Pride Parade, held to commemorate the fight for the freedom and rights of homosexuals. The procession was also held in many big cities in Europe and America.

In Berlin, the Pride Parade consisted of row upon row of floats and drag queens, with amplified music filling up the streets.

The display that day was new to me. Pride Parade participants walked through Berlin’s main street alongside 50 floats or more. What was more impressive was that the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, also participated in the parade. Germany’s political parties also decorated their own floats and joined in, enjoying themselves along with the crowd.

The procession attracted around 500,000 participants, and yet, Berlin did not slip into chaos. On the contrary, with the careful planning and supervision of the police force, the parade was exceptionally managed and well ordered. Temporary washrooms were located on the sides of the streets, and there were various food and drink stalls along the way. It was just like a carnival.

In KL, meanwhile…

The reason for the traffic jam (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)

Why did our capital city become so chaotic when there were only 10,000 to 20,000 participants walking down the streets on 1 Aug? Did this chaos originate from the people’s procession, or from the abuse of power by the police force?

The freedom to assemble peacefully is a fundamental human right, especially since we are meant to be a democracy. Why is it then that when citizens want to exercise their basic human rights, the police have to “quarantine” the city and launch tear-gas grenades and spray chemically laced water?

Blaming the protest organisers for the chaos on 1 Aug fits into the BN’s script and objectives about silencing dissent. Worse, those who agree with this argument demonstrate that they do not subscribe to gathering peacefully as one of our fundamental human rights. And this is the worst thing about the failure of the education of democracy in Malaysia.

Teo Nie Ching is the DAP Member of Parliament for Serdang. This commentary, which has been translated into English, first appeared in China Press online.

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21 Responses to “Chaos in the streets”

  1. Sam says:


    I suggest you educate your “uneducated” friend. Next time his house is flooded, tell him to blame the rain, not the authorities for not unclogging the drains.

  2. Nicholas Aw says:

    I am of the opinion that the chaos in Kuala Lumpur and parts of the Klang Valley was due to the police’s over-enthusiasm in setting up road blocks and closing various roads to prevent the anti-ISA demonstrations.

    Had the anti-ISA rally being allowed, it could have been organised and held in the manner of our National Day parade in which case pandemonium could have been easily eliminated and a need to use water cannons and tear gas could have been easily avoided.

    Allowing the anti-ISA march would have given a plus point to the BN government and portrayed Najib’s government as democratic in the true sense of the word. A peaceful march would have been a win-win situation for both sides of the divide. However, the BN government utilising its watchdog, the police, in choosing to suppress a peaceful protest instead brought down the popularity ranking of the PM.

  3. selfiisshhhhh says:

    Sadly the attitude of many Malaysians is ME, ME, ME. Only thinking of themselves. If things don’t affect them directly, they don’t want to get involved. Hey, we all knew what the traffic would be like given the past experience, so we either took alternative routes to KL or other modes of transport. No issue. SMALL inconvenience. What about road closure for MERDEKA DAY, TOUR de LANGKAWI etc etc etc.. F*** them, too? You know the strategy, right? Make it as inconvenient as possible for others who are not in the rally to generate displeasure…and just who is doing that?

  4. Kam says:

    Very well said, Ms Teo. Indeed, we Malaysians can certainly blame ourselves for the predicament we are in. Who voted BN in? Malaysians. Who bribed and received bribes? Malaysians. Who messed up nature and logged all the forests? Malaysians. Failure of education of democracy? Indeed. What education of democracy – that’s the more pertinent question.

  5. Andrew I says:

    What education of democracy?

    How does that car advert go? I want one. Build a bungalow and add a couple of storeys on it and still insist it is one. An Italian name on your bag, ma’am? What’s this on the menu? Is car got?

    It’s a financial revolution, not a social one, stupid.

    Crass as the above might sound, isn’t this the political reality existing across Asia?

