Turnout short of 80,000 expected but supporters still feel it is a success
By Teo Cheng Wee, The Straits Times
UNITED IN RED: Protesters at the Kelana Jaya stadium yesterday chanting slogans against the hefty increase in pump prices. — ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
AT THE crack of dawn yesterday, factory technician Nathan Vellaisamy put on his red Parti Sosialis Malaysia T-shirt and left his Sungei Siput home for a three-hour bus ride to Selangor.
The Perak native was intent on being at the Kelana Jaya stadium to support the protest organised by the opposition-backed Coalition Against Inflation (Protes).
By 11am – an hour after the rally started – about 7,000 people bathed the field in a sea of red, the colour of the day’s protest.
Opposition members took turns leading the crowd with chants of ‘Turun, turun!’ (Malay for ‘down’)
Like many others, Mr Vellaisamy, 38, said his main grouse was with the recent 41 per cent surge in pump prices. Petrol for his motorcycle used to cost him around RM100 (S$42) a month. Now it has doubled to RM200 – a big chunk of his RM1,100 salary.
‘My wife and I have to work so hard at the factory doing shifts to make ends meet, we see each other for only five minutes a day,’ he said.
Just married, they ‘had no time to have kids’.
While petrol was the hot topic, others came for one reason: To hear opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
‘I don’t believe he committed such a crime,’ said engineer Zaidi Zulkeplee, 28, who arrived at 3pm. ‘I want to hear it from the man himself,’ he said, referring to allegations of sexual assault by a former aide against Datuk Seri Anwar.
Throughout the day, the crowd was entertained by lion dances, skits and performances by graffiti artists.
After the strong start in the morning, the crowd ebbed and flowed, wilting to about 3,000 in the mid-day heat before rising to a peak of 15,000 when Mr Anwar arrived at 9.45pm.
Although far short of the 80,000 people that the opposition had expected, the crowd still meant big bucks for the vendors tending some 40 stalls outside the stadium.
They sold everything from clocks and video CDs of party rallies, to traditional Malay medicine and penis enlargers.
But the hawkers and the memorabilia stalls did the best business.
The red Protes T-shirt, at RM15, was a bestseller at the stall of Protes secretariat member Mohd Salehhudin, 37. By noon, all 3,000 had been snapped up.
He had also sold 500 headbands, 400 badges, 400 keychains, 400 pens, 200 fans and 200 umbrellas.
Drink stall vendor Basri Ismail, 37, and his wife Siti Fatimah, 27, did brisk business peddling RM1 Milo, lychee and assam drinks.
He paid RM50 for a one-day stall permit but easily recuperated that. While they usually sold no more than 200 cups at their pasar malam stall, by 5pm, supporters had already lapped up 800 cups.
They were not the only busy ones.
Throughout the day, opposition supporter Mohd Shukri Ramli, 36, could be seen banging away at his laptop in one corner of the stadium, busy updating his blog at http://www.cucumatkilau.co.cc. with the latest developments at the rally.
A former DJ who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in Pahang on the PKR ticket in the recent elections, he said he ‘wanted to let those who didn’t get the chance to come here to know what was happening’.
The protest at the stadium may have been a compromise from the one originally planned at the Padang Timur sports field, but for supporters like businessman Richard Wong, 50, it was still a success.
‘Before the opposition won Selangor, there would have been no way they could even had a rally at a stadium. They would have held it by the roadside,’ he said.
‘Make no mistake, the opposition has come a long way,’ he said.