Sabrina recounts the events leading up to the day of peace, solidarity and joy shared by Malaysians in the Land Below the Wind.
The day drew bright and sunny. And hot.
I arrived (a bit late as I was coming straight from work), managing to dump some stuff into the car and pick up my yellow customised BERSIH t-shirt as well as the other stuff I’d need.
While all my senses told me that we didn’t have any real danger of aggression, it was better to be safe than sorry. Glasses instead of contact lens, for instance. And longer sleeves that’d been rolled up, ready to be pulled down in the event of a teargas attack.
NRIC and money…. check!
Running through the mental checklist in my head, I was ready in case the worst case scenario came to be. Come what may, I was prepared.
At that moment, fear wasn’t a word on my vocabulary. All through the day before, I had felt strangely calm.
Today is the day I shall take an active role in determining my country’s future in democracy, my mind whispered.
Maybe it was the love and full trust I had in my team. Maybe it was my wish to see Malaysia as a country that I could be proud of. Because that day I felt courage, and nothing was going to stop me from going to Padang Merdeka with all the other yellow and green-clad Bersih supporters.
I’m basically a newbie to the whole Bersih movement. When I was invited to be one of the coordinators for BERSIH Sabah, I was a little hesitant. But, being the person that I am – a person who loves a challenge – I decided to jump onto the BERSIH bandwagon.
What can I say? It’s been one awesome experience!
After many long nights of discussions and meetings, we’re now graduates of Activism 101. At least, I hope we are. And to think that a little less than a month ago, we were welcoming the iconic Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan to launch the JOM 100 campaign in Kota Kinabalu.
So, what’s JOM 100 got to do with anything again?
Held on Sunday, 8th April 2012 at Oriental Hotel (formerly Beverly Hotel) at 12pm, JOM 100 is an effort to to achieve 100 percent voter-turnout at the upcoming General Election. The campaign believes that with a 100 percent voter-turnout in the GE13, our democratic principles would be upheld and electoral fraud, mitigated.
The campaign is a result of the last General Election on 8 March 2008, where it was found that 7 million voters out of a total of 15.1 million didn’t exercise their rights to vote. 7 million? That’s like almost half of the population that’s entitled to vote!
Of this 7 million people, 2.7 million have been found to be registered voters who didn’t vote, while 4.3 million others haven’t even registered themselves as voters. Pure laziness? Or don’t care attitude? No idea. We could sigh and roll our eyes and say, “Oh, but that’s just Malaysians being Malaysians, you know,” but that’s totally unacceptable to me. How can one not care enough for one’s country? I thought to myself, Hmm, maybe Malaysian’s do deserve the government they have now, if they can’t even get off their lazy behinds to go out and vote!
So, it was my hope that my active participation in Bersih would show everyone that we can do it. We can (and should!) care enough about our country. Hey, if I didn’t love my country, I would’ve emigrated a long time ago.
That day at the JOM 100 launch was a turning point in my life. It was the first time I had dared to don the bright, sunny yellow t-shirt with a big red tick in front. (Gasp!) Oh, I lived through that experience alright, and have even worn it several more times after. How can one not love such a cheerful colour? In fact, I even had the pleasure of having Dato’ Ambiga – the face of BERSIH – to sign my t-shirt!
As part of my active participation, I went around disseminating flyers to the public in my yellow t-shirt. There were curious onlookers, but they were mostly very friendly.
There were many obstacles along the way to the ‘B’ day. First up was the mainstream media. It was as if they were under orders to not publish anymore articles on BERSIH after the initial 2 press conferences we had had. Other than the 8 demands issued by the BERSIH steering committee, Sabah had an additional request – that a Royal Commission of Inquiry on undocumented immigrants be established.
Terms of reference issued by us were ignored. And they seemed intent on ignoring us until we announced our decision to meet with at least 30 PDRM and DBKK officials. Yup. I, with 7 other BERSIH committee members had to attend a meeting with DBKK and PDRM in a conference room filled to the brim with men in uniform. How’s that for intimidating?
I wasn’t afraid, though. Why should we? We didn’t do anything wrong. As per the Peaceful Assembly Act (which we found out, had been enforced just the day before), we had issued letters of notifications to both the PDRM and DBKK 10 days before the rally on 17th April 2012. They’d just wanted to meet us for further discussions. Besides, we had already gotten some tips from Fadiah Nadwa and Ana Syuhaini (Lawyers For Liberty) the day before at the workshop ‘Right to March’. (Wink.)
