QUICK question: if you wear a yellow T-shirt as part of a political protest, where are you most likely to be arrested?
You may think it would be Thailand, where the yellow-shirted backers of the anarchic and woefully misnamed People’s Alliance for Democracy deserve to be jailed and the keys thrown away.
But, no, the correct answer is Malaysia, where a more genuine and broad-based communal crusade for political reform has garnered support across the country.
The movement’s advocates sport yellow shirts emblazoned with the word “Bersih”, which means clean in Bahasa Malay.
They want the country’s flawed political system, with its endemic corruption and institutionalised racism, to undergo a full root-and-branch overhaul.
It is a commendable goal and, if successful, would go a long way towards stemming the frightening brain drain of the best and brightest citizens among the minority communities.
Feeling more and more marginalised, growing numbers of Malaysian Chinese and Indians have turned away from the ruling National Front government, currently led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
After having been in power for more than half a century, the Front has become palsied and introverted and even more imbued with a sinister and faintly fascist-tinged Malay chauvinism.
The disillusioned minorities have been joined by middle-class Malays who also bemoan the lack of progress in fighting corruption and in allowing more freedom of expression and right of assembly.
Laudable though its objectives are, however, the movement for clean politics has scared the living daylights out of the Front leaders, who fear that a reformed system will lead to their demise.
They might appear to be in an awkward position: how to curtail a grassroots campaign to root out corruption and “make the electoral system truly free and fair”?
Actually, it’s easy in Malaysia: they just use the state-controlled media to impugn the movement’s integrity and bombard readers with the revelation that its supporters are, wait for it, communists!
Yes, it is now 2011, and communism was a discredited ideology long before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. Today, even the commies in Beijing and Hanoi are rampant capitalists.
That said, in Malaysian government circles, the term communist remains, next to sodomist, the favoured pejorative to discredit those it cannot defeat in the course normal discourse.
About 100 of the movement’s supporters, who were planning a rally on July 9, have already been arrested for allegedly plotting to use communist practices to overthrow the government.
Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, who is himself the target of an official defilement campaign, labelled the communist claim “a flimsy pretext” for the arrests.
More trenchantly, the rally organisers said the roundup amounted to a “stark and alarming lack of logic and common sense.”
It is more than that, it is preposterous and shameful.
The truth is that Najib’s government is deeply worried as it looks ahead to national elections within the next year or so, and it would like to strangle this meddlesome “clean” movement at birth.
Hishammuddin Hussein, the disturbingly intolerant Home Minister, warned that any citizen wearing a yellow t-shirt bearing the word “Clean” would be in violation of the law.
This is almost as bad as the way any Singaporean being found hewing gum or any Saudi Arabian woman driving a car risks arrest.
Najib’s men are clearly determined to exterminate this movement, and as a first step, they will block Saturday’s rally by whatever means necessary.
They know that a massive turnout would show that opposition support remains high and that the March 2008 election result, when the Front lost its two-thirds majority, was no fluke.
That view would be supported by the outcome of April’s state election in Sarawak, when the opposition alliance doubled its seats.
If that were to happen on a national scale, Najib and the Front would be gone.
That is the real reason for the crackdown on the yellow shirts of Malaysia.