Back to Forum

‘Citizens’ call out’

Sharon A Bong


On the eve of Independence Day (31 August), near the Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a T-shirt and vuvuzela[1] vendor chats with 58-year old Aunty Wong, a Bersih supporter. A tourist from the UK joins in.  


Vendor: (Blows vuvuzela) Buy 1, free 1 (points at the array of bright yellow-coloured Bersih T-shirts on sale)!

Tourist: Do you mean buy 1 and get the other one free?

Vendor: Yes, buy 1, free 1.

Aunty Wong: Welcome to Malaysia – your first visit?

Tourist: Thank you, yes.

Aunty Wong: (To vendor) How come these T-shirts so different from the original design?

Vendor: (Laughs) Those are banned-lah[2] by the Home Ministry – because the rally itself is ‘illegal’.

Aunty Wong: Ah yes. How’s business on the second day of the rally?

Vendor: Can do-lah – doing what it takes to survive, what with the Ringgit falling more every day. How low can it go?

Aunty Wong: Ah yes, the rakyat must fend for themselves. Government corrupt. Anti-corruption agency corrupt. Who is not corrupt? See that fat rooster with RM2.6 billion stamped on it

Crowd chants ‘Bersih! Bersih! Others are tooting on vuvuzelas – crowds cheer as clay rooster is raised.

Vendor: “PM resign now! We don’t trust you anymore” (reading off one placard).

Aunty Wong: Don’t get me started on that man – how many ways can you count immorality.

Vendor: He will answer to Allah on Judgement Day.

Aunty Wong: He should answer to the rakyat today!

Tourist: Why are all these people wearing yellow Ts and chanting Mercy, mercy? Are these the Independence Day celebrations?

Vendor:  Not mercy, mercy although it applies too, if you think of it!

They’re chanting, ‘Bersih, bersih!’ It means clean, in the National language. See those yellow brooms – it’s to clean out the dirty government, especially the one who heads it! “Out, damned spot! out, I say!”[3]

Tourist: Why are there barricades – I wanted to take photos of Merdeka Square. It says here (referring to the Lonely Planet guide to Kuala Lumpur) that Tunku, the first Prime Minister declared ‘merdeka’…

Aunty Wong: Yes, it means independence.

Tourist: …for the nation, from the British – sorry about that – 58 years ago.

Vendor: The rally is organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections.[4] Every year, for the past four years, the government and police have blocked the rakyat

Aunty Wong: Rakyat means citizens.

Vendor: …from rallying at Merdeka Square for fear that they will contaminate the historical memory and political significance of the square.

Tourist: What about the right to freedom of mobility and expression for the rakyat?

Aunty Wong and vendor (in unison): Welcome to Malaysia!

I used to be scared-scared but the time has come – no more! So I’m here, celebrating my 58th year, joining these hundreds of thousands of people, calling out for justice.

Vendor: Here aunty – no need to buy 1, free 1 for you – happy birthday!

Tourist: (Sings to herself, walking off in the direction of Dataran Merdeka)

The time is here!
Let us welcome it gladly with courage and cheer
Let us take to the streets with no doubt in our hearts
But a jubilant shout
They will come one and all
They will come when we call![5]












[1] Plastic horn inspired by the South African long horns blown at soccer matches.

[2] Lah is an end-sentence suffix used in colloquial speech.

[3] Uttered by Lady Macbeth, Act V, Scene V, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, available at:

[4] The fourth citizens’ rally held from 29-30 August 2015 that is calling out for the resignation of the Prime Minister over a corruption scandal, involving US$700 million or RM2.5 billion and a concomitant reformation of key institutions in the country. See in The Malaysian Insider, ‘We created history, says Bersih 4 organiser‘, updated 31 August 2015, available at:

[5] Lyrics from ‘ABC Café: Red and Black’, Les Misérables, available at: