Sunday, July 10, 2011
Soul-searching for Malaysia post-Bersih rally
6:31 PM Gay video
Jul 10, 2011
In the morning of July 10, 2011, Petaling Street- the Chinatown of
Kuala Lumpur- is once again bustling with activities. In local
coffeeshops, families sit around one another, while enjoying a typical
Cantonese breakfast of fried noodles and sipping hot cups of kopi-O,
or local black coffee with sugar, as part of their Sunday routine.
If there were any indication that more than 50,000 Malaysians have
marched on the same street seeking for free and fair elections, well,
there are none. There are no reports of public property damage and any
trash left by the prostestors are quickly cleaned up by themselves.
The march on July 9, known as the BERSIH 2.0 rally, has gone down to
history as the country's largest demonstration to-date. It is also, as
many Malaysians have observed; the most multi-racial one. In a country
whereby its political system is largely race-based, this is a big
piece of news to the nation.
Political activists and analysts believe that BERSIH's largest success
is not just its ability to draw a compelling number of citizens to
join in the rally on July 9, but also created awareness to the public
on nation-centric issues that involve Malaysians regardless of creed
Despite a 22-hour clampdown in the city and crackdown on BERSIH that
saw the arrests of more than 200 individuals before the rally was
held, an estimate of more than 50,000 people were out on the streets
in Kuala Lumpur waving Malaysian flags and chanting "Hidup
Rakyat" (Long Live the People) as they tried to make their way to the
Independence Stadium, which was the main meeting point of the rally.
"We are at the turning point of democracy and a maturing Malaysian
society," says Wong Chin Huat, a political activist and member of the
steering committee of BERSIH, which is made up of a coalition of 62
non-governmental organizations in the country.
BERSIH, which means 'clean' in the Malay language, had its first rally
in 2007 with about 50,000 turnout. The rally became a bellweather of
Malaysian politics and was seen as one of the factors that caused the
ruling coalition, the National Front, to lose five states to the
opposition parties, and be denied two-thirds majority of votes.
Ambiga Sreenevasan, the head of BERSIH 2.0 steering committee and
attorney, says BERSIH 2.0 was formed because of the extensive reports
and evidences found on vote-buying and rigging during the Sarawak
state elections held in April 2011.
"We are not making any headway into any kind of reform to the
country's electoral process. If you want to enjoy public confidence,
you have to make a stand," she says in a foreign press briefing two
days before the rally.
Nevertheless, the ruling government sees BERSIH 2.0 as a head-on clash
and defiance by the people, although the organizers have repeatedly
denied that the purpose of the rally was anti-government.
The crackdown on the rally was most stark on the day itself, which saw
the arrests of 1,667 individuals, including minors. Ambiga and several
politicians were also among those that were arrested. Meanwhile, on
the streets of Kuala Lumpur, police fired tear gas and used water
cannons with chemical-laced water at the demonstrators to stop the
In some instances, the scene turned ugly when the police were caught
on tape firing tear gas into a hospital where some 1,000 demonstrators
were taking refuge. One man died after he had a seizure but citizens
reported that the police refused to remove the cable that was binding
In the aftermath of the rally, mainstream media also played down the
event, with some saying that turnout for the rally was insignificant,
while others put the blame on the demonstrators for the chaos in the
Now that the rally is over, a relevant question post-BERSIH is, what's
For BERSIH, as of yesterday, it has yet to submit its memorandum to
the King, although the organizing committee has pledged to keep
pushing for an overhaul in the country's electoral system.
On the other hand, the government may now have some soul-searching to
do. The crackdown on BERSIH, if anything, does the most damage to the
current administration, led by Prime Minister, Najib Razak. Najib has
openly criticized the rally and denied BERSIH the permit to hold the
rally, although BERSIH had already been given the greenlight from the
Had Najib dealt with the situation differently, he could have garnered
support from among the demonstrators for being a reformist, compared
with his Malay peers; and the rally might not have enjoyed as much
With the BERSIH 2.0 rally likely to stay etch on voters' minds for
some time, Najib may now have to rely even more on the United Malays
National Organization (UMNO)- the party that he is leading- to
consolidate his power within the party than to win new votes among the
people. And he has started doing so, by giving a fiery speech
denouncing the BERSIH rally the day after.
Najib is likely to still stand a good chance within UMNO and rural
votes as well as from East Malaysia, but this is becoming more of a
case of him winning the war, but losing the battle.
What is most ironic out of this rally is that, BERSIH has managed to
unite Malaysians that Saturday in the name of love and justice for the
country- a feat that Najib's 1Malaysia campaign is still trying to