High Stakes for BERSIH 3.0 rally

April 27, 2012


High Stakes for BERSIH3.0 rally

by Bridget Welsh

COMMENT As the buzz surrounding Bersih grows louder, the stakes are rising. As the week began, many wrote off BERSIH 3.0, suggesting that the outrage and momentum did not echo the sentiments of last July. They suggested that the playing the rally card again would backfire.

Yet, as the week unfolded, and with the DBKL’s (City Hall’s) response to the occupation of Dataran Merdeka and students calling for free tertiary education, the tide slowly began to turn. It was BN which appeared to be playing a bad hand.

NONEWhile there was a decentralisation of who was on the frontline for the BN this time, local authorities rather than national leaders, the end result was the same – a failure to address deep-seated concerns about electoral integrity and unwillingness to accept the protest that has arisen by the failure to address these concerns.

While many remain undecided, the ground is moving. Like the earlier two rallies, BERSIH 3.0 has evolved into an event that captures a broad range of concerns, from the environment, religious rights, 1Care health insurance scheme and corruption to electoral reform and free education.

The core of these issues involves a call for better governance and greater consultation with Malaysians. This has been the central nerve of Malaysian politics since 1998-1999, as leaders who are seen to be engaging in reform win power and those who don’t lose support.

This was the case in 2004 and 2008. The BERSIH 3.0 rally will shape whether this will be the case in 2012 (or 2013).Over the last few weeks, analysts have used online/social media and forums to highlight the need for electoral reform, pointing to serious problems in the electoral roll, electoral system, electoral rules and the independence of the Electoral Commission (EC).

By any measure and international standards, these problems are credible and cannot be dismissed. Many of these problems have been around for a long time; the EC’s independence was lost in 1962, for example. Gerrymandering and malapportionment have been serious issues for decades, and were exacerbated after the 1969 racial riots. What makes the ‘old’ issues more salient is the competitiveness of the upcoming polls, as these factors have been shown to influence outcomes in the past.

chart on gerrymandering 02

Malaysia has long been touted as an example of electoral authoritarianism, where the electoral system is used to buttress the support of the incumbent in power.

Foreigners could well decide General Election

What makes electoral reform even more potent this time around is the changes that have been brought into the system since 2008, often without proper review or adequate debate. Here is where the discussion of the electoral roll fits in. To my knowledge, there is no place in the world that allows this many foreigners to vote for the strategic purpose of winning office.

Few can understand why authorities would sell out the interests of its citizens as a whole by bringing in non-Malaysians to vote. This is especially hard to understand when so many Malaysians abroad are clamouring to vote, but were denied this by both the Election Commission and Malaysian courts.

azlanStrategic political citizenship is sadly not new in Malaysia’s history, as Sabahans can attest to. Little attention is given on its long-term impact on the country’s social fabric and the marginalisation of different communities as the right to vote is given to immigrants for political expediency.

Foreigners, new postal voters, procedures that limit transparency in voting and more have raised serious red flags about Malaysia’s electoral processes and the sad fact is that if elections are held in these circumstances, the victory would not be a genuine one. It would be a hollow mandate fabricated through manipulation.

To use an analogy that football fans can understand, there is no longer a referee. The opposition has been told that they can only stand in their own side of the field and all the players in the incumbent team are offside near their rival’s goal. This is not a fair fight, but a fixed one.

Where has the sense of integrity gone? Does the BN need a victory so bad that it would play on such an unlevel field?The reason these issues are so important is, to quote Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the next election will be “the mother of all elections”.

Of the 222 seats up for grabs, I believe 170 are competitive – a swing of 10 percent either way will make a marked difference given the new configuration of younger voters and changing terrain. Of these 170 competitive seats, nearly 90 of these are “highly competitive” – meaning that in the fluid conditions of Malaysian politics, either side can win. Up until BERSIH, it was my view that BN had the advantage.