  6. 2nd class says:

    To have smooth traffic is also our fundamental right. So [those of] you who hide behind democracy, please get a life because we all try to cari makan. If you want to demonstrate please go to Penang, Perak, Kedah or Kelantan and ask your people to have a taste of what it is like to have this inconvenience and not to mention about the millions lost by the business community. Don’t always have demonstrations at the same, venue and time.

  7. yeo kien kiong says:

    The persons that are responsible for the massive traffic jams are from Umno and their […] cronies.

    1. who caused the rise of “illegal” protests in the first place?
    2. the only legal protests permitted: Umno and their […] cronies.


  8. Shawn Tan says:

    No need to look overseas.

    We have massive street processions during religious festivals with thousands of people and the police can make it work. They just call in the police reserves to help with crowd control and diverting traffic. Roads are closed only for short periods when the procession passes through that area and are opened up again after. They already have the system and people in place.

  9. Hadi Azmi says:

    Tell your friend, there is more to life than going out to watch Harry Potter on a Saturday afternoon. You can’t put justice away just because some air tebu seller needs to do business. Don’t they read the news or anything? When you know there is going to be a demostration, go la elsewhere, shop elsewhere, sell elsewhere, see movies elsewhere. In Klang also can do business.

  10. Main says:

    The one being done at the Kelana Jaya stadium was not interrupted by anybody. I guess unless there were past records of violence, the permit will be issued but if there are doubts by the police, permit will not be granted. Just adhere if there is no need for it to be done. And assembly is totally different from demonstration.

  11. ganesh says:

    Respect the people’s right to assemble….Be a mature democracy…not a police state.

  12. Democratiziya says:

    Can’t agree more, on the need to procure rights education. But there are also agent provocateurs who publish comments though, on neutral sites, on behalf of the Power That Is (“PTI”). These are smoke screens to thwart the message of the original intention.

    I believe the people have the right to assemble peacefully and I have never seen organisers of such protests behaving indecently. In fact, it is to their disadvantage, if they did. Then their intention, to proffer their message would have been hijacked.

    I have seen the roadblocks, [managed] by the police, and may I opine their intention does not seem to be for security. Never did they once look at the cars or occupants and it is so obvious, their only intention is to narrow the road to cause a catastrophic jam. Why? Need I say more?

    Each time it happens, the PTI would pin the donkey’s tail on the protest, hoping that the public would unleash their anger on the organiser. But experience from the recent general election proves otherwise. People are more knowledgeable/informed, thanks to the advancement of the alternative media.

    In conclusion, the more oppressive the PTI, the more resentment from the RAKYAT.

  13. Connie says:

    Maybe we need to use tax payers money to send government officers overseas to “melawat & belajar”? How to manage events for 20,000, 100,000 and 500,000 crowds?

  14. Gajah Merah says:

    I think it is definitely an abuse of police power. Police close down Kuala Lumpur to prevent protesters from entering the city (and in doing so, everyone else). It was the same with the Hindraf protests. I’m still mad that the police teargas-ed my roti canai breakfast at Ampang Point on Sunday morning. It also bothers me that KLCC and Jalan Ampang were closed off that day so I couldn’t attend a concert there! Mind you, no signage warning me of the facts! Did I see any violence? No. Around a locked down KLCC there were just Indian [Malaysians] with families having a merry outing. I ended up chatting with then after which I walked all the way back to Ampang passing police barricades and riot buses. I didn’t get teargas-ed a second time, though. So considerate, the Royal Malaysian Police.

    The police want to cause chaos and want to make the protests as violent as possible because it serves the government’s purpose, which is to destroy and discredit the opposition. That’s true in any country, but the BN government takes it a step too far.

    If the government was serious about upholding the rule of law, then designate an area somewhere in Putrajaya where people can protest. Plenty of space there, very little traffic. Let people assemble there for whichever cause they feel needs recognition. Promise them some RTM coverage so people know that the protest has happened and then have a little pondok where a representative from the king/PM/minister/ambassador can pick up the petition. Now if the opposition (or any other protesters) refuse that offer, then by all means tear gas them for not following the rules. But none of this hanky panky and please stop teargas-ing my breakfast. It is such an inconvenience.

