July 5, 2011
The Malaysian Insider Perspective on BERSIH 2.0: Winners and Losers
This episode has once again demonstrated how fractious and divided Malaysia is with enlightened and liberal Malaysia on one side and almost fascist powers on the other.
Some individuals emerge from this episode with reputations intact, others with image destroyed forever. The Malaysian Insider gives our take on the winners and losers.
• The organisers of BERSIH: let’s be honest, until a few weeks ago this was a movement at the periphery of most Malaysians. Okay, so some 100,000 people would have marched on the streets on KL. But thanks to the government’s blanket arrests, use of draconian laws and decision to behave like a repressive regime, BERSIH became a buzzword. Much to the government’s chagrin, everyone has forgotten about Datuk T, all the wonderful projects under the ETP. Today, people remember BERSIHh as the people fighting for clean and fair elections, and the Barisan Nasional (BN) government as the people frightened of free and fair elections.
• Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan: She was called names by the prime minister and threatened with having her citizenship revoked by the Malacca chief minister and was under severe pressure from the police and security agencies. But the former Bar Council president did not lose her cool or become rabid like her detractors. She stayed the course and was always civil. Maybe our politicians should take a leaf out of her book.
• The Yang di-Pertuan Agong: his measured last-minute intervention gave the government and BERSIH face-saving escape routes from confrontation. This is what Malaysians expect of the monarchy: for them to be honest brokers, not mouthpieces for the ruling party. In all likelihood he was asked by the government to issue the statement on Sunday but it does appear that he was unwilling to demonise BERSIH.
• Malaysian public: in the wake of all this talk of riots and tension, the man in the street was unmoved and unconvinced by the fairytale stories of communist plots and Christian funding — a sure sign that the governed are more mature than the government.
• Dato’ Seri Najib Razak: he has now agreed to meet BERSIH leaders to discuss the venue for their rally. One has to ask why as the PM he did not engage the activists but instead he allowed them to be demonised by his UMNO party. The mishandling of the issue also allowed Malaysia’s image to be tarnished and undid a lot of good work done by good men in the administration. He allowed the hardliners in government and his party to call the shots when he should have been leading from the front.
• Dat0′ Hishammuddin Hussein: where does one start with this major disappointment of a minister? He left many stumped by his illogical statements and his John Le Carre scenarios. He has ambitions of becoming the country’s prime minister. After this performance it is arguable whether he is the best person for the home ministry portfolio.
• Dato’ Ibrahim Ali: he has been at the forefront of the attacks against Ambiga and BERSIH. And he has also tried to turn the issue into one of race, to protect Malay rights. But it became abundantly clear that Bersih 2.0 had the support of many Malaysians from different races. It was not about race after all but the issue of free and fair elections.
• The PDRM: the police have made a mockery of the law by arresting people for wearing T-shirts. While it is arguable whether preventive action and detention should still be allowed, arresting people for wearing T-shirts was a ridiculous act. Continuing to detain people under the Emergency Ordinance over the rally is also a classic case of abusing the law. In the end the police should remember that if a permit was granted the rally would not have been illegal. The police must not act as if the country is under siege from its own citizens.