BERSIH 3.0: Barisan Nasional accountable for Police Brutality

May 1, 2012

BERSIH 3.0: Barisan Nasional accountable for Police Brutality — Tommy Thomas

When a government uses the Police to tear gas, fire water cannons and physically intimidates large numbers of its people, it loses its moral legitimacy to continue governing.

A repressive government does not deserve to rule. Barisan National’s brutal handling of BERSIH 3.0’s proposed sit-in on Saturday, April 28 crossed the tipping point of acceptable behaviour, and the people of Malaysia must, by a large majority, punish it at the next general election. The Najib administration has forfeited any moral right to govern Malaysia!

The barricading of Dataran Merdeka

Is it not an irony of the highest degree that a place in central Kuala Lumpur that bears the name “Merdeka” is closed to its people? Much of the disinformation that emanates from our highly controlled mass media stated that the government had offered Stadium Merdeka and other stadiums to BERSIH, which “unreasonably” turned them down, and “stubbornly” insisted on Dataran Merdeka. From the civil liberties perspective, such government propaganda misses the whole point.

Freedom of assembly, association and expression belong to the people. They decide to exercise such freedoms at places and times of their choosing. In all the places in Malaysia outside Kuala Lumpur, venues chosen by BERSIH were accepted by the authorities — all these rallies occurred without incident. Likewise, in the 80 cities across the globe, events organised by Global BERSIH were held at venues chosen by the organisers, and were also held peacefully.

Why should an unelected, unaccountable civil servant called the Datuk Bandar (The Mayor) order thousands of Malaysians not to congregate at the Padang (Dataran Merdeka) where Merdeka was proclaimed some 55 years ago. Who is he to deny us our fundamental freedom entrenched in the Constitution? The best argument for the return of local government elections is the wholly unacceptable behaviour of the Datuk Bandar last week.

Further, what gave the Police the right to put up barbed-wire barricades around the Dataran? The order given by the Magistrate (whatever its lawfulness may be!) did not extend to the use of barricades. If the action of the Police was illegal, surely people were entitled to breach the barricades, and enter the Padang.

Dataran Merdeka does not belong to the government, Datuk Bandar or the Police. It belongs to the people.Hence, my first criticism of the government’s handling of what was intended by BERSIH to be a sit-in was the irrational and unjustified denial of Dataran Merdeka for that purpose.

If the sit-in on Dataran Merdeka had been permitted, no incident would have occurred, and it would have proceeded smoothly and peacefully, as happened everywhere else in the world.

“Sit-in” turned into “walk”

With friends, I arrived at Masjid Negara at about 11.30am on Saturday. The barricades were placed about 200 metres from the masjid (and, thus, about 600 metres from the Dataran).

Speeches were given by politicians, which could not be heard. We stayed outside the masjid until about 1.45pm when the procession to Dataran started. Thousands of people thronged the streets.

It was joyful, with a carnival or picnic atmosphere. Slogans were chanted, and the camaraderie among the marchers was fantastic. People of all walks of life were present. Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, colour, class, gender and age, were amply represented. It was a microcosm of the general population.

When we reached Jalan Tun Perak at the Maybank end, the crowd was absolutely massive. Seas of yellow were everywhere. This would have been about 2.30pm. Speeches were given at the steps of Maybank, but again nothing could be heard. We followed the crowd on Tun Perak, hoping to reach the barricades at the top of the road, but sheer numbers of people did not allow for that. So we turned into Lebuh Ampang.

At about 3pm, while on Lebuh Ampang, we saw smoke from tear gas which apparently had been shot over Jalan Tun Perak. We ran into a restaurant to take cover. A few minutes later, I left the restaurant. At that moment tear gas was fired into Lebuh Ampang. I ran back into the restaurant, whose staff immediately brought down the shutters. About 15 minutes later, we left the restaurant through a back door, and left the area. One could still smell tear gas in the entire vicinity.