  15. Fed up citizen says:

    Any rational, thinking person would’ve known from the get go that the main cause of last Friday and Saturday’s city gridlock was because of the ridiculous police roadblocks. I mean, the so-called demonstrations by both the Antis and the Pros were announced well before time. The police had all the time in the world to prepare and adopt the appropriate measures to oversee the peaceful demos. But of course, this is Bolehland we’re talking about. They think, so what if it’s a peaceful demo? So what if we inconvenience the public? So what if we get a bad rep? So […] what? Just set up them roadblocks as you’ve been ordered to, and do it one day ahead to boot. Talk about efficiency.

    My wife and I were not really surprised with the massive jams. It was a case of been there, done that. We just braved the one hour journey home, which normally takes just ten minutes, peak hours notwithstanding. What’s new? Even the pretenses, excuses and the subsequent actions of the police were a broken record cliche..

    They’ve got better things to do, if you ask me. Like, for one thing, the oft cried (but ignored) high crime rate. Where are the roadblocks then? Where are the police patrols? Oh yeah, I’m sorry, you’ll see the police, JPJ roadblocks up again one month before Raya time. These are the times when the setting up of roadblocks are so ‘profitable’ to them.

    So as long as we are living in a climate of fear and subservience, there’s no chance in hell that demos or rallies would be tolerated and allowed to proceed without incidence. Even if they are of the peaceful kind. More so when it’s organised by groups who are not loyal to the powers-that-be.

    And my wife and I would have to continue to bear with the inconvenience of police roadblocks and the ensuing traffic chaos.

  16. fslam says:

    The fundamental right of every citizen must be adhered to including the right to protest what is not right.

    When citizens complained privately, it fell on deaf ears. So what do you expect them to do? Keep quiet and tolerate all the abusive and oppresive laws?

    When the PM said once that he will listen to the grouses of the rakyat and when these issues were raised, the government of the day just pretend not to know. Do you blame the rakyat for organising these peaceful assemblies?

    Who cordoned the streets of KL as early as 12 hours ahead? Who told the traders and shopkeepers to bring their shutters down? Obviously, the police did and they have to face the consequences.

    Who brought in the FRU, the water canon with obnoxious chemical spray and the stink bomb?

    Was it necessary to use them?

    Please answer these questions before blaming the rakyat.

  17. hazey says:

    Both sides are selfish.

    For the organisers, they should know that the police will create roadblocks and shoot tear gas and eventually there will be chaos in a crowded area. Roads will be jammed and bussiness closed. But still they proceed with the demo, knowing that they can use the police’s unfair, brutal action against participants for their political advantage later. Why don’t they choose another suitable, uncrowded area to vent their emotion so that other people don’t get trapped?

    For the government, well, they can just give permit for the demonstration, and can prepare the necessary road re-routing as in other permitted parades. Or, they can offer alternative venues.

  18. SpeakUp says:

    Let’s be fair, its BOTH SIDE’s fault. Like stated by some. Organisers know VERY WELL and police also will not give any face. Both are just as bad. No one really cares … only their own political mileage is important.

  19. Kamal says:

    The problem lies probably in the way people in authority define protecting public interests. Unfortunately, we are still many years away from being a society where the authority respects citizens as free members and not as subjects.

  20. ellese says:

    PR has organized successful protests and demos at stadiums in Selangor. Why can’t they demonstrate there rather than the streets which affect the public?

  21. Azizi Khan says:

    I will do something for The Nut Graph. The next time we have a protest here in Sydney I’ll go take some pictures and even do an interview of the police force here. That’ll show how in Australia anyone can hold a protest peacefully in the middle of the city without causing traffic disruptions. (OK maybe not when a certain ex-President of United States was here but that was Secret Service going overboard…)


    Editor’s note: What you’re recommending is a fine example of citizen journalism. In fact, we would welcome any sort of accurate and verifiable documentation from our readers on issues of public interest, such as this suggestion by Azizi Khan. Of course, we will check all submissions against The Nut Graph’s policies before publishing 🙂

    Many thanks,
    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

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