Ya, ya still on Bersih 2.0 rally but this is the last one, I promise…
(The famed stand-off between the peaceful protestors and police who bend on breaking up the rally at whatever the cost. Poster source: Mob’s Crib)
It has been interesting reading everyone’s post rally experiences, opinions and suggestions over Bersih 2.0’s recent rally and there have been gems such as these:-
The iconic image of Bersih 2.0 was refreshing; that of its leader Ambiga Sreenivasan, former Bar Council President, serenely leaving the Istana after an audience with the King. The symbolism could not be overstated, for the Najib Administration had earlier declared her organization illegal! Only those retarded would miss the message, and they are precisely the types we are dealing with here. (Source)
The police formed a human barricade, arms crossed, and barbed wire at the entrance of the road just a short distance from the Stadium. A. Samad Said came and talked with the policemen. Such a frail man, but so strong. We sang Negaraku … and we sang it from the heart. (Source)
But then on the other side of the coin, there has been more than a handful of blogs that had questioned the legality of the rally and its negative impact on the country (it was no surprise that some of these blogs are run by well known pro BN, pro Najib bloggers). There are also others who claim that the sanctity and independence of the rally has been hijacked by politicians for their own political mileage. Yes, it is possible but then again, where do we mark the line between ordinary Malaysians who want to see positive change to a corrupt system and politicians who may or may not have hidden agendas. Then there is the question of why one needs a street rally to give the demands to the King when the organizers could have slip it in when they met the King, days before the rally (this one probably needs another detailed analysis on the need for publicity in order to make the maximum impact on the cause but not now).
Then I read Aizuddin Danian’s post titled “How Bersih torpedoed the cause of electoral reforms?” Aizuddin Danian had always made sense in his blog and it worth the read all the time. Aizuddin Danian makes 3 points as to why Bersih torpedoed the cause of electoral reforms:-
1. 50,000 people do not make the majority. As with any large demonstration, they do make a hell of a noise, enough for the international Press to take notice, enough for the nation to be talking for weeks over the issue. But, it is still a relatively small number. How many people who between now and the date of GE13 will change their minds again for whatever reason that might come up. It’s too soon still to tell if the primary impact of the rally yesterday will hold true till the next time voters are asked to visit the polls
2. The rally yesterday was illegal. As much as the Opposition say they want the rule of law to prevail, it seems rather convenient that when the rule of law goes against them, they choose to ignore it, then cry foul when the authorities enforce it. When Bersih asked for the rickety Stadium Merdeka of 30k capacity to be the venue of their 50-100k rally, what would have been the responsible thing to do? It’s almost as though the request for such a small venue was made in bad faith, calculated to be denied so that Bersih could regain the moral high ground after losing some during the King’s surprise intervention.
3. For the Government to agree to the 8 electoral reforms (several of which have absolutely nothing to do with the elections but are more political in nature, some of which the Opposition themselves can’t claim to be free of, see PKR’s recently concluded internal “elections”), would set a dangerous precedent for the future. The moment any Government allows itself to be blackmailed (“do this or else we take to the streets”), it legitimizes the strategy of the mob. Get the mob onto the streets and the Government will give in. That’s just wrong, no matter how valid the demands
As I said, Aizuddin Danian had always made sense and he is entitled to his points, no doubt but here’s why I don’t think Bersih had torpedoed the cause of electoral reforms.
“….50,000 people do not make the majority…”
1. To tell you the truth, we will never know how many Malaysians really backed Bersih 2.0 (at least by actively going down to the streets for rally on 9th July 2011), not with the daily demonization that Government has been spilling on the Government controlled medias and the various threats that has been aimed at potential rally participants for many weeks now by the Government, the police, ruling political party members, that ball-less clown and some martial art Mahaguru. So, if despite all that you get 50,000 on the street, it can be considered as simply amazing and cannot be considered as a small number. Especially when we have also not included those passive supporters of Bersih who did not go down to the streets but agree on the purpose of the rally.
And there is this issue of people shouting at the rallies in support of the oppositions but doing something else when it comes to the actual voting day. It is not new and we have seen it happening at every general election. It is something that Bersih organizer has to work on even though the rally has now ended. They have to be consistent and ensure continued awareness of the election process weaknesses and the need for reforms.
Please don’t wait for Bersih 3.0. Yes, it may be still too soon to tell if Bersih 2.0 has made the positive impact but if nothing is done to keep up the notion of changes for free and fair elections, you can expect the process to remain unchanged for the next general election as well. The ball is in Bersih 2.0’s court now on this matter.