Along the way home, we spoke to numerous members of the public and observers from the Bar Council. They were unanimous in their conclusion that tear gas had been fired for no reason, and without warning. It was as if the police had quotas of tear gas canisters to be finished, so that new stock could be purchased this week. After all, it is not their money!

Many comments were expressed during our walk that the government was using our (taxpayers’) money to bully and intimidate us. The use of helicopters hovering at low heights, the massive deployment of the Police, and the use of tear gas and water cannons were all paid for by taxpayers. Here was the Police turning their arms, paid for by us, on us. Insult to injury!

The critical observation to make is that as a result of government’s prevention of the planned sit-in, hundreds of thousands of people converging from numerous roads into the barricaded Dataran were stopped from entering it. Before the crowds could depart by walking on roads already absolutely packed with thousands of people, tear gas was fired, causing injury, panic and stampede.

Alleged violence

Spin-doctors went into over-drive after the event to highlight the alleged violence against policemen and their property. The oldest trick in the book, employed for centuries by the Police and law enforcement agencies globally, when trying to control crowds in large rallies, marches, etc is to use Police operatives in plain or unidentified clothes to work as agent provocateurs to start trouble.

Unless an independent, credible organisation reviews all the evidence, and makes a finding that the BERSIH marchers were actually responsible for causing violence, I am not prepared to accept the Police version. In any event, one must also consider their provocation and intimidation that resulted in such behaviour. The entire context must be taken into account.

It was clear to me after spending more than five hours on the streets last Saturday that those who walked were absolutely peace-loving, and opposed to any physical action, let alone violence. Bersih is a genuine people’s movement, a bottom-up manifestation which has struck a chord among millions of Malaysians.

The government’s demonisation of Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan unjustifiably personalises a movement which cannot be stopped, regardless of the wishes of its leaders. BERSIH has a dynamic life of its own. Thus, if a referendum is held in Malaysia today on the single question: “whether the voter supports Bersih’s campaign for free and fair elections”, an overwhelming majority of Malaysians would say yes.

Likewise, the much repeated statement that the Pakatan Opposition parties have hijacked BERSIH for their own selfish political purposes is not supported by the facts.

Admittedly, thousands of Pakatan marchers walked the streets on Saturday. They were noisy, boisterous and loud in the support of their leaders. That only represents a partial truth. An equal, or perhaps larger numbers of persons walked, not because they support Pakatan, but because they are totally disgusted by the Election Commission.

If Pakatan benefits electorally by securing the votes of this large group of persons, Barisan Nasional and its proxy, the Election Commission, only have themselves to blame. They are the authors of their own misfortune. The latest revelation that the chairman and deputy chairman of Election Commission are members of UMNO merely confirms why they have never been neutral in the discharge of their duties.

General election

Although BERSIH was the organiser of this highly successful walk in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, I suggest that the causes which propelled the majority of protestors to walk were not limited to just having a free and fair election. Conversing with scores of fellow protestors, I got the distinct impression that Bersih is just the final straw, the tipping point.

The underlying causes of grave unhappiness among Malaysians include a profound sense of injustice, rampant corruption which (like cancer) is killing the vital institutions of the nation, inflation, growing disparity between the rich and the poor, excessive development (Lynas), unregulated immigration, increase in crime, breakdown of law and order, and so forth. BERSIH was merely the catalyst for action.

From my vantage point, about 100,000 people attended the rally in Kuala Lumpur. According to BERSIH, which had the benefit of observers in all the areas of Kuala Lumpur where the crowds converged, it was as large as 250,000 people. By any yardstick, this was a fantastic turnout, and BERSIH must be congratulated for a grand job. A special tribute to brave, calm and cool Ambiga, as the very acceptable face of BERSIH.

A mark of its success is that Najib will not be rushing to call elections. Damage control will take months. Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of protestors in Malaysia and elsewhere — apparently 80 places, including Mount Everest, celebrated BERSIH on Saturday afternoon — must spread the word about the unfairness of our electoral system, and the determination of Barisan Nasional to win at all costs, regardless of means.

