June 28, 2011
BERSIH 2.0: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia
My friend, Terence Netto, writes about the on-going tussle between our Government and the civil society coalition called BERSIH2.0. Netto sees it in stark US versus THEM terms. I do not because I believe that the Prime Minister’s intervention will do the trick. He must display true leadership and act with wisdom.
The outcome of the July 9 rally will determine the course of democracy in the years to come. That is why the stakes are high. However, I am concerned about what can happen the day itself, if the protest takes place without Police permit.
Opposing forces like PERKASA and UMNO Youth are going to disrupt it. The marching crowd will in turn react to provocations in unpredictable ways, and there is no way we can control the passions of the moment with water cannons, tear gas and truncheons. Both sides are headed for confrontation with tragic consequences on Malaysia’s body politik. God Forbid.
The issues are clear: most Malaysians want free and fair elections and this can come about only when there is electoral reform. An opportunity was created when the Elections Commission Chairman suggested that BERSIH2.0 organisers should meet up with him to deal with their well known 8 demands. The fact that this appeal has fallen on deaf ears indicates the level of public confidence in the Elections Commission’s will and capacity to institute electoral reforms.
It may be recalled similar demands were in November, 2007 when Malaysians marched in unprecedented numbers (some 60,000 in number) to Istana Negara to petition His Majesty The Yang DiPertuan Agong. Furthermore, if the recommendations of the two Royal Commissions on the Police and the Lingam Tapes were ignored by the Government (under Badawi at that time), there is no assurance that either the Chairman singly or collectively with his colleagues on the Elections Commission can do it now without the clearance from the Government. The Commission’s independence has been compromised far too often.
The onus now rests on Prime Minister Najib and his Government. At this time, given the pressure from the Malaysian public — to the extent that BERSIH2.0 represents them– and reactionary groups like PERKASA and UMNO Youth, the Government has responded to BERSH2.0 organisers and other dissidents including the well known poet and novelist, Dato A. Samad Said (picture above) with an iron fist. Police crackdown has begun with the threat of the draconic ISA looming. Only the Prime Minister can diffuse the mounting tension in the run-up to July 9.
There is still room for a peaceful resolution to this impending crisis. The Prime Minister’s leadership is required. Only he can stop this rally from happening with an olive branch. We all should start listening to each other, and work towards a united Malaysia where there is place for everyone. But we must recognise that there are elements in our society who could be itching for a fight to settle old scores. A showdown is in the works but it can be diffused. It requires an act of true leadership.–Din Merican
Government Versus BERSIH: An eyeball-to-eyeball situation
by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT: The parallels and differences between then and now have to be dwelt on for insight and illumination.
Then would be October 1987, when tensions were rising in the country over an issue to do with the placement of non-Mandarin speaking administrators in government-aided Chinese schools.
Party elections in UMNO earlier that year had resulted in a controversy-marred close victory for the incumbents. Internecine conflict in the dominant political party is always tinder for the lighting. The lighted match would come with the controversy over the government’s decision to appoint non-Mandarin speaking administrators in Chinese schools.
Switch forward 24 years and the country finds itself in a situation of rising tensions in the immediate prelude to the BERSIH 2.0 march planned for July 9, though this time the drivers for the heightened tensions have nothing to do with race or language.
True, there is competitive rivalry in the dominant political party, UMNO, but it does no longer bestride the political arena like a colossus as it used to. Now the party displays symptoms of a different ailment to the one that afflicted it in 1987: its weakened position in the parliamentary calculus has emboldened right-wing elements within in to push for a crackdown on an opposition that could defeat it in the fast approaching general election.
Because perception is almost everything in Malaysian politics, the planned march for July 9, if it draws a bigger attendance than did its predecessor in the Bersih march of November 2007, it could well be curtains for UMNO-BN in the 13th general election.
As in the comparative 1987 period, the question, in the lead-up to the BERSIH 2.0 march in 11 days time, of how to assure the stability in power of the ruling elite is central to all other factors riding in the balance.
Issues of race, religion, independence of the law enforcement authorities and the like, are like patterns in a kaleidoscope whose formations are dependent on who does the shaking.
Najib miming the pantomime
As the baton of UMNO leadership was passed to him in April 2009, the prognostications for Prime Minister Najib Razak were that the man, whose father was the catalyst for the tectonic shifts to the Malaysian political landscape in the immediate post-May 13 1969 period, would either be the initiator of a radical revamp to save the construct or perish in the attempt.
In the two years since he has taken over, Najib has made the shifts and feints indicative of a desire to revamp the system, but a creaking edifice, entrenched in its ways, has budged but little.
This has left the leader miming the pantomime but unable to effect substance of change. On an array of issues, ranging from education to electoral reform, the entrenched system asserts its unchanged ways in spite of good intentions to effect change.
Perhaps the system has to be changed from top to bottom and the main superintendent of change is too embedded in the old to be a harbinger of the new. Sensing this, the opposition knows that a crumbling system and its defenders-cum-reformers are a final push away from oblivion.
This realisation has propelled them to arrive at a consensus that has shoveled away major differences in their agendas.They now enjoy unanimity of outlook and aim which is symbolised by their determined support for the BERSIH 2.0 march.
An Ode to Democracy
All successful mass movements need a rallying point around which their disparate aims can coalesce. The Malaysian opposition has found in the call for electoral reform.
It has helped that the ham-fisted manner in which the authorities are seeking to prevent the BERSIH 2.0 march has had the effect of widening the array of support for the event.
When the penning of a poem, ostensibly an ode to democracy, by a national literary laureate, Dato A. Samad Said (right), is occasion for the police to haul up the author for sedition – the indictment of the authorities by their asininity towards the march is self-evident.
Thus the immovable object, which is the BERSIH march itself, and a seemingly irresistible force, which is the security establishment, is poised in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
The side that blinks would be the one that resorts to uncivil methods – repression by the one side and disorderly conduct by the other.