Moderate peace-loving Malaysian are standing up to challenge the misguided and irrational views spewed out by groups such as Isma and Perkasa, writes Henry Loh.
The call in 8 March 2008 was for change. The Pakatan Rakyat has ruled Penang since then. Two years later, what has changed? What has the new Penang state government achieved or has it lost its way? Are there obstacles we don’t know about? How has the state government responded to calls from civil society, not least the Penang Forum, for changes in the Penang Agenda? Where are we up to and what can we map out for ourselves and for the state government?
The Star, among other dailies, today carried a front-page banner headline that screamed, “No consent” (referring to the Yang DiPertuan Agong's apparent disapproval of the recent “illegal' Bersih rally, which concluded with the submission of a memorandum to the palace in Kuala Lumpur on 10 November 2007).
The Pesta Rakyat Merdeka was about the people’s struggle for greater human rights, socio-economic justice and sustainable development, observes Toh Kin Woon, who launched the event.
Friends, I feel honoured and proud to have been invited to officiate the opening of the Pesta Rakyat Mederka this morning at the Dewan Sri Pinang. As we are all aware, 2007 is an auspicious year for our country. Malaysians all over will be celebrating 50 years of independence from colonial rule and 44 years of the formation of Malaysia. Many activities celebrating our country’s independence have been and will continue to be planned and organised throughout this year.
Pesta Rakyat Mederka is one such activity. But it is an event that is different from the many others so far organised or that will be organised over the next few months. First, it is organised by a group of around 25 non-government organisations (NGOs) that have worked collectively over the years for the socio-economic betterment of our society. These are groups that have been brave and courageous in taking up issues, such as improving the public transport system, abolishing the Internal Security Act (ISA), opposing the war in Iraq, providing an equitable health system, and so on. Their aim is to sensitise both the government and society at large to the importance of allowing a broader democratic space and the betterment of the socio-economic status of the poor and marginalised groups in our country.
Another major departure from the other Merdeka celebrations, especially those organised by the government, is that today’s activities will reflect on the contributions, sacrifices, and struggles of the ordinary citizens for political and economic freedom, both before and after Merdeka. In other words, today’s celebration won’t be about our leaders’ contributions and struggle for independence. Rather, they will be about the people’s struggle for greater human rights, socio-economic justice and sustainable development. Equally important, this event will provide both the democratic and physical space for ordinary citizens and civil society groups to reflect on our accomplishments and shortcomings in nation building over the last 50 years.
I have been given to understand that today’s Pesta Rakyat Merdeka will be offering a wide variety of exciting and interesting activities. These include a forum, an exhibition, dance and musical performances, independent film screening, a poem reading session and brief soap box presentations by representatives of NGOs outlining the work they are involved in.
I would like to congratulate the organisers for their great effort and to wish this event every success. I now have great pleasure in declaring the Pesta Rakyat Merdeka officially open.
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