The heavy-handed treatment of BERSIH marchers on April 28 must be the springboard from which a nationwide movement must be launched to end 55 years of continuous, unbroken one party rule at the ballot box. The time for change is now!

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

17 thoughts on “BERSIH 3.0: Barisan Nasional accountable for Police Brutality

  1. Did I not just say this. it is the goverment. if they had instructed the police to care and guard for the safety of the citizens the Police would have gone in a different mindset and the outcome would have been different. The Police are part of the community and must protect the community especially when the community has something to say to the people who are supposed to serve them.

  2. “The use of helicopters hovering at low heights, the massive deployment of the police, and the use of tear gas and water cannons were all paid for by taxpayers. Here was the police turning their arms, paid for by us, on us. Insult to injury!”

    It is called crowd control. And the Police exercising their role as provided for under the law. When (Rtd) Gen. Tok Cik discharges his ‘firearm’ in the back seat of his Cooper S you may want to find out if taxpayer money had not been used.
    I was in the area for two hours (Royal Selangor Club, Majid Jamed and Sogo). The helicopters were hovering above my head.They were having a joy ride, using their binoculars to train on good looking women from up there. Shiok sendiri at our expense, Mongkut Bean.–Din Merican

  3. Yes, Kathy. But they think that they are powerful to do as they please. But once they lose the election, they will learn power is with the people. When you are elected you think you won the elections and when you are voted out then you realise that it is the voters who put you there. This observation was made by an Indian journalist who was a member of an independent mission led by South Australian Senator Nick Zenophon.–Din Merican

  4. Dato’. it is awful that this should happen. Over here Gillard is now in the throws of death ,politically I mean. It gives us the people a sense of relief when the person serving is incompetent and can be voted out. it gives us the people a guarantee that our country works. It is not stagnant. It is alive , if you will. Why can this not happen for Ms’ia too? M’sians need to feel they can control the destiny of their own country.
    Don’t worry, Kathy, it will happen in Malaysia. It is just a matter of time when we will be able to throw out corrupt and incompetent government, irrespective of the political orientation, be it UMNO-BN, or Pakatan Rakyat. But first let us have free and fair elections.

    I note that you are not happy with Julia and would probably like to have Tony Abbot as the next Australian Prime Minister. He is Leader of the Opposition in the Australian House of Representatives and Federal leader of the centre-right Liberal Party of Australia.

    Tony has outstanding credentials. He studied for a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Laws at the prestigious Sydney University, and for a Master of Arts as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He later trained as a seminarian and worked as a journalist, business manager, political advisor and Executive Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.Tony has also been an author, ultra marathon runner and member of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.–Din Merican

  5. “They were having a joy ride, using their binoculars to train on good looking women from up there.” Dato

    If one was using binoculars who has his hand on the joystick?? Maybe both were multitasking?

  6. “I was in the area for two hours (Royal Selangor Club, Majid Jamed and Sogo). ” Dato

    Observing the ‘riots’ from the security of the “Spotted Dog” is hardly the image your fans would want to have of you. You should be in the thick of it, in ski mask throwing back tear gas cannisters at the Police.That was your chance to have your image as a patriot, with tear gas cannister in one hand and the red, white and blue in the other, splashed across NY Times!

    That was supposed to be your moment in history!
    I am not a street fighter,and I fight at a different level. At Masjid Jamed and Sogo I mingled with the crowd; they were peaceful and upbeat. –Din Merican

  7. “I am not a street fighter” Dato

    Just for the camera lah, Dato. You and I are coping with the effects of a debilitating disease like arthritis to be anything like a street fighter … lol.
    That comes with age. We are not 20 year olds any more. I am 3 times 20 plus 13. The tear gas may be hazardous to my health and so I have to fight smart. Better for me to use the pen or my laptop to spread the message of change and hope for a better Malaysia.–Din Merican

  8. Dato’, yes Tony Abbott is very well educated, also a believer. He is always belittled by Labour but I think he can make a good leader. Do you know Dato’ they reported him as having to pay for his own mortgage. Now that to me is a leader who understands the plight of ordinary folks. What challenges we have to face. So he can empathise and make sound policies for the people when he becomes PM.