In a nutshell, what happened that day was this: They’d prepared for us a beautifully designed powerpoint presentation about the field that we could use in Penampang, as an alternative to Padang Merdeka, our preferred venue. This was due to the Padang having already been booked for some public awareness programme by the DBKK.
Our spokesperson thought for a moment before asking if we could participate in this public awareness programme since we were the public. Basically, we would be supporting them in their event by bringing the numbers to their event. The DBKK couldn’t say no. And neither could PDRM. Right?
Well, we were overjoyed at our luck!
However, a day after we’d issued a statement announcing that the DBKK and PDRM were okay with us attending the programme, a local newspaper twisted our words to say that we’d received ‘approval’, which was untrue. As a result, the DBKK issued a counter-statement to say that they hadn’t approved the gathering, causing many to doubt the earlier news release.
Following the discussion that took place between PDRM and DBKK with BERSIH Sabah representatives on 24th April 2012, BERSIH Sabah issued a statement which confirms that DBKK and the KK PDRM do not have any objection for the movement to gather at Padang Merdeka on April 28th.
Both parties also confirmed that there are no restrictions as to the dresscode, i.e. the participants are free to wear yellow and green t-shirts in support of BERSIH and Himpunan Hijau.
This statement is also based on the movement’s endorsement, and planned support and attendance of the public event organised by DBKK at the same location. DBKK had confirmed that it will not restrict BERSIH participants, who are also members of the public, from attending the planned programmes.
However, on 26th April 2012, DBKK issued a counterstatement denying that the city council had approved the gathering to be held at Padang Merdeka.
Liew further reiterates that if a permit was never applied for, how can DBKK approve it?
“As DBKK did say it is a public event, then there should be no objection to the attendance of BERSIH supporters as long as they are there to assemble peacefully” he said.
- Excerpt of press statement issued by MCLM Sabah Chief, Michael Liew.
So yes, we still went ahead with the gathering as planned. Afterall, didn’t Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein say that Bersih rally is not a security threat??
Just a few days before the Duduk Bantah rally, a group of artists known as the Cracko Arts Group did a beautiful art installation inspired by BERSIH at the heritage pillars. It took them 3 hours, from 7 – 10pm on the evening of 26th April 2012 to put up all those flags. But sadly, they were removed on the morning of 27th April 2012 at around 7.40am – 8.30am.
The finished artwork was supposed to look great from the top, too.
I arrived at Asia City at noon on 28th April 2012. A large group had already gathered, a joyful crowd. A few supporters recognised me and waved hello. I immediately started getting busy with my camera. There was not a moment to lose.
As I came late, I had the benefit of seeing BERSIH 3.0 from the eyes of a supporter joining in the rally. Members of political parties stood close, tall and proud. As people started marching towards the Chong Thien Vun park, I ran a little ahead to catch snippets of the ongoing rally. It was amazing to see how many brave people turned up that day. Seeing my teammates so busy at work made me feel really proud.
This. We started all this.
Arriving at the venue, I was struck by how well-behaved the supporters were. They sat when told to sit. And stood in unison to sing Negaraku and Sabah Tanah Air Ku. No one caused any trouble. Both the PDRM and DBKK simply stood by to keep a close watch, but they all carried friendly faces.
They all came with pride and joy, full of laughter. And at the end of the rally, when they were told to pick up any trash before dispersing, they did so with enthusiasm. I was indeed tearfully moved by my fellow Sabahans.
That day, we showed the world that we do have democracy in Sabah. That day, we showed everyone that it’s okay to stand up (or rather, sit down) for our rights.
I just hope that more Sabahans will wake up and rise up to the challenge.
To finish, I just have a few comments about the rally: One of the things that stood out at the rally, and which many complained about, was the dominant presence of several political parties. Many felt it was supposed to be a non-partisan event. At one point, I even heard one lady shouting at the PKR supporters.
While I’m thankful for political parties such as PKR and PAS (as well as DAP and SAPP) who’ve contributed to the success of this event with their mobilisation, crowd-control and security services, I feel that this wasn’t the right avenue to tell people who to vote for, or for political campaigns. We’re here for only one reason – to fight for free and fair elections. And if you play your cards right, we just might vote for you. Build our trust first, then we can talk about voting. I say this because I’m not in favour of people who try to sell themselves too aggressively, and this was no exception. (Sorry!)
Meanwhile, with BERSIH 3.0 having drawn to a close, and so peacefully, I, a newbie and now established activist, have this to say: I have no regrets!
(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of Linda Vignato, source: http://bit.ly/IZmgle)