“…the rally yesterday was illegal…”
2. To say that the rally was illegal without due consideration on the Government’s response on the rally would be unfair to the organizers. The power to determine the legality of the rally unfortunately had fallen on the Government and it is simply convenient (and beneficial) for them to label the rally as illegal. We need to first consider if due consideration has been given to the permit application. We cannot ignore the fact that Bersih did attempted several times to obtain police permit. Public order and safety was cited as the overriding factor to deny the application.
This may been valid but the very nature of the Government of strongly opposing Bersih 2.0 from day 1 seems to paint a picture that decision may have been made in a rush and without any viable option for Bersih. If indeed public order and safety was the overriding factor to deem the rally as illegal, then what did police do to allow the rally to proceed whilst ensuring public order and safety remained intact? Was there any suggestion given to Bersih 2.0 (discounting the last minute ditch to offer police permit if the rally was held in PR led state)? Did they provide Bersih 2.0 with a list of rally conditions such as limiting number of people allowed to rally, setting a predetermined location where it is easier for the police to control the crowd and specific time for rally to start & end?
As I recall, there was none, to an extent, after meeting with the King, Bersih 2.0 had to even ask the police to dictate the route of the rally but it was rejected outright as well. Other than simply denying permit which now makes the rally to be illegal, there was no serious attempt to allow Malaysian to have peaceful rally and present their demand to the Government.
The idea of having the rally in a stadium was made only after Najib opened his mouth and implied that police permit would be granted if the rally was held in a stadium. He did not say which stadium but the option of having it in Stadium Merdeka somehow made bloody sense. It is iconic and it is where Proclamation of Independence was done. It was a perfect choice. And once again, the Government and the police could have dictated the number of protestors allowed inside the stadium and work together with Bersih 2.0 organizers to enforce it. But in the end, this did not happen as well. Despite opening his mouth and making the offer for the rally to be held in a stadium, the Government then backtracked and used the police as the front to delay any kind of rallies from taking place.
“…set a dangerous precedent for the future…”
3. Before we can say that by accepting the demands, it sets a dangerous precedent and allows the Government to be blackmailed, we must first consider what the demands are. Were those demands is something critical and more importantly reasonable?
Let’s look at the demands by Bersih 2.0 and see whether it passes the simple test of reasonableness. Did Bersih 2.0 demanded for a statue of Anwar’s grandfather to be erected in the middle of the city? No, that would have been highly unreasonable and the Government would have been in their rights to refuse to such demands outright. Or did Bersih 2.0 request that RM1 million compensation to be paid to each Malaysian like how Hindraf did several years ago? No, because that means good taxpayers money to be wasted on something unsubstantiated and worthless. So, what were the Bersih 2.0’s demands and whether those demands reasonable?
Let’s recap the demands once again:-
1. Clean the electoral roll
2. Reform postal ballot
3. Use of indelible ink
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
5. Free and fair access to media
6. Strengthen public institutions
7. Stop corruption
8. Stop dirty politics
Take a good look at the list and close your eyes and think – are those demand reasonable or unreasonable. If the demands are reasonable, then why it is not implemented earlier and why when another party highlights the weaknesses and improvements, it is considered as blackmailing the Government? Why the refusal to review the demands without any due consideration? No doubt some of the proposed reforms is political in nature but in Malaysia where fine line of processes being independence from influence of politics is often blurred, reforms (political in nature or not) is still needed for a better Malaysia. The Government simply needs to find the political will to make the changes – if not all, part of them.
Of course, the ruling political party has their reasons not to make the changes to the election process – the loopholes favors them in certain ways, hence the public rally by Bersih 2.0 with plenty of participation from the opposition political parties. And we are not talking about violent mob running loose on the streets with sole aim to create uneasiness and trail of destruction. We are talking about ordinary Malaysians on a peaceful rally requesting for the reforms of the electoral. In that sense, it is not wrong considering how valid the demands are.
The strong participation of Pakatan Rakyat politicians in Bersih 2.0 somehow had clouded the NGO’s thrust for electoral reforms. That I must agree. It however does not mean that electoral process has been too perfect and does not need of any reforms. It does and Bersih 2.0’s demands should form the basis of reforms that the Government and the Election Commission should be considering to ensure that the people’s votes are properly translated to electing the right people to the Parliament and State Assemblies and these elected politicians do their job in the interest of the country and people instead for themselves and the political party that they belonged to. The fact that the Opposition had won some seats should never be used as the yardstick to gauge the how free and fair our elections been.
All we asked for due consideration on something that should been done a long, long time ago. That is all.