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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reasons to celebrate (The Sun Daily)


BEFORE
Saturday I had not attended a football match in at least a decade, and I was not planning to attend one for at least another decade, but this was the Malaysia Cup Final between Negri Sembilan and Kelantan, and an exception had to be made.

We went to the changing room to meet the players before kick-off: the Deer squad was veritably pumped and ready to take on the Red Warriors. I had already been told about the disparity in the number of supporters: about four Kelantanese to one Negri supporter, mostly Kelantanese residing in Kuala Lumpur plus some diehards who trekked from the north despite the floods and travel difficulties. One of those present warned that they were afraid that if Kelantan lost, there might be difficulties following the match.

The stadium was packed: apparently people had started arriving five hours before, and the ticket-holders were joined by gatecrashers who had overwhelmed the security personnel. The chanting ("Gomo Klate Gomo" versus "Hobin Jang Hobin") was boisterous and the cheering relentless. The banners were hung majestically and the flags were being waved with gusto. Intriguingly, among these flags were those of a political party: a reminder of the potency of the politicisation of sport.

I was a bit worried in the first fifteen minutes: the ball was mostly in our half, but then a slip-up by Kelantan enabled Shahurain Abu Samah to strike the ball into the corner of the net, dramatically altering the tone of the match. The rest of the first half was like ping-pong on the field, although the crowd only got more energetic. The din of chants was increasingly punctuated by the popping of firecrackers and even fireworks, which diverted attention away from the ball.

During half-time the big screen displayed a warning against the setting off of fireworks and the display of political party flags; it was remarked that this might only further provoke the agitators. Less than fifteen seconds into the second half, a ludicrously good header by Hairuddin Omar gave us our second goal – and that’s when the bottles and fireworks were let off in continuous succession for the rest of the match. Although many fans sitting in the lower sections showed their disapproval of fellow supporters higher up who were throwing objects, it did not stop and they had to be evacuated to the stairs.

The security personnel, including the FRU – who more often have a reputation for blasting others themselves – were unwilling or unable to stop this particular demonstration. There was some Schadenfreude in this, but alas it was actually quite threatening at times particularly when the fireworks were let off towards the pitch itself.

Mohd Zaquan Adha Radzak’s goal sealed the deal – resulting in the exodus of many redshirts and the setting of (plastic!) seats on fire – although Indra Putra Mahayuddin’s goal in the final vestiges of play was gorgeously executed to give the final score of 3-1. The last time Negri Sembilan won was in 1948 – the year of the birth of the newly-installed Yang di-Pertuan Besar, and in response to the team’s delivery of this magnificent gift, each member was also awarded the Commemorative Medal for the Installation of Tuanku Muhriz.

**

MONDAY marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which marked the failure of communism and one that continues to symbolise the enduring spirit of individuals seeking political, economic and social freedom from state oppression.

The impact of the event went beyond Europe: together with the collapse of the Soviet Union, people throughout the world saw the need – at least for markets, if not for democracy as well – to the extent that a nominally communist country is now one of the world’s economic superpowers. In South Africa, it strengthened the opponents to apartheid. In Malaysia, it was less than a month later, on Dec 2, 1989, that Chin Peng and his comrades finally laid down their arms, ending the Emergency.

Alas, the centralisation of power – leading to the perception of nominally neutral state institutions having been compromised by party politics – and enduring distortions in the economy paid for by the taxpayer have resulted in characteristics that would have made the socialists proud. In short, we still have many walls that can be broken down. The need for more reforms is a sentiment shared by those in Barisan and Pakatan, even if clashes among individuals between and within the parties overshadow the agenda.

The removal of the "race" box in forms, the promise to abolish APs, the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature in Selangor, the possibility of local elections in Penang – all of these may help chip away at the walls which constrict us.

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