Despite the rainfall, hundreds of Malaysian students rallied in Liberty Square in Taipei yesterday, shouting support for political reforms as part of a globally coordinated movement.
Taking to the streets at the same time as their compatriots in Malaysia, more than 500 Malaysian students studying in various universities across Taiwan wore yellow T-shirts — the color that represents Malaysia’s Coalition for Free and Fair Elections — and chanted slogans in Malay and Mandarin, while some made speeches calling for political reforms.
“After the Bersih movement was launched last year and soon gained strong support among the public, our [Malaysian] government seemed to be willing to make some reforms. However, the changes are all superficial and without actual effect,” said Chan Kuang Ming (陳洸銘), a graduate student at National Central University’s Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature. “For example, it [the Malaysian government] proposed the Peaceful Assembly Act, which puts many restrictions on organizing public rallies, making it virtually impossible to have demonstrations in the capital Kuala Lumpur.”
Bersih, the Malay word for “clean,” is used by the coalition and its supporters to describe a Malaysian political movement that began last year, first as a movement for rooting out election irregularities, and later developed into a civil movement concerned with various social issues.
For instance, opposition to a rare earths processing plant, built by Australian firm Lynas Corp in the coastal town of Kuantan, was a focus of yesterday’s rally.
“Processing rare earths produces radioactive waste, and the Australian firm plans to not only process rare earths in Malaysia, but also to dump radioactive waste there,” said Low Wa Tan (劉華丹), a native of Kuantan who studies at National Taitung University. “If it’s really safe, why don’t they build the plant in Australia, and dump the waste in Australia?”
“In Malaysia, even embankments built by the government collapse. Do we believe that they would make the rare earths processing plant and radioactive waste storage facility 100 percent safe?” he asked.
Low said he suspects the main reason the Australian firm wants to build the plant in Malaysia is so that it can dump the radioactive waste there.
“According to the Basel Convention [on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes], it [Lynas Corp] may not ship radioactive waste out to other countries when it meets opposition in Australia,” Low said. “But it can ship out rare earths, and could dispose of the waste produced from processing rare earths in Malaysia.”
However, Low was not too optimistic about stopping the rare earths processing plant because it is already more than 95 percent complete, with the first shipments of rare earths expected in two weeks, he said.
Chang Teck Peng (莊迪澎), founding editor of independent Malaysian news outlet Merdeka Review, and now a doctoral student at National Chengchi University, urged the crowd to return to Malaysia to join the fight for social justice.
“Bersih is not only a movement for election reform. We shall push for democratic reforms, for media reforms and for improvements in labor rights,” he said. “I’m going back to Malaysia in August, and I hope to see you there. We shall stand side-by-side in the struggle for a better future for our country.”