Despite being declared illegal and the Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein predicting a low turnout, a large yellow-clad crowd descended upon Dataran Merdeka last night for the ‘Janji Demokrasi’ (Promise of Democracy) rally.
Although Dataran Merdeka itself was cordoned off to facilitate preparations for this morning’s National Day parades, the 280-metre stretch from the cordon to a square outside the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) headquarters were packed with people, many of whom were wearing Bersih’s signature yellow.
Even the star of the show, national laureate A Samad Said, confessed that he could not estimate the size of the crowd and hailed the event as a success.
Malaysiakini estimates that some 10,000 yellow shirts were present, with an addition of some 5,000 of the regular Merdeka eve revellers, mostly on the opposite end of the police cordon.
Meanwhile, Bernama estimates the combined crowd at 6,000 and that there was no official Merdeka Eve countdown at the venue as in previous years.
The protest, organised by Gabungan Janji, a coalition of some 47 NGOs, was meant to ‘remind’ the government of its unfulfilled promises to Bersih’s calls for clean and fair elections.
Its name was a play on the official theme for the National Day celebrations ‘Janji Ditepati’ (Promises Delivered).
However, Gabungan Janji working committee member Maria Chin Abdullah received a letter from the police just eight hours before the 11pm rally informing her that it is against the law, but she did not back down.
By 9pm, people were already trickling into Dataran Merdeka, only to find the historic field and nearby roads cordoned off, with a sign that reads, “this area is closed to all activities, by order of the mayor of Kuala Lumpur”.
Enforcing the order that night were 205 police personnel, according to Dang Wangi OCPD Zainuddin Ahmad.
Regardless, the crowd at both ends of the police cordon continued to swell, with the protestors concentrating around the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman-Jalan Tun Perak intersection.
The atmosphere was made more lively by the deafening sound of trumpets carried by protestors and revellers alike, protestors wearing flamboyant black and yellow Mohawk-style wigs or simply by people flying the national colours.
The protestors, already numbering at several thousand at the time, received a boost at about 10.30pm as protesters from an earlier rally at Jalan Sultan arrived to join the countdown.
An hour later, with the crowd numbers at its peak, Maria, Samad (right), and some Pakatan Rakyat leaders began to move towards a square outside DBKL headquarters where Samad recited his ‘Janji Demokrasi’ poem.
However, few could hear the poem, or much of anything else, over the noise of the trumpets.
At midnight, the Gabungan Janji leaders almost immediately left the area towards the Bandaraya LRT station, while many remained expecting a fireworks display.
Instead of the night being lit up however, the crowd were disappointed to see only sporadic fireworks rocketing into the sky, presumably brought in by other revellers.
Meanwhile, when met outside the LRT station, Samad said he was glad to see large crowds of youths.
“This is important. It shows that they realise that this era is their era, and it is in their hands that a regime can be changed. I hope this will be done,” he said.
Back at Dataran Merdeka, Zainuddin said there were no untoward incidents that night, and that there were no arrests beside two who were caught burning fireworks.
When asked to comment about Samad’s poetry recital, he said, “we will investigate later (if any law was broken).
The crowd slowly dwindled throughout the night, some still blowing their trumpets even at 2am.