Prime Minister Najib Razak – through his hard work and use of finances (another problematic area in Malaysian elections – BR1M’s cash handouts involved 5.3 million households at a cost of RM2.3 billion, for example) had made headway and was steering BN into a comfortable win, relying heavily on seats in Sabah and Sarawak.

While there were the unknowns of infighting within his party, UMNO, the inability of the opposition to formulate a unified message and move beyond capitalising on negative angst against the BN and UMNO, continued to work in BN’s favour. The big issue that boosted Najib was perceptions (not necessarily reality) that the economy was stronger than in 2008, as well as the impact of the attacks on Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Now, this dynamic is again in flux. The competition has risen sharply, as seats in the BN’s hands are less secure. The recent questionable changes involving the electoral process are even more important, and contentious.

The Battle for the Middle Ground

When BERSIH3.0 first began, it attracted the base that voted for the Opposition, those that have already made up their minds.The BN’s response – a hardline one that denied access to Dataran Merdeka, showcased the use of the Police via DBKL, involved denial of electoral problems through the EC’s explanatory report as “anomalies” and even featured taxi drivers linked to BN in an appeal to move the venue elsewhere – involved three key elements:

1) Denial of problems.

2) A traditional attempt to tar the protesters as a threat to stability.

3) The failed attempt to use the racial card.

It mirrored the well-honed old political style. At its core, there are some in UMNO who see similarities between Merdeka Square and Tahrir Square, and are worried this arena will be a focal point for change. These sort of concerns led to the siege mentality last July. Yet, it has evolved into a new dynamic. To understand Malaysian politics today, it is important to appreciate its diversity and pluralism.

The days where power can be decided by a group of leaders meeting in private are gone. It is the people who have the power, not the politicians. Both sides are using numbers and people to win support. The BN-linked NGOs have come out to voice their own concerns, as have some of their beneficiaries. The opposition too is using its own links.

Yet this rally involves many politically-engaged Malaysians who are not tied directly to any party. Their focus is on the issues they represent. Many of these form what in political science is known as ‘critical citizens’ – those who view both sides with scepticism and want the system as a whole to improve.

This is what makes BERSIH 3.0 so important, in that it is a reflection of Middle Malaysia – the middle ground led by critical citizens. In Middle Malaysia, there are four groups in particular that will shape the electoral outcome.

NONEThe first is youth. Young voters are crucial in the results, as they make up at least two million of the new voters. They are distributed across seats, although disproportionally less likely to vote as they are outstation.

Malaysia remains one of the handful of countries in Asia which have a voting age of 21, considerably higher than the global average and this disenfranchises its youth.

They have now become more politically active, reminiscent of the 1960s. Today the issue of free education and treatment of students has made BERSIH 3.0 highly emotive among many younger Malaysians, and their turnout will be a test for how the ground is moving.

The second group is middle-class voters. Many of these individuals had never been to a protest before July 2011 and if they show up in high numbers, then it will highlight the challenge the government faces in winning over key opinion leaders in various communities.

These are the doctors, the civil servants, the bankers and clerks, the community leaders who have social capital and can shape opinions. They make up the heart of critical citizens, informed and engaged in issues.

The third group that will matter this time round will be the regional events nationally and internationally, especially in East Malaysia.These are not only the ‘fixed deposit’ areas, but are where many of the electoral problems are most acute, especially foreigner voters. Greater activism outside of Kuala Lumpur will illustrate that the concerns are not confined to the urban core, but national (and international) in scope.

Finally, the fourth group that will matter is the police and other security groups such as Rela (Volunteers Corps), whose actions will reflect on their professionalism.

A crackdown will only serve to reinforce the sense of unfairness and the need for better governance that is essentially underlying the Bersih 3.0 rally.As such, tensions are high and anger has risen on both sides, making BERSIH 3.0 more intense than earlier rallies.

Competition for reform within UMNO

Even when the dust eventually settle on BERSIH 3.0, another fault line in Malaysian politics will be showcased – the ability of Najib to showcase himself as the champion of reform.

