BBC reports on BERSIH2.0

July 15, 2011

Breezes of change in Malaysia

Her Majesty The Queen in BERSIH colors

By Rachel Harvey BBC South East Asia Correspondent (July 13, 2011)

Protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur were met  by police in full riot gear and clouds of tear gas

Malaysia’s reputation as a peaceful, multi-ethnic role model was shaken last weekend when thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The rally was organised by a collective of non-governmental organisations and activists calling itself Bersih – or the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections. The word “bersih” means “clean” in the Malay language.

The group’s stated aim is to push for reforms of Malaysia’s electoral system, which it claims is skewed in favour of the governing coalition.

In a determined effort to enforce a ban on the march, police locked down the centre of the city. Traffic was allowed – almost encouraged – to leave, but nothing was allowed back inside the cordon.

The protesters pushed on regardless, gathering in front of the road blocks, determined to make their point. Police in full riot gear were waiting.

Jets from water cannon flooded Kuala Lumpur streets. Clouds of tear gas billowed overhead – empty canisters were thrown back towards the police lines.

Screaming headlines

Protesters beat a retreat with baton-wielding police officers in pursuit. More than 1,000 people were arrested, though most were quickly released.

Haris Ibrahim (above) says they needed to convince authorities to take them seriously. A day later everything had returned to normal. Apart from the screaming headlines in the local newspapers, it would be impossible to tell anything untoward had happened.

Standing on the spot where just 24 hours earlier he had been trying to direct the crowd, one of the protest leaders, Hairs Ibrahim, reflected on the way things had developed.

“We promised things would be peaceful,” he said.”But we felt there was a need to press the authorities to take these reforms seriously.”

Those reforms include a longer campaign period before polling day, equal access to the media for all parties, and accurate voter lists.

“On polling day the dead get up to vote,” he said.But the government says there is more to all this than meets the eye. Among the protesters’ chants there were clearly recognisable opposition slogans, evidence, the government claims, of the reform movement’s partisan agenda.

In an office decorated with football trophies and photographs, Khairy Jamaluddin, leader of the youth wing of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party which has dominated Malaysian politics since independence more than 50 years ago, acknowledged the electoral reforms were needed.

But he said Bersih’s approach was deliberately confrontational.

“If you are talking about electoral reforms, then there’s a way of doing it. That’s to work with the elections commission to push for some of the points they have highlighted and not try to create a kind of us-and-them polemic,” he said.

Haris Ibrahim does not deny Bersih is a political organisation. But he strongly rejects the charge the reform movement is bent on removing the government from power. “Any time you push for change it is political,” he said.

“We don’t pretend to be otherwise. We don’t apologise for being political. But we are non-partisan.”

The government may, in part, be nervous because of the results of the last election in 2008.  It retained power, but it lost five states – its worst ever performance.That election was preceded by a protest march organised by an earlier incarnation of Bersih – the new movement has the full name of Bersih 2.0.

Changing dynamics

Part of the problem for the government is it can no longer control the message the way it once did. One striking phenomenon of last weekend’s protest was the number of people using their smart phones to record and upload video and to get real-time information on where the police blocks were and how to avoid them.

Malaysia now has 60% broadband penetration and there is free wi-fi in many parts of Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian Insider, an online news portal, has tapped into the growing demand for information. Its offices display clear influences from the new media ethos developed in the US.

There are chalk boards on the walls with a mix of motivational messages, team objectives and a list of names who had signed up for an office bowling night. It is open-plan, informal, and hi-tech.

Jahabar Sadiq, who is both editor and company boss, says he is convinced social media is changing the political dynamics in Malaysia.

“Internet media is changing the way people think, giving them a wider choice between what the government says and what is actually going on,” he said.

And he made this striking prediction: “Someone within Facebook or Twitter will capture people’s imagination, and he or she will take over leadership of this country, I think, within a decade.”

There are definitely stirrings of change in Malaysia. But this is not Egypt or Libya. Malaysia is not on the verge of a violent uprising. But there is a growing desire for a genuine and fair political choice and an increasing willingness to make that demand heard.

24 thoughts on “BBC reports on BERSIH2.0

  1. Wow, Her Majesty dressed in yellow. That is British subtlety for you. In stead of denying an audience to the Malaysian Prime Minister and our “First Lady” as that would be a insult to all Malaysians, Her Majesty The Queen and Head of the Commonwealth did the most diplomatic thing. She chose to wear yellow to greet our “First Couple”. That is just an observation which other blogs including Art Harun took up.–Din Merican

  2. I love that her yellow is as yellow as you can get. Is it a coincidence? Ha ha ha I just laugh when I saw this photo.

    Anyway, Najib just said there’s nothing inappropriate in the handling of the protestors by the police. In fact he said it was “mild”. Maybe he’d like to try being tear-gassed and see how “mild” that would be? Muhyiddin has already been dispatched to woo the Indonesian media. Let the lies begin!

    P/s: Is “reformasi” a taboo word now in Malaysia? What should I used then?

  3. Hmmm .. i don’t think najib ,hisham, IGP singh deputy IGP singh and gang even noticed the Queen’s yellow till Art Harun made note of it .

