By Wayne Lim
In my September 2009 column, I wrote about the large-scale street demonstration that took place then. My column’s title then was ‘Million Dollar March’. I highlighted the damage SME businesses suffered during and after the street demonstration. Like all other SME entrepreneurs, I condemn such street demonstrations. I was naïve enough to think that after the Aug 1, 2009 street demonstration, there would be no repeat of such an event since all should have learnt the extent of damage street demonstrations can bring to us. The Government had then, agreed in principle to offer the possible usage of a stadium for future peaceful demonstrations. I, for one, thought that SMEs would be spared any future losses in business as a result of street demonstrations. It has hardly been two years and SMEs are once again being made to suffer by the acts of a supposedly responsible party calling for ‘clean’ elections. ‘Bersih’, as they are called, launched their street demonstration campaign in June and the momentum they gathered was so great that it prompted two other groups, UMNO Youth and Perkasa, to separately announce their intention to take to the streets as well.
The economic damage incurred by SMEs as a result of the July 9 street demonstration were far more severe compared to Aug 1, 2009. This time round, people avoided the Kuala Lumpur city centre as early as the day before the actual street demonstration. I was in the Kuala Lumpur city centre on Friday before noon and there were fewer vehicles compared to other Fridays. Many companies were letting employees leave early to avoid roadblocks and by evening, the scene in the Klang Valley was not as usual. Very few people were hanging out at the Kuala Lumpur city centre. The exodus of those leaving the city centre caused a massive traffic jam outside Kuala Lumpur. It took my friend’s daughter two and a half hours to get from Damansara Heights to her home near Tropicana. The large number of partygoers, diners and shoppers who usually hang out on Friday was nowhere to be seen. The trend of staying away from the city centre continued until Saturday and most SME businesses had already decided not to carry out business on the day for fear of chaos, looting or unruly demonstrators. Friday and Saturday are the two days when business is at a peak for SME retailers, traders and restaurant operators.
But due to the ‘rallies’, the Friday and Saturday of July 8 and July 9 were no longer the same for the SMEs operating in or within the demonstration areas. They suffered losses of up to millions of ringgit. Even the taxi drivers were not spared. The poor taxi drivers stayed at home or were literally stationery to avoid running into the demonstrators. Why march? Why make the SMEs suffer? Of course, the person who initiated this knows best. In the name of ‘clean’ elections, this lady who is a professional in law and knows the law well felt that a protest and street rally are within the constitutional rights of Malaysians; even if such activities inconvenienced others or caused business losses to the tune of millions of ringgit. What if tomorrow the nearly one million SMEs who employ almost 60% of the total workforce in Malaysia staged a peaceful protest right in front of Ambiga’s house or the neighborhood whereshe lives in? What if due to this peaceful rally, she can’t leave her home to go to work or perform her daily chores? What if the protest caused extreme inconvenience to her? Would she still uphold the constitutional rights of those who staged the rally in front of her house? What if a peaceful rally is staged in front of her law firm and as a result, she can’t get in or out of her office, her clients can’t visit her, she can’t visit her clients and her employees can’t perform their duties? Should upholding a constitutional right to stage a peaceful rally come at the cost of causing inconveniences to others or even a potential lose of income?
Since all parties claim to be winners in the July 9 rally —Bersih, UMNO Youth and even Perkasa who didn’t show up — there can only be one loser and it has to be the SMEs who have no power and no political connections. But these SMEs that account for 99.2% of total active businesses and employ almost 60% of total workforce do have the power to vote and I believe all entrepreneurs think alike. They will vote for those who can provide a conducive environment for doing business. God bless SMEs!