After BERSIH 2.0, he made promises and many of them took the form of new bills. Some of which opened up space and many of which only served to bring in more draconian measures. Whether it involved free assembly or electoral changes, the end result is that the measures introduced are not yet fundamentally about reform.

They focus on form not substance, taking away old laws such as the Internal Security Act, while introducing more questionable – although untested ones, such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill. The same focus on form underscores the government’s last-minute conciliatory offer of four alternative locations for BERSIH 3.0.

NONEWhy this focus on form rather than substance? Cynics would suggest that this reflects the inability to trust Najib and his promises. Others would suggest that this reflects the reality in the system that he has to operate. He was a hardliner who is now claiming to be a reformer and/or adopting reformist rhetoric to win power. He is a product of UMNO.

The majority of leaders in his party still are hardliners, and the handful of reformist leaders such as UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin are facing challenges inside the system, especially as they are showcased to defend the system they are in.

The bigger question that comes out of the handling of BERSIH 3.0 will be whether UMNO is capable of reforming. What is interesting to date is that Najib has stayed largely out of the fray, handing over the spokesman role to his cousin, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. This issue is a national one and as a national leader, questions are being raised about his position.

He chose to go out of town in the last round, and the end result was that he came off as mishandling the event. Can he afford this again given that his campaign to date has been about his national leadership?

What happens tomorrow is not just about the Opposition or UMNO-BN. It is also not just about electoral reform, given the wide spectrum of concerns. Everyone will attempt to gain political capital. Politically, BERSIH 3.0 will reveal whether Malaysia will become more polarised or compromises can be reached. It will either provide momentum for the opposition, or signal an early election by Najib if turnout is low, in which he will win, in part due to the problems engendered in the system.

Ultimately this rally is not just about politics. The BERSIH 3.0 rally is about Malaysia’s future – about whether a national leader will lead, about whether the field will be fair enough to be respectable, about whether a government treats its people with a modicum of respect and about whether politics in Malaysia will be a politics of the street or effective dialogue with a reasonable leadership.

Too much of late in Malaysia has been about negativity, anger and insecurity. BERSIH 3.0 is moving politics away from that negativity to the promise of a better future for Malaysians, or at least trying to do so. Najib’s reaction to BERSIH 3.0 is perhaps his most serious leadership test yet.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University and she can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

40 thoughts on “High Stakes for BERSIH 3.0 rally

  1. What is at stake tomorrow is the safety and wellbeing of citizens who will be attending the sit down rally. Dataran Merdeka has been declared out of bounds and the Police and DBKL have obtained a Court Order. That means they can arrest all participants. Those who resist arrest can be beaten by the FRU. Politicians on both sides do not really care what happens as long as they get some publicity, positive or negative.

    Most people I talk to over the last 48 hours do not welcome the massive disruption to their daily lives. They feel that BERSIH leaders should work with the Election Commission to resolve the problems relating to the electoral roll. Someone told me that Ambiga wants to be the Lady in Myanmar who won the Nobel Peace Prize while people like Hishamuddin Rais is a born troublemaker. –Din Merican

  2. It is all about core issues of injustice, inequality, pervasive corruption and oppression that are moving the rakyat against the Umno led government. Under psuedo facade, we have a country falling into ruins by decades of corruption, mismanagement and divisive politics.

    We see a government hell bent to divide us in order to rob us at will and to do this they have to maintain political power over us by employing all kinds of dirty tricks even to the extent of selling the country to foreigners. They talk down to us and use fear to control us.

    It took a constitutionally defined malay –Mamak Mahathir–to turn our country upside down and pit the Malaysians against Malaysians by playing the race and religious card. It is now or never that we the rakyat must claim back our rights and rightful places as citizens of our beloved country.