    Julia Gillard’s time is up now with the people here. But it works doesn’t it Dato’, this democracy. It is such a natural thing to do , to vote in or out a political party.

  9. “The Najib administration has forfeited any moral right to govern Malaysia.” Thomas

    You cannot forfeit something you never had.

  10. I am writing from San Francisco,so far away from home called Malaysia. I am sad that Bersih3.0 supporters received brutal treatment from the Police, whose duty I have always thought is to protect our citizens. Not the case. Citizens are treated as criminals or enemies of state. How sick can the Police be when they can’t distinguished friend from enemy.

    I just read the comments of the President, Malaysian Bar Council posted on this excellent blog. I am shocked and angry, and hope the Bar Council can take action against the Police, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Government of Malaysia.

    BERSIH3.0 has come and gone. History is made on April 28, 2012.Thank you, Dato Ambiga, Dato A Samad Said (my favorite novelist and poet). Maria Chin Abdullah, Dr Wong Chin Huat, and the rest of Bersih team for your initiative. To the politicians, especially Anwar Ibrahim and his PKR cohort and Mat Sabu of PAS, I say stay out of Bersih. You are a nuisance factor.

    But after BERSIH 3.0 what happens now? I don’t think the Najib government is actually going to revise anything about the electoral process. (The two demands which were “partially” met were the use of indelible ink and 10 days of campaigning — we asked for 21 days.) Let’s not even talk about malapportionment and gerrymandering, which was not in Bersih’s eight requests. In fact, a bill amended in Parliament prevents people from approaching the polling station, raising the possibility of hanky-panky.

    The government might possibly offer up the Election Commission chief and deputy, discovered to be members of UMNO, as sacrificial lambs, but that’s probably it. Forget about cleaning up the electoral roll or reforming postal ballots — obviously that’s where their safety votes are coming from: deceased people, phantom voters, illegal immigrants bought over with instant citizenship, and police and military forces compelled to vote for the government.

    How does this affect Najib’s calling for elections? Elections have to be called by May of next year. Speculations about the election date over the past two years have been rife, and time is running out. Prior to the protest, every sign indicated to the election being called in June. Reasons to delay elections: the aftershocks of the protest will undoubtedly result in heightened anger against the government (Bersih 1.0 held four months before the 2008 elections saw the ruling coalition losing the two-thirds majority for the first time, and five states falling to the opposition). Reasons not to delay elections: billions of dollars have been spent to buy the people over — the government has disbursed RM500 to low-income families, raised the pay of civil servants, and are about to announce a minimum wage law.

    If the ruling coalition fails to recapture the two-thirds majority (which is highly likely even despite the rampant cheating in the election process), Najib will most assuredly be Badawi-ed out sooner or later.

    The biggest (and possibly only) hope is that the massive turnout in KL (estimated 200,000) will have sent a very strong signal to the government that you can only push us so far. Yes, you will cheat — what else is new — but cook the numbers a little too vigorously, and the people will rise against you. We are no longer the stupid, submissive rakyat cowering in fear. We are ready to fight for our rights.Don’t believe, please tempt us and you,Najib, will bear the consequences of total humiliating rejection.

    The most likely scenario. Elections are called, the ruling coalition wins with a smaller majority than 2008, the opposition maintains the four states, reclaims the one state that was stolen from them, and hopefully wins a few more.

    The best case scenario. Elections are called, and the ruling coalition is kicked out even despite the cheating. If that happens, be wise, do not celebrate on the streets. Pray for a peaceful transition lest the ghosts of May 13 are reawakened.

