New York Times’ Liz Gooch reports on BERSIH 3.0

April 29, 2012

Ny Times; Liz Gooch on Berish3.0 Sit Down Rally in Kuala Lumpur

Police Clash With Malaysian Protesters Seeking Electoral Reforms

By Liz Gooch
Published: April 28, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The Police fired tear gas and water cannons on Saturday at thousands of protesters here calling for free and fair elections, in one of the largest rallies in Malaysia in recent years.

Nearly 400 people were arrested during the demonstration in central Kuala Lumpur organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, a group of 84 organizations that is demanding an overhaul of the country’s election system before a national vote that is widely expected to be held in June.

The group, known as BERSIH — or clean, in Malay — argues that the electoral system unfairly favors the governing coalition, which has led Malaysia since independence in 1957.

The Police estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 people had gathered for the protest. BERSIH organizers put the number at 250,000.

Swarms of protesters, many wearing the canary yellow T-shirts that have come to symbolize the BERSIH movement, began gathering on Saturday morning at various roads leading to Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, creating a festive atmosphere.

A group of protesters chanted, “Long live the People” and sang the Malaysian national anthem under a sweltering tropical sun, their voices competing with the sound of a Police Helicopter flying overhead while police officers looked on from behind a row of barbed wire and barricades.

The demonstrators were kept out of Independence Square, the site of many parades and celebrations, by a court order issued Friday. A rally in the streets around the square appeared to have been peaceful until BERSIH organizers, who had pledged that they would not break through the barricades, instructed protesters to disperse.

A small group then appeared to breach the barriers, prompting the Police to fire tear gas and water laced with stinging chemicals at parts of the crowd, The Associated Press reported. A police spokesman, Ramli Yoosuf, said the tear gas was fired after protesters breached the barriers. “They cut the barricade, and they were barging in,” he said.

A news Web site, The Malaysian Insider, reported that protesters overturned a Police car. The report said the car had crashed after it was attacked by protesters, and hit two people.

Andrew Khoo, a lawyer and a member of the BERSIH steering committee, said the organizers were “extremely disappointed” that people ignored their requests to disperse and instead broke through the barriers. But, he said, the Police had overreacted. Their response was “wholly disproportionate to any risk they may have felt they were under,” he said.

“The Police went in and broke up people who were sitting on the road, who were very peaceful,” Mr. Khoo said. “The water cannon truck came charging at them so they had to run for their lives. This was followed by tear gas. It was a pincers movement, and people were getting trapped in between.”

Another BERSIH supporter, Anand Lourdes, said people started screaming when the Police fired the tear gas.

Saturday’s protest was BERSIH’s third call for changes to the country’s election system. At the group’s previous protest, in July, more than 1,600 people were arrested, and tear gas and water cannons were also used to disperse protesters.

Phil Robertson (left), Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said Saturday that the Malaysian government had again shown its contempt for basic rights and freedoms.

“Despite all the talk of ‘reform’ over the past year, we’re seeing a repeat of repressive actions by a government that does not hesitate to use force when it feels its prerogatives are challenged,” Mr. Robertson said.

The Minister of Home Affairs, Hishammuddin Hussein, in a statement released Saturday, commended the police for “their professionalism and the restraint they have shown under difficult circumstances.”

Mr. Hishammuddin said it was regrettable that BERSIH had declined to use an alternative site for its rally because Independence Square was not approved for public protests under the new Peaceful Assembly Act.

BERSIH has said that the offer to use a stadium in the city came too late, and that the other sites offered were far from the center of the capital.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has introduced many reforms in recent months, after promising last year to improve civil liberties in Malaysia. However, critics say that the legislative changes do not go far enough to ensure that democratic rights are protected.

Activists decided to rally again on Saturday because BERSIH’s leadership contends that recommendations for changes to the election system made by a parliamentary committee, established after last year’s protest, are unlikely to ensure that the next election will be conducted fairly.

The Election Commission said that it would carry out some of the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, like extending the campaign period to a minimum of 10 days and using indelible ink to stain voters’ fingers to ensure that people do not vote more than once.

Mr. Hishammuddin said the Election Commission had “gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the next elections are free and fair and meet the highest international standards.”

But BERSIH is demanding that senior officials of the Election Commission resign, that the voting rolls be purged of fraudulent names and that the election be monitored by international observers.

One protester who gave her name as Wan Zabidah, 60, said she had traveled two hours by bus to attend the rally and express her concerns about the integrity of the voting rolls and the independence of the Election Commission. “We are already old, but it’s for the children and the grandchildren,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 29, 2012, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Police Clash With Malaysia Protesters Seeking Electoral Reforms.

6 thoughts on “New York Times’ Liz Gooch reports on BERSIH 3.0

  1. To Whom It May Concern

    Whatever the arguments may be for or against the demonstrations the bottom line is that for democracy to function as envisaged in our Federal Constitution we need impartial and independent institutions of government. That is all we the people want. The constitutions is clear that all constitutional office holders and the institutions that they head must be impartial and independent.

    Level heads must prevail and it is imperative that we have the wisdom to do this at the beginning successfully instead of being forced to do it unsuccessfully in the end.

  2. Syabas , my brethrens in semenanjung.. Every ethnic group did their part. The malays , indians , chinese and other minorities came out in full force as citizens of the country voicing out that they crave for only one thing and that is to have a clean electoral roll in order to choose a government of their liking. Today , the world knows malaysia better….

  3. Aljazeera reporters were even attacked by police!

    Kleptocratic UMNO-BN regime failed to learn from your
    very expensive foreign “media consultants” and “image consultants”?

    The whole world is watching !

  4. Lets see whether Obama wanna shake hands with Najib the brutalizer or Rosmah the Brute,heeee2,lets see whether US govt wanna ask JLo about money laundering,buying kristal here n there.

  5. To all people around the globe,

    The whole rally went on the night before till 4pm there was no untowards inciddent……some thing is fishy after that from ground level. then thing happened pix of ugly scenes were published in the local media. I think the NY Times should investigate it further. Thanks Concern Cittizen.

  6. Question:

    On April 20, 2012 an article, that you cowrote with Keith Bradsher, re Lynas’s rare earth plant appeared about the Malaysian government’s holding up a operating license. Has the government since issued the license? If not when will they? When will the plant then open?

    I would very much appreciate your knowledge of these question. If this is not your area please let me know who I might contact.

    Thank you.
    Jim Fine
    I suggest you contact my friend and anti-Lynas project advocate Clement Chin at .I am sure he will happy to answer any questions you may have about this controversial Red Earth project in Gebeng, Pahang. Regards, Din Merican

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