    The fate of our country lies in our hands and not in the hands of the politicians. They don’t tell us what to do, we tell them what to do. I will be there to lend my support to Ambiga and her BERSIH colleagues. I do not give a damn to politicians like Anwar Ibrahim and Najib. They can go to hell for all I care. Cry Geranimo.

  3. Rather than barking like a dog at the mountain (Malay proverb), why not the intellectuals of the bershit movements submit the names of whatever/whoever they had identified (through their experts and scholarly think tank) as supposedly non-citizens voters to the police or better still to the courts to be taken care of. Barking out figures does not impress any right thinking person a bit. There will always be a crayfish under the stone (another Malay proverb). Pathetic rabble rouser!

  4. Hishmuddin admit openly that he make a mistake in Berseh 2.0.Now look like they are going to make another mistake.

    Why so difficult to make good decision.The Mayor is under Minister Nong Chik.That will link to BN and UMNO.

    Berseh leader are not small children.

    Hisham,You have another 12 hours to change your mind.

  5. No less than the Federal Minister for Home Affairs has publicly announced that Bersih 3.0 is not a security risk. So, wtf is this scumbag Fuad to defy him and demand the Police step in when they also have said there is no issue?

    More that that, it has now been proved that both the EC Head and his deputy are UMNO members. So, here is another MAJOR issue that calls into question the EC’s independence. They can deny till the cows come home, but the rightful presumption is that they have been insincere and dishonest and now, caught out.

    Arrest or jail, I will be at Dataran tomorrow. To hell with these thieves and looters of our democratic rights!

    we are all of 1 Race, the Human Race

  6. And if Ambiga and Bersih has first suggested Merdeka Stadium, you can bet your bottom dollar they would have found some excuse such as “historic site” to deny anyone from gathering there.

    No, this is a lying, two-faced rogue regime that must be bounced out of office, pronto.

    Oh, and I recall reading some years ago that the Burmese lady was also accused of trying to be secure the Nobel Peace Prize. So, all this labelling of Ambiga suggests the establishment is dead scared of her.

    And for those “people…..do not welcome the massive disruption to their daily lives”, I say get off your arse and fight back because if you give this BUMNO/BN rogues another term, the disruption to your lives may become permanent!

    we are all of 1 Race, the Human Race

  7. Those who say that BERSIH should work with the EC are naive and irresponsible. Probably, they are well heeled and not too bothered about politics or good governance.The EC main function to make sure UMNO retains power – at whatever costs. I invite Tunku Aziz to read this piece by Bridget.

  8. Din,
    This is what Ambiga gonna do just like Gandhi did against the judge. The judge finally released Gandhi without bail. It’s really a chicken game. A game that we must not budge at all cost

  9. The forms of democracy are being used to undermine democracy for Party gains. We as a nation must commit ouself to the development of impartial and independent institutions of government before we talk of anything else.

  10. Little inconveniences to those that must do their business around Dataran Merdeka for a day or two is nothing compared to the massive cheating going on for years by the same group of crooks. The manipulation of election to legitimate their stealing and raping had caused much more suffering and even death. Alantuya, Kugan, Teoh Beng Hock Ahmad Sabrini and more paid with their lives.

  11. It’s truly up to them…….Would there be a “General Dyer” among the midst just as in India nong nong time ago?

  12. I’m looking forward. They make for powerful images. No doubt about it. They will find their way to CNN for a fraction of one minute. You see tear gas cannisters being fired and when the smoke clears, there is grandma. After that it will be business as usual. Sorry to dampen your spirits folks.

    The Malays are divided on the issue. You cannot have change when the Malays do not want it. Only when you have homeless Malays sleeping in the streets, high inflation, food shortages, high unemployment among the Malays will there be real impetus for change. And even then change is likely to come from withiin.

    It is like the flu. It has to get worse before it gets better. It has to run its course. Right now it has not even started.

    What we are seeing is the effect of an improved social and political infrastructure which makes for a more efficient mobilisation of public opinion which is to be welcome in any democracy. A well developed social and political infrastructure is a prerequisite to democracy.

  13. When the entire civil service has lost its political neutrality and become the machinery of the political party that wins the elections (but not necessarily the mandate to govern), the EC is nothing but a political tool. It has always been a political tool. The practice of gerrymandering works to ensure that pockets of significant minorities who vote traditionally for the political oppostion are divided and weakened. Nothing has changed since. This is nothing new.

  14. Meanwhile you guys spare a thought to those nameless faces, those individuals who have experienced real suffering and not just talk about it. They are the real victims. I’m reminded of the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler in the aftermath of 9/11.

  15. Will there be a sit in at Central Park NYC or in front of the Consulate General of Malaysia? You plan on participating in your yellow shirt Bean?

  16. Apparently Zambry has given the go-ahead for Bersih 3.0 Perak chapter to sit-in at the polo ground. I guess as much otherwise we’ll have a similar situation as in KL. Perakeans will be coming in full to support the call for a free and fair election. I’ll be there with my roughnecks.

    Cannot play polo lah, semper. The ponies have bolted off with anak mami’s lembus.

  17. The great American democrat Henry David agreed: “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is… a prison”.

  18. Din my mate : You have gone soft. Hisham Rais and Ambiga aside ; you have missed the point that a Clean Roll and Fair Conduct of General Elections are fundamentals to Statehood and crafting a Nation.

    I suspect its folks from your generation that are gulity of putting up with the nonsense where value systems got distorted. Adoration of Mahathir + Razak + Musa while they plunder + pillage in the name of race religion and nation building while discounting good ethics was raison detre for folks of your generation whence pursuing corporate success. Cheers mate.
    My friend, I was just reporting what I heard from some people on BERSIH3.0. I am with Ambiga and Hishamuddin on BERSIH demands. We need free and clean elections.–Din Merican

  19. “You plan on participating in your yellow shirt, Bean.” semper

    Weather is too cold to be wearing a yellow T-shirt. But I have a yellow thong souvenir from my Puerto Rican cockthrob.

  20. Rocky, How much does BN gives you to deny citizens their rights to demand corruption free governanace. Your kind of people make me me sick. get bout of the way for humanity’s progress forward.

  21. Suggest that the authorities change the name of Dataran Merdeka to Dataran DBKL… It has now been barricaded with razor wire, it seems. Maybe the ruling elite should go to Dataran Merdeka and stand inside the barricades. Everyone else can then duduk outside the barricades… where there is more freedom.

  22. No turning Back. Let’s GO! People power Go! See? I told you time & time again, incumbent politicians are crims and eventually they would kill to cling to power to enjoy the riches stolen from you – it’s as straightforward as that; like Assad, Gaddafi, North Korea etc. Record the names of those mayors & police chiefs for prosecution later. God’s retribution will come. Don’t relent and don’t tolerate this earth-shaking, astronomical crime another hour. Alan Newman, NZ.

  23. No turning back! God is with us, Evils eventually fall. Just watch! Those crims, judges, mayors, police chiefs, corrupt & evil UMNO will fall.
    Let’s now call a Curse on all these crims that exist in Malaysia, they are wicked and evil beyond description, it’s our last-ditch and ultimatum response. Alan Newman, NZ

  24. Why are you so forgiving & relenting? Have they- PBB, BN got a trace of the people’s interest at heart? NO! It’s endless tricks, acrobatics & deception to stay in power. Not after 55 years of BN & UMNO! It must now be zero tolerance & striking back with the greatest force. If you research globally & think thoroughly: Politicians are the roots of all the problems in the world: pillage & plunder; cronies; in-equality of races & incomes; apartheid; hardship & grief turning to crime & tragedy; trillions of $$$ wasted worldwide on corruption, thefts, land-grabs, resource-grabs, amassing of projects, money outflow & laundering, white elephants & kickbacks; abuses, mismanagements, misuses, crime-fighting, strife, riots, wars. In the end, to cling to power & luxury, they will kill. Look at Idi Amin, Africa, N. Korea, Arab Spring.

