Bersih 3.0: A Double-Edged Sword

To some degree it matters who is in office, but it matters more how much pressure they’re under from the general public – Noam Chomsky.

9 months have passed since thousands of Malaysians from all walks of life went to ground in anger and hope, tired of the continued deceit, fraudulent politics and false promises of the current regime. Their actions in some way can be derived from the somewhat lack of faith even in the Opposition for it takes more than mere economic scandals and backhanded politics to stir up the emotions of the common man to take to the streets. And take to the streets they did, for in their hearts they believed that the time for change had come. The Bersih steering committee headed by Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan and Datuk A. Samad Said as Chairperson could not have envisaged the sheer magnitude of response that would follow when Pakatan Rakyat threw their support behind the movement.

In a simpler context, Bersih’s aim was to push for cleaner elections wherein dirty politics is to be abhorred and the entire election system is to be overhauled either by reforms or revamping current systems. The Najib Razak administration’s gross mishandling of the rally, where the police force were used against unarmed protestors, tear gas was shot at hospitals, and the unlawful arrests of hundreds of protestors have been highlighted both locally and internationally. Without going into detail, Barisan Nasional’s ratings fell drastically and the government were under pressure to rectify their mistakes for the people were enraged at the government’s stance in handling what was supposed to be a peaceful protest.

Bersih 3.0 is upon us a fortnight from now and although the demands in essence remain the same, the movement in itself is now threefold.

Firstly, the Parliamentary Select Committee’s (PSC) proposed recommendations involve the Election Commission in implementing 22 proposed reforms or undertaking further study and reporting back to establish a system that will enable the PSC to monitor the said implementation. Bersih’s response was that the proposals do not satisfy major criteria of their push for reform, the Election Commission is incapable of handling the reforms required due to a lack of credibility, and that most of the proposed reforms appear incapable of being implemented immediately in light of the coming general elections.

Secondly, addressing the issue of LYNAS, a potentially dangerous radioactive waste site slated to be built in Kuantan, Pahang has been bulldozed by the Government with complete disregard for public opinion. While the safety of the site remains in question, it is the incumbent regime’s somewhat ostentatious flaunt of power that angers most, for yet again, the people have been subjected to grandiose lordship by the very men elected to serve them.

Finally, the somewhat relatively miniature issues that have since been associated with Bersih namely the student’s protest regarding the University and College Act (AUKU), the march for liberty and freedom demonstrating against the Peaceful Assembly Act (where again note that Parliament pushed through the bill without taking into account public opinion) and of course the Anything But UMNO/BN (ABU) movement, where blatant sentiments of anti-government are often displayed.

A tangible pattern begins to emerge and what was initially intended to be a non-partisan movement has now to some degree aligned itself with the Opposition and thus turned the entire agenda to seem almost anti-government.

While the intentions of the organizers and many participants and supporters alike are noble, there will be a certain faction of people who intend to use Bersih as a frontier to promote and disseminate their own ideologies and interests — and it is this which I fear the most, for the current quandary in which our political landscape is based on is so fragile and fraught with layers of complex dispositions, one false move, one error in judgement will lay waste to all the hard work put in thus far.

Being a firm believer in the doctrine of democracy where freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are basic rights accorded to the people, the question that follows is what are we actually fighting for? Are we merely sheep being shepherded around to follow the group or do we have a clear picture, a common dream that we envisage for this country? The maxim “nothing is more dangerous than a man without direction” comes to mind, and this is even so when there is not just one common direction but many intertwined goals forced to come under one banner for the sake of convenience.

Product innovation and sustainability are often cited as the main reason behind Apple’s success. The technique involved uses a polarized time frame to gauge public receptiveness to a new product. Hence the reasoning behind the release of new versions of iPhones and iPads every few months, to maintain interest and its market share. Similarly, the success of Bersih’s predecessor which resulted in a political tsunami in 2008 followed through in 2011 and now in 2012 can be seen as a similar approach in politics as to maintain public interest and to ensure that the resulting publicity re-creates the hype that ignited the spark in the 2008 general elections.

Bersih 3.0 will no doubt once again test the resolve of the Najib Razak administration in their promise for change and in all our zest for change, we leave ourselves open to the fact that the coming peaceful sit-in will provide a golden opportunity for the government to portray to the public that they are indeed sincere in their promise for change by allowing the protest to go ahead undisturbed and providing the public with police protection. Should this happen, the general outcome would be catastrophic for Pakatan Rakyat’s hopes to takeover Putrajaya for the outcome of the coming elections will not be decided by the 30 percent Barisan Nasional loyalists or the 30 percent Opposition hard-cores but rather the middle ground and neutral voters who will judge both sides based on performance and lucid reasoning, and they will if they begin to question the motives of Bersih, for credibility is like paper, once crumpled cannot be returned to its original state.

There are simply too many factors to be taken into account to predict the overall perception to a second rally in 9 months and adding into the fact that almost all national press and media are controlled by the incumbent regime, it would be child’s play to handle the Bersih 3.0 protest with dignity and then portray the ill-effects of said protest in terms of economic losses and negative international publicity to the public thus undermining the need for Bersih 3.0. The recently published article by Professor Ong Kian Ming on the dubious voters that will determine the outcome of the 13th General Elections cannot be taken lightly and changes have to be made within the electoral system and the Election Commission itself if Malaysia is to move forward and be released of her parasitic shackles that for so long has ailed her.

However, Bersih must strive to ensure that it is their voices that will be heard on the day and not the many blocs of assemblage who clamour to join under the pretext of a cleaner and fairer election but instead only serve to do more harm than good. The stance taken should be a firm, non-partisan and an absolute emphasis on a single cause. Should they fail to do so, I fear that overriding political factors will shadow their cause and thus call end to a movement that has become the people’s voice, Malaysia’s only hope for change.

The author is currently pursuing his LLB (Hons), passionate about all things Malaysian and will be attending Bersih 3.0 in support of its cause, “for only when elections are clean and fair, can citizens be real masters of their own destiny and expect holders of public office to act accountably and effectively”.

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The writer is a born and bred Malaysian currently pursuing his LLB (Hons), a diehard Liverpool FC fan and passes his time interpreting the subtle nuances of the many voices of the planet while sipping his daily dose of teh tarik.

Posted on 17 April 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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