Bersih and Street Protest: National Consciousness and Social-Political Change in Malaysia

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Lee Ken TEO , Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Siew Mun NGE , Department of Modern Languages, Faculty of Creative Industries, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia
Pooi Yin LEONG , Department of Mass Communication, Faculty of Creative Industries, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia
The starting point of Malaysia’s legal-political history is based on the premise of a plural society and the presence of race-based political parties. By plural society we mean the coexistence of various ethnic communities that interact with one another but at the same time are segregated each according to their various spaces, ideas and expressions. This phenomenon is in turn mirrored in the political structure and representation of the National Front (BN) coalition comprising of the main political parties of UMNO, MCA and MIC that has ruled Malaysia for 56 years. This has significant implications. Because of this nation-building and nationalism is then internalised and expressed through the lenses of ethnic or separated nationalisms. Recent events however have shown new developments. On July 9, 2011, despite police presence, tear gas and chemically-laced water cannons, tens of thousands of Malaysians marched through Kuala Lumpur to demand for free and fair elections. Bersih 2.0, a coalition of non-government and civil society organisations, had called for the rally. Focus group discussions with Malaysian Chinese youth participants indicate that there is an emerging new discourse of national consciousness and political unity that is acquired from participating in the rally. This paper attempts to discuss what this new discourse is. It intends to explain how it arose and has been articulated, and why this alternative discourse has emerged. Finally it attempts to raise some implications of this revived and renewed consciousness, and the possibilities it offers for the reconceptualization of a different Malaysian society.