The Day After BERSIH2.0’s Walk for Democracy: Soul Searching for Malaysia

July 10, 2011

Soul-Searching for Malaysia After BERSIH2.0

In the morning of July 10, 2011, Petaling Street- the Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur- is once again bustling with activities. In local coffee shops, 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 it created awareness to the public on nation-centric issues that involve Malaysians regardless of creed or color.

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 march.

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 his hands.

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 city.

Now that the rally is over, a relevant question post-BERSIH is, what’s next? 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 green light from the King.

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 prominence.

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 achieve.

35 thoughts on “The Day After BERSIH2.0’s Walk for Democracy: Soul Searching for Malaysia

  1. Nothing will change in all Third World countries until and unless all senior government employees and politicians are equired by law to declare their assets to an Independent Parliamentary Committtee.

  2. No reaction from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and our own SUHAKAM. More disappointing to me is that the Obama Administration remains muted on BERSIH2.0 Walk for Democracy and the crackdown against activists who campaigned for Free, Clean and Fair Election. Maybe Ambassador John Malott can comment on this.

  3. “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 achieve.”

    BERSIH has united Malaysians? It is UMNO that has united Malaysians but against them. They didn’t see this coming or did they?

  4. muthu
    what do you want Obama to say? Obama is President of the US and has nothing to do with some demonstration in Malaysia. Anything he says will have UMNO crying foul for intervention in local politics of a sovereign nation. Many people misunderstand the duties and responsibilities of the President of the United States. I encourage you to read up on the powers of the President of the US and what he can and cannot do. Also study the US system of government with it’s 3 branches Executive, Legislative and Judiciary and how the check and balances are done between these 3 branches.

  5. Now it’s time to file multiple lawsuits against the Police for each and every incident of Police brutality and attack on innocent bystanders. Flood the courts of Abang Aki till he gets another heart attack.

    Bersih has in one afternoon diffused Perkasa Ibrahim Ben Ali. The Malays in Bersih has sent a strong message to the Malays of Perkasa, we don’t need you and your defense of Malay rights.

    Keep the momentum going and it’s going to break BN/UMNO. More and more BN/UMNO members will come over realizing the true sentiments of Malaysians.

  6. By uniting Malaysians albeit against them, Najib can now look forward to his legacy of being the first Prime Minister to have succeeded in uniting Malaysians. No small feat.

  7. Semper Fi,

    Muthu is trying to provoke a reaction from the Obama Administration. Maybe Malaysia is not a priority to the US compared to Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. –Din Merican

  8. Flood the courts of Abang Aki till he gets another heart attack – semper

    Flood the courts of Abang Aki, semper? You don’t know abang Aki like I do. Flood he will but not the courts. Why do you think the tea lady has been mopping the floor instead of serving tea?

  9. Din,
    You think Malaysia is not on the USA radar list. You should know who is one of the contestant of Spralty Island?

  10. Muthu, Malaysia has never been a priority for the Americans. If we were China, and with such videos of police brutality, Ms. Clinton will be chowing down on Najib last night. (This would definitely wakeup Mr. Bean) No luck, we are and always been in the peripherals. Anyway, most Americans don’t know who were are. We get very small coverage, and our people dont participate in comments in US online newspapers. See my comments at the Boston Globe, and add yours.

  11. Some of your readers have gone as far as to question the “real agenda of your blog”. I don’t think you have any agenda i.e. a political agenda. But I can only speak for myself.

  12. Yes, James. Hilary is well known for her ability to make that 3.00 am phone call. What the heck! Bill is always fast asleep at all hours – well, maybe not all hours but at least when he is with her.

  13. James,
    Hillary would chow China & can’t makan. But Malaysia, if want too, USA would whack Malaysia. Perhaps through its proxies, Thailand…..Hehehe

  14. There are wins and there are losses in Bersih’s historic event. The wins are Bersih itself and the dawn of multiracial awareness of the people of Malaysia. The losses are the word “Bersih”, the colour “Yellow” and the death of a martyr for the cause, Baharudin Ahmad.

    Bersih was demonised and even banned from the face of the earth. Yet despite the brutality of the police and the wantonness of the regime to see its demise Bersih has become a household name among Malaysians and the world at large in a space of a few weeks. A new icon is born in the person of Amiga. Bersih has also struck fear and paranoia in the heart of a ruthless regime. Bersih’s simple demands for a clean and fair electoral process has teased the lie out of a regime that involuntarily admits that it does not advocate clean and fair elections. Through the baptism of fire that Bersih has just witnessed, it has bring out a new awareness of multiculturism that the regime’s own “1Malaysia” concept has failed to forge and had to buy through with deceit and money. Bersih’ rally has shown that Malaysia’s motley citizens do care for one another despite the regime’s racial and religious baits to divide. The regime is shocked that intimidation and naked brutality have not worked. In fact the more brutal and self-denial the regime becomes, the more adherents Bersih will attract.

    Now the losses: Anything associated with Bersih has come under renew attack from the regime. The new victims are the word “Bersih” and the color “Yellow”. I am afraid that the offending word will be expunged from the dictionaries and school children will be taught to hate the word. The word which has graced the regime’s own slogans will also have to be replaced. Now “kotor” will be the official replacement for the word “bersih”. Malaysia will no more be a clean country. Dirty drains, dirty water, dirty politics and everything associated with “kotor” will be de rigueur.

    There will be one less colour from the spectrum in paranoid Malaysia. There will be no yellow T-shirts, no yellow cars, houses, etc. No TV programmes and printed matter will have the colour “yellow” in them. Yellow which signifies royalty will have to be banned which will render our royalty less royal.

    So these are the legacies of the Bersih’s aftermath.

  15. Huh? What nonsense? Dark forces? Partisans?
    Oh, you mean Bible studies.. Yup! The Right moral compass vs Left One.
    Btw, this writer was right about the protesters picking up their own trash.
    Can’t say the same about the goons, who let DBKL indentured workers clean up after their shit.

    Hey at my age, recovery time is still tenable! No teeth lost – let the younger ones take the crap. Being ‘Uncle’ to almost everyone else was kinda nice, but gets confusing after awhile. Those poor Sarawakians and Sabahans were kinda lost, if brave. Next time case out the joint, one week beforehand.., OK? Aiya, tell them to go back to Madras Lane and some with tears streaming choked: “Mana ‘tu?”

  16. How can US whack Malaysia, rememebr Malaysia have many level of defense, the military with missing jet engines and subs that won’t submerge, the police with watr cannons and tear gas, 500,000 RELA, 100,000Perkasa, Azeez and his Mat Rempits and the 50,000 invisible ooops invincible silat lincah. They’ll make mince meat out of the Navy Seals, Marines and the 7th Fleet. The US will have to “beat the retreat” and Hilary will have to come to KL to smoke peace pipe.

  17. the last image ” police in action” by al jazeera. where’s the pro PR demonstrator “in action image” ? I still keep a copy of Tian Chua in action burning DBKL waste bin and biting a cop hand.

  18. Peace pipe for Hilary?? Ok where’s Tok Cik who says he has the longest peace pipe on the Guinnes Book of Records. What Tok Cik? Talk to Sharizat?.

  19. the country with unsinkable subs, ecological fighterjets which need no engines and invisible martial arts experts as third line of defence.

    even UK is thinking of recruiting these silat experts in place of the frontline gurkha force they have now.

    ‘uncle’ CLF how can you ask those poor Sarawakians to go to INDIA!
    you’re pulling their legs were’nt you?

  20. Uncle CLF?? CCR? You’re too young to be around CCR then. These are favourites of old geezers like yours truly. Others include semper, Tok Cik – and of course our bloghost. But rock music is not his forte. Jazz is.

  21. Najib is out for his walkabout the city. How lovely! Armed with his UMNO honchos it’ll be just like mother theresa mending the poor and sick.

  22. My blog is intended to promote free and fair exchange of information, ideas and views on how to reshape Malaysia as a democracy as it was intended by YAM Tunku Abdul Rahman in the August 31, 1957 Proclamation of Independence.

    Mongkut Bean, I did not say that BERSIH2.0 is an Opposition-led movement for political change. As far as I know it is a non-partisan and inclusive grassroots movement led by genuine Malaysian civil society leaders like Dato’ Ambiga, Haris Ibrahim, Wong Chin Huat, Maria Abdullah Chin, and others.

    UMNO and other BN component parties were invited to join in the campaign for free, clean and fair election, but they refused. It is also clear there is a heavy presence of Opposition personalities during the rally itself which enabled the Najib Administration to say that BESIH2.0 is a tool of Pakatan Rakyat.–Din Merican

  23. The day after BERSIH, Najib went for a walkabout to search his soul. But how can one look for a soul one doesn’t possess?

  24. tourman53,
    I read somewhere Ibrahim Ali said his wife had told him to stay home, can’t remember whether it is flu or something. Given his reputation for founding Perkasa and the like, perhaps he should consider forming ” Obedient Husbands Club ” . Better for him to listen to his wife than talking nonsense.

  25. Dato only repeated what the MSM was saying and asked for opinions from his commentators. I see nothing wrong in that. Anwar and Co. are also citizens of malaysia therefore why should’nt they join the call for free and fair elections?

    CCR? too young then, nee not me!
    one is always young and never too old, at least those who think they are young. when need be I numb my brain with CCR.

  26. Here’s what Dato wrote:

    “Most people I talked to during the week before the rally told me that Ambiga and her NGO friends were correct to seek electoral reform, but because it is being viewed as an adjunct to the Pakatan coalition, BERSIH is held with suspicion. The presence of Pakatan leaders at today’s rally confirms that BERSIH allowed itself to become a political tool for the Opposition.”

    It is not the first limb that has generated some controversy among your readers. But the second limb. It sounds like you are agreeing to what is an observation by “most people” by using words like “confirm” and “allowed”.

    Read both limbs together one can conclude that you’re making a hypothesis. Nothing wrong with making a hypothesis so it could be tested. But it is the premise that has apparently attracted some flak from readers.

  27. Dear Mutu,

    The US like the Lord works in mysterious ways. You may not get a direct comment by watch their actions and you will get the drift.

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