    The Queen must have been given a brief about the latest ” going on’s ” in Malaysia and how the colour YELLOW is being seen as a threat by the Malaysian government and hence the Queen must have decided to
    ” threaten ” najib and consort !

    Hmmm .. maybe the Queen should have worn PDRM’s turban too… hahahah !

  4. It’s laughable how the Queen mocked Jibby and Rosie by greeting them in a yellow dress. I guess they don’t see the connection until the pic is splashed all over the world. It’s a slap on their faces. What goes around comes around, pinkie lips. Why don’t you send your thugs to arrest her lah…

    Since you can do it to the rakyat doing the same to the English monarch is not a problem mah..Your idiotic IGP is ever willing to do your bidding, as he’s not too smart a person. Can’t even count. Typical OCS of yore.

  5. Hahaha.., The Queen’s diplomatic sublimity with a wry sense of mocking humor never ceases to amaze us. Brittania rules!
    Er.., it may be tough listening to an baroque opera for us jazz-blues-rock heads like us, but can we do something like this with the Negara Ku in Merdeka Square, under the auspices of Ambiga (if she sings soprano)?

  6. What Najib is trying to impress Britain?

    Malaysia is still following the British colonial systems: government, education, laws… despite 55 years of independence.

    Nothing is decolonized or learned after 55 years of independence!

    Malaysian people are uprising now, he gone there to seek aid or suppression?

  7. Why is the so-called First Lady wearing a black crash helmet when meeting QEII? So disrespectful! I thought you were supposed to take off you headgear when entering Buck House, banks, boudoirs, etc? Has she no sense of etiquette? So uncouth!

  8. When I was in Catholics High School, they forced students to respect teachers as Father, the papa.

    Pope wants the world kowtow/affiliated/Screwd (CLF’s word) to him, the Vatican.

  9. bravo! Her Majesty the Queen of England!
    you will have our respect forever.

    I hope Herr J. Ratzinger would also dress in YELLOW for Najid und Rosiecheek.

    please send in your request as follows to:

    ‘ sehr geehrter Herr Papst Benedict XIV,

    zur Ehrung unsere Premier-Minister und Gattin bitten wir Sie Gelb anzuziehen sonst werden sie beleidigt.

    mit freundlichen Grüßen

  10. Yea .. does not matter if the pope is in German yellow so long as it is Bersih’s yellow. Wonder if Pastor Murphy Pakiam too will be in yellow , that is if he has decided to go along.

  11. The Brits thought Malaysians to dine with fork knife and spoon, and made its constitutional monarch pay taxes and abolished the SEDITION ACT. In wearing yellow and not having spouse Prince Philip around might be telling Najib and FLOM a very special and subtle message. Get it UMNO and UTUSAN !!!

  12. Teaching Malaysians to eat with fork, knife and spoon? Yup, but not to use the spoon the way we do. Once I came across a table of Caucasians staring at a group of Asians sitting at the next table, asking themselves, “Why are these people using fork and spoon?”

    So fork and spoon it is.

    A favorite one-liner when it comes to the Brits talking back at their American counterpart is, “We taught these Americans how to drink beer and to brush their teeth”. But nothing beats us Malaysians. We taught the world how to use rubber.

  13. Who holds the patent for condoms (rubber to Mr Bean ) must have made billions, or trillions !! Surely not a Malaysian or maybe never patented !!

  14. Oh Blimey, Najib, bowing to the Queen while she did a Royal Up Yours Mr and Mrs. Arsehole. Picture of the century for all Malaysians. Long Live the Queen. jeff the Man, you must be smiling now. Ilham, it is time to party lah. Bersih having a get together this weekend, and the theme of the gathering – this is getting better – a huge blow up of the picture of Najib and Rosmah bowing to the QUEEN dressed in Bersih Yellow at KLCC. Everyone, bring projectors and some BN friends for a massive yellow showing!!!

  15. When Najib went back to his hotel he must have spent the entire evening tearing at his hair and stomping for being snubbed by the Queen and the British Prime Minister. This is unprecedented and is a victory to Malaysians who merely want their voices to be heard.

  16. Din,
    What would happen when Najib were to so called establish relation with Vatican, Benedict turned out to be another “John Paul II”? John Paul II sparked off the rise of solidarity that brought down Polish communism. Heard of Lech Welesa…….Hahaha…..Enjoy!

    “This first trip to Poland uplifted the whole nation’s spirit and sparked the formation of the Solidarity movement in 1980, which brought freedom and human rights to his troubled country.[9] On later trips to Poland, he gave tacit support to the organization.[9] Successive trips reinforced this message and Poland began the process that would finally defeat the domination of communist regimes under the lead of the Soviet Union in Central Europe between 1989 (reintroduction of democracy in Poland) and 1990, Eastern Europe (1990–1991) and South-Eastern Europe (1990–1992).”

  17. Najib tearing out his hairs Bean? You need new glasses. Najib has been bald since early 30’s. Guess Mah Chot find bald men attractive. Mah Chot can’t do the curtsy, as she’s all dolled up in garters and corset. One bend and all hell breaks loose and even the crash helmet will fall off.

    The Queen in her usual self told Najib and Mah Chot “we are not amused”

  18. Najib bald? You sure you got the right end??

    Whichever angle you look from he’s a great model and spokesperson for Bosley Hair Clinic. He’s been like that since the early 80’s.

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