  25. An economist at Morgan Stanley in Singapore as saying that the Malaysia might have lost as much as US$100 billion since the early 1980s to corruption (RM300 billion = 300,000 million).
    Perwaja RM10 billion. Forex fiasco early 90s RM30 billion. Maminco scandalRM 1.6 Billion.
    Bank Bumiputra Scandal RM10 billion. STAR-LRT bailout RM3.256 billion. RM 38.5 billion compensation to highway companies. Putra transport system, which cost RM4.486 billion. Maminco scandal RM 1.6 Billion. PKFZ 12 billion. Bank Islam RM700 million. M.V. Agusta & Proton lost RM 348 million. Wang Ehsan, oil royalty Terengganu RM7.4 billion. Philharmonic Orchestra has swallowed a total of RM500 million. Bailouts of Malaysia Airline System RM7.9 billion. Spent RM3.2 billion in teaching Maths and Science in English over 5 yrs. Jets and submarines to 2 private companies Perimeker & IMT Defence amounted to RM910 million. RM1.3 billion wasted building the white elephant Customs, Immig & Quarantine (CIQ) facilities on cancellation of the Scenic Bridge. National Service Training Programme yearly estimate of RM 500 million. RM 4.63 billion, ’soft-loan’ to PKFZ. RM250 in NFC Cowgate scandal. RM30billion with Sarawak’s CM & cronies in 31 years.
    UMNO & cronies are among the world’s biggest laughing-stocks, in some countries would have been charged with treason and jailed. Why are you so gullible & forgiving? For me, NOT ANOTHER HOUR! None of you have any guts. Pathetic. Tragic…. And how many are going out to BERSIH gathering?

  26. Rocky, you forgot that the people going to Dataran Merdeka ARE the citizens and residents of Malaysia. They are not some pendatangs imported for sit ins. They are the legitimate citizens and exercising their rights.
    What is the population of KL? If more than half of them wants to sit in are you suggesting that it’s not their rights?

    Let them sit in, it’s good for business, more nasi ayam and teh tarek and tosai stalls set up. You can also enjoy your teh tarek and tosai and make it a carnival atmosphere. MRT will have double or triple ridership. DBKL can make money issuing license to menjaja. Taxi drivers always complaining. When there are passengers they won’t take them or pick and choose where they want to go. When no passengers they complain.

    Traffic Jam? KL is famous for traffic jams so whats the difference. Anyway the government have built the Outer ring road, middle ring road and many more rings (not the 24 million one), use these to avoid the jams.People need to vent their frustration. Maybe unlike you they are not the privilege few.

  27. “And how many are going out to BERSIH gathering?” Mr Newman, NZ

    Well.., the last version 2.0 the Goons said 6,000 – of which they arrested 1,600 – something like a 28% hit ratio. Either they were Terribly efficient or they can’t count for nuts. This time they will be stretched mighty thin – both in brawn and of course brain, or so i’ve heard.

    With all those side roads and kaki-lima where many of the blinded and watered, will be ‘sitting’ and sprawling on, it’s gonna take more than 2 hours to creep to the concertina wire barricades.

    And his holy crap of Lembekness is still keeping mum, as if silence is golden. This is for those can see, apart from those who fall for lies, issue denials or otherwise are BDSM establishment rapists:

  28. Forget the round table discussion , they’ll skip the event anyway… The negotiation time frame had come and gone with little if not nil improvement undertaken by the EC. Fraud is fraud , you cant have it any other way.. Right now is not the time to plea , right now is the time to make demands… Go ahead take it to the street..

  29. the two lead dogs are away, just in case something untoward happens?
    or are the rats leaving the sinking ship?

  30. Yes , we dont want to be like Taiwan. We want to keep on screwing the Rakyat for the next 50 years with the most corrupted schemes, opressive religious and racial fanatiscism. Vote for BN .

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