PETALING JAYA, May 14 – Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin is very much the man of the moment, judging from the rousing reception he got at a public forum here last night in remembrance of the tragic race riots that became a bloodbath 40 years ago.
While his position as the lawful mentri besar (MB) of Perak is locked in a bitter wrangle in the Court of Appeal, there is no doubt as to his popularity with the public.
The cheers, catcalls, whistles and applause sounded far louder and longer when he walked up to the podium than for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim earlier when the Opposition Leader was opening the event.
Thousands turned up to hear Nizar speak at the city council civic centre, squeezing their rear ends onto narrow chairs in the packed hall, which normally seats about 1,000 people. Those who arrived late had to suffer the ignominy of sitting on the scruffy concrete floor or stand squished to the walls. They did not appear to mind at all; not even the ones dressed to the nines in formal jackets and bling.
Nizar did not disappoint.
The third last speaker for the evening, he immediately launched into a scathing attack on the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, singling out Umno for the most blistering criticism.
The newly-elected MP for Bukit Gantang accused the dominant Malay party of creating a bogeyman out of the May 13 1969 incident.
“Umno is still using the May 13 incident as a tool to scare Malaysians,” he thundered.
Nizar claimed that the residual fear from the incident was based on fiction, created by the ruling parties to continue the colonial tactic of divide-and-conquer to exert control over the populace.
“Umno tells people: ‘Our closest enemies are the Chinese’,” he said, to demonstrate what he claimed was the party’s tactics in inciting hatred among the different races.
He alleged the other race-based components of the BN coalition adopted similar measures.
He acknowledged that even he had been duped by the colonialist scare tactics in the past “but no more”.
“The 13th May incident was sparked deliberately by Umno,” he said, pointing out that there was no such racial disturbances in PAS-dominated areas.
Fast-forwarding it to the present day, Nizar emphasised that the Islamist party’s administration is based on universal values such as justice for all and trust.
He further highlighted how peaceful Perak was during its brief 10-month tenure in governing the state, compared to the BN state administration in Terengganu, claiming there existed a deep-seated quarrel inside the party that continued to the present day as the BN politicians squabble over trivial pursuits.
Nizar called on the audience to shake off the metaphorical yoke keeping their heads constantly bowed.
“Are we going to let this continue?” he questioned.
“No!” the crowd thundered in reply.
Smiling broadly, he echoed Anwar’s calls for statewide elections in Perak to solve the current crisis.
This, he said, would bring about a promising new political landscape in Malaysia.