September 2, 2015
Bersih 4.0 Mattered
by Terence Netto
…[T]here’s a premium now on persuasion. Threats or coercion don’t work to convince people to do or not to do a thing. Absent persuasive reasons, you can’t make headway. You lose out, you have to retreat in embarrassment at your lack of persuasive power.–Netto
COMMENT After the gathering comes the reckoning.Now that the Bersih 4 gathering is over, the debate has begun on whether it all mattered.
It has in one respect: there’s a premium now on persuasion. Threats or coercion don’t work to convince people to do or not to do a thing. Absent persuasive reasons, you can’t make headway. You lose out, you have to retreat in embarrassment at your lack of persuasive power.
Take the ban issued on the eve of the gathering on the wearing of yellow Bersih 4 T-shirts and also the announcement that the protest was illegal.
Both the T-shirt ban and the march’s proscription had to slink away in embarrassment because of their lack of persuasive power.It must have been that even their enforcers were too abashed at the bans’ lack of cogency to want to impose them.
In Bersih 4’s immediate aftermath, the bans’ chief proponent, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, is seen to appeal to journalists to help the BN persuade non-Malay voters in Selangor to vote for the BN.
That’s quite a turn from not so long ago when he was more likely to lament the “spin” he alleged some journalists working for web news portals constantly subjected whatever it was he said.
Bersih 2.0, the protest gathering’s organisers, has shored up the paradigm shift to persuasion by appealing to the rakyat who turned up for the march not to sit on their laurels now that they have made emphatic the point about the legitimacy of the people’s right to assemble.
Bersih 2.0 urged voters to persuade their MPs to vote for a no-confidence motion against the government of Najib Abdul Razak at Parliament’s sitting next month.
No doubt, voters, especially the marchers who came out on the first day to show their support for Bersih’s goals, will be encouraged to resort to that persuasion simply from discovery that the largely non-Malay turnout on the first day had spurred diversity in the second day’s turnout.
Good demonstration of persuasion
Talk about persuasion, there was a good demonstration of its power in the second day’s racially diverse turnout in comparison to the first day’s.
Possibly, nobody gave the persuasive force of a huge demo a bigger assist than former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed who appeared for six minutes on the first day and for an hour on the second.
His detractors argued that it was only tepid support he lent the gathering in a fleeting presence on the first day. As if to prove them wrong, Mahathir appeared for an hour on the second day.
Would he have done that if the crowds had not been bigger and racially diverse on the second day? Score another point for the power of legitimate suasion.
For persuasion to work, listeners must be sensitised to nuances into the actions and arguments deployed in the public square.In response to criticism that he had crossed over to the opposition, Mahathir argued that his two appearances at the Bersih protest were not in support of the NGO’s goals but that he was backing the people’s desire to see Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak ousted by a vote of no-confidence.
He was careful to make the distinction between support for Bersih’s primary goal of electoral reform and its incidental one of removal of Najib from office.
The Bersih marchers are not going to quibble over these nuances; they were just glad to receive the backing of someone who hitherto had been an arch-foe of street demos.
Mahathir was compelled to make further distinctions, those between his anti-street demo stance of before and his current support for them.
He said his opposition of before was premised on the availability of channels for the expression of the people’s grievances against the system.He argued that such channels under Najib have been closed up and resort to street demos was the only available option.
Hence he, having for long chafed at the bit and found no recourse, could not help but make common cause with the street protesters of Bersih 4.
The thing about all this reasoning by Mahathir is that he makes them and in making them is constrained to make nuanced distinctions.This will compel aficionados of the Najib administration to do the same.
Already they are out to nab what they term as the ‘masterminds’ of the Bersih 4 gathering. They like to infer that there were ‘masterminds’ when all along the people behind the quest for electoral reform and for clean governance have openly displayed their bona fides.
Creating red herrings and chasing after ghosts are the weaknesses of those without persuasive cause and reasons.Bersih 4 has made the curtailment of their tenures easier by reason of their apparent lack of cogency.
Those against the no-confidence motion must ready their case; the other side has offered theirs backed by persuasive reasons.