No Real Winners on Both Sides
Tuesday, 12 July 2011 00:00
Just weeks ago, not many Malaysians knew who BERSIH 2.0 chairman Datuk S. Ambiga was. But thanks to the over-excitement of the authorities, she has become an icon overnight, especially after Saturday’s mammoth rally in the city.
The ‘illegal rally’ as termed by the government, paralyzed the city of Kuala Lumpur, causing disruption in train services, taxi services, bus services, businesses, etc, the list can go on.
As it was, the rally turned out to be peaceful, as the organizers had pledged it would be while the only acts of violence were those alleged to have been committed by the police, when they attacked the protestors with teargas and water cannons although the latter did not provoke them.
In retrospect, if the Government had allowed the rally to go on without fuss from the start – and it must be said that Bersih 2.0 (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) asked modestly for only two hours, from 2pm to 4pm – to march to the Istana Negara and submit a memorandum to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin – it would have just gone on without fuss, and everything would have been all right.
Figures have differed, depending on the source, as there were claims by the police that 6,000 people were involved in the rally, Bersih 2.0 claimed that 50,000 managed to slip through the police dragnet and entered the ‘Forbidden City’.
Ninety one people, including from the opposition, government, non governmental organizations and activists whose names were published in the newspapers, were barred from entering the city on Saturday (July 9) by the police, Ambiga, Umno Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali included.
The biggest losers though were the public who got stuck in horrendous traffic jams, businesses can count their losses, vendors could not distribute their newspapers, commuters found at least eight LRT stations shut, the city’s cabbies had to stay at home and, worse, terrified city dwellers had to stock up on food unnecessarily.
Supporters have the right to argue and convince others that it is their constitutional right to protest but, again, do not expect everyone to share their enthusiasm.
Taxpayers must certainly be wondering why their money was being spent on bringing so many cops into the city – and serving a buffet meal to law-breakers at Pulapol – when they should be busy catching criminals.
It must be brought to mind that not everyone who supports Bersih 2.0 are pro-opposition. Many middle class urban voters are unhappy about many issues and it won’t hurt the government to listen to them. Don’t give up on them so they won’t give up on the government. Some concerns are legitimate ones that need fixing.
Whatever one thinks about the issue that Bersih is espousing, we should all be proud of our fellow Malaysians who did not, despite dire predictions by some, behave like hooligans and destroy property and hurt one another.
Even during a stand off against the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), the protestors kept their cool and remained composed despite provocations.
In a futile effort to repair the government’s tattered image, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said some 6,000 people rallied, prompting many responses on social networking sites, obviously tickled by the police chief’s “inability” to count, many said he must have failed math’s because unofficial figures had the head count as close to 20,000.
In fact, there was no real necessity to arrest opposition leaders and 1,667 protesters, during the rally and later releasing them after serving them a hearty meal at the expense of the tax payers.
Even as thousands descended on Kuala Lumpur for the Bersih 2.0 rally on Saturday, netizens held their own protest via Facebook to demand the prime minister’s resignation.
The page, ‘100,000 People Request Najib Tun Razak Resignation’, quickly hit its six-figure target, garnering a staggering 109,484 ‘likes’ from Facebook users within 48 hours.
I have yet to find someone who said they regretted attending this rally. Many experienced acts of kindness by fellow marchers, many were impressed by the peaceful orientation of the rallies and many felt a Malaysian bonding experience that was more genuine than any concocted by empty sloganeering.
This is where Bersih has been the most successful – in maximizing the political impact among those who either participated or supported the right to participate in this rally.
The challenge now is to translate these experiences into continued advocacy and activism in the lead up to the next general election, whether it is through NGOs or political parties.
Arresting people who wear yellow T-shirts with the word “Bersih” is not going to help the government win votes. Something is wrong with us if we believe revolutions can be launched by wearing yellow T-shirts with the word “Bersih”.
The Government would have been seen to be accommodating and benevolent, and not afraid of a call for fair elections.
Instead, by choosing to clamp down on the rally even weeks before its scheduled date – in ways as drastic as detaining six people under the Emergency Ordinance and as absurd as arresting more than 200 people, some for merely wearing yellow T-shirts – it has lost immense favour and, some analysts say, the middle ground.