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Protests move online amid real-life washouts

While gatherings have been held in recent years, their attendance for the most part has fallen short of the massive rallies seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Protesters gather at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur during the 'Turun' rally on July 23.
Protesters gather at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur during the 'Turun' rally on July 23.

About a week ago, a group of protesters held a demonstration in front of the Sogo shopping complex in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. 

The July 23 protest, dubbed "Turun", saw the participation of about 100 people who made five demands, including salary cuts for ministers and controls on the price of goods. 

Another protest at the same venue earlier this year calling for action against Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Azam Baki saw a turnout of about 200 people. 

And a year ago in July 2021, a group of individuals drove around the city centre carrying black flags to express their dissatisfaction with the government.

While the majority of issues championed in these gatherings centred on public well-being, the turnouts were a far cry from pre-Covid demonstrations and those held before the 2018 fall of the Barisan Nasional government, where tens of thousands had massed.

Political observer Mazlan Ali said the people might be fatigued from the changes of government and prime minister over the past two years in addition to the recent string of elections at the state level. 

"The people are no longer enthusiastic," Mazlan, of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, said. 

"They used to be, during the Reformasi era. But now, there are no more waves like this." 

Mazlan was referring to the mass gatherings in 1998, after Anwar Ibrahim was sacked as deputy prime minister under Dr Mahathir Mohamad's government, when thousands took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur. 

The Bersih protests that followed likewise drew massive crowds, with the third instalment in 2012 claiming as many as 300,000 participants. 

Today, though, such gatherings appear to be a distant memory. 

Mazlan said most people were now focused on recovery efforts and making a living after the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Although the country was transitioning towards the endemic phase of Covid-19, he said, new infections such as influenza A had begun making an appearance.

On the financial front, meanwhile, the price of goods has been on the rise, with basic food items like chicken sold for close to RM10 per kg. 

Meat, fish and chicken eggs have also increased in price, amid supply chain disruptions due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Malaysia's own lack of domestic food production, in addition to the global battle against inflation. 

Hisommudin Bakar of electoral think tank Ilham Centre said there was now a large majority of so-called silent voters. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said this group had lost faith in politicians and political movements. 

"But they demonstrate very actively in the way that they express their anger on social media platforms," he said.

"You can see this when political leaders, whether from the government or the opposition, make statements on social media. 

"This silent majority becomes very vocal." 

Hisommudin also said it had become more difficult to gather support for mass gatherings such as the Bersih rallies as the atmosphere and times had changed. 

"The 'Turun' movement did not have widespread publicity," he added. 

"Their publicity coverage was limited. Even non-state actors like civil movements were not comprehensively involved, and the opposition parties did not appear together." 

Mazlan meanwhile said the people were also aware of the government's measures to rein in the price of goods. 

"Take the price of chicken, for example," he said. "There are no more complaints about it, in fact there is now a surplus of stock. 

"The people can see all of this."