    Why am I so passionate about my country? Simply because if we don’t save Malaysia in the next few years, there might be nothing left to save. Billions of dollars have left the country in the past ten years or so, pilfered by greedy, corrupt parasitical leeches masquerading as politicians. Religious rights are being trampled on. The land is being raped—the forests in Sabah and Sarawak are being cleared with no compensation offered to the indigenous peoples, and an Australian company is preparing to dispose their toxic waste in Pahang. The education system is in shambles. Crime is on the rise. Prices have risen, risen, risen, and salaries are not commensurate — how to cari makan? The judiciary, the police, the media, the anti-corruption agency, the election commission — every conceivable institution is in the pocket of the government. We will be a bankrupt nation.Mahathir won’t be around to see it. He will be in Argentina.

    The next year (2013) –I don’t think GE13 will be held in 2012–will be very crucial to the future of Malaysia. Be wise and alert. There will be an increase in wickedness, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. The rakyat have awakened, and we will stand together to fight to reclaim our land. Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh!

  11. Mr. Bean, my brother Bendover is married to Inthejit Kaur. Are you telling me that he has a mistress called Justdoit Kaur? Hey, Guru Nanak will not be too pleased with this.

  12. “No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life and breeds ill will and suspicion – it is an evil government”.
    – Eric Hoffer,
    The Passionate State of Mind 1954

  13. When a ruling regime loses its legitimacy in the eyes of the people, it can only stay in power by brute force. Classic examples are the former Communist police states of Eastern and Central Europe which collapsed in double quick time when Gorbachev refused to use Soviet troops to prop them up.

  14. We should also ditch the “first-past-the post” electoral system inherited from the British and adopt a “proportional representation” system as used in the Federal Republic of Germany.

  15. Every single politician in this world will say or do what he/she feels necessary to get into power, and once there, to stay in power. That is the main driving force of every single politician.

    With that in mind, we cannot say that those of the Malaysian variety are stupid. They know exactly what they are doing. What they cannot be certain of is what will be the outcome of each action they take. They believe they know the result, and have taken a calculated risk. It is very much a game of chess, but with real life implications. As in chess, the result of one’s move is not always immediately obvious in your opponent’s counter move. There is a grand plan and the depth of the plan depends on the skill of the player.

    The point I am getting at is that politicians play the game using the “rules” in front of them. This does not mean these are fair rules. It means the rules that have over time defined the game.

    In the political game there is probably one principle that all rules sprout from. That is that a politician is not trying to convince people that he can “lead” them. He is trying to convince people to “follow” him. That’s where it gets really murky.

    If a politician tries to convince people he can “lead”, then he needs to be the smartest guy on the block, be beyond reproach ethically, and be the most experienced in leading a government. This is in fact hardly ever the case.

    When a politician tries to convince people to “follow” him, then he has a very wide range of tools at hand. Many of these tools represent the good side of human nature, but many, as we know, do not.

    Over the years the tools that have surfaced in Malaysia as being the politicians’ main weaponry are: patronage, corruption, and bigotry. It is probably impossible to fight these head on as they cater to the most base instinct of human nature, and are regrettably ingrained in the culture here. We can complain day-in and day-out about this, but to no avail.

    This is why I believe that the Bersih cause is the best first step to divert the course of the river. The river (politics) will flow no matter what, and damming the river will end in a catastrophe.

    Free and fair elections and political process MUST be achieved. There must be a fair and level playing field. Sure the politicians are still going to act the same, but with the fair and level field, the citizenry can hold them accountable to the extent possible.

    Ambiga is right and to be commended in focusing on this. She is struggling though to fend off both sides of the political divide. The incumbent knows it can be their path out of power; while for the opposition, their path to power.

    It’s already bad enough that politicians play to the basest instincts of all of us. To pile on by bullying, is just not going to cut it any more. No one likes a school yard bully and cheat.

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