Bersih 2.0 garnered support from 50,000 people despite threats of chaos from the ill-mouthed Perkasa, the counter-rally of Umno Youth and its leader KJ, and threats of arrests by the police.
In high spirits, I wore a yellow tank top throughout Saturday though I did not march with the people.
First of all, I admire the people who walked on the streets that day. Their decision to face the threats of arrest and ignore the verbal warning of racial violence with great faith that they will not stir up riots and act maturely shows how far we have come as a nation.
I do believe that the people have a right to march in protest if that march is a peaceful walk. Nobody carried parangs or weapons of mass destruction; certainly the only one using force is the police with their indiscriminate use of tear gas and water cannons.
The people showed up and chanted ‘Bersih! Bersih!’ as well as ‘Reformasi!’ in certain quarters but what’s more telling, they even sang ‘Negaraku’ in unison. Even our very own ‘Gandalf’ A Samad Said waxed poetic. Contrary to the words of our Prime Minister who proclaimed that those who did not participate in the walk were peace-loving citizens, it is obvious that those who marched were also peace-loving citizens, just that their love for fair and free elections was stronger. And who can find that abhorrent?
I chose not to walk for security reasons and because I believe real changes are made in parliament. Call me a cynic but I see little change in the present government when it comes to listening to the voices of the people. Having said that, I respect the decision of the people to march and hold on to the thread of hope that their grouses will be heard.
After all, while I understand that our electoral system must be doing something right if the Opposition were able to gain control over five states in the last elections, I believe there is nothing wrong in making things better.
There was the fiasco over the retirement age for the Chairman of the Election Commission, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, which was changed from the standard age of 65 to 66 plausibly to accommodate the government’s ‘konco’. Even for those with limited political experience, one can tell that this is filled with the stench of something fishy as it was timed for the 2008 elections.
It doesn’t take long for one to figure out then, that if there was something better we could do about the electoral system, we should do it. It certainly doesn’t make sense for any ruling government to be against the noble mission of seeking fairer elections to the extent of declaring it illegal. So it’s now illegal to want a fair electoral system? That makes all Malaysians law-breakers.
I am also appalled by the way the whole rally was handled by the government. The whole flip-flopping – between allowing the rally to be held in a stadium, to the last-minute disallowing of the use of Stadium Merdeka, to the police clampdown on people trying to get to the stadium, which escalated to the use of tear gas and water cannon – was unnecessary.
Elsewhere in the world, Malaysians held peaceful gatherings for Bersih 2.0. Sightings of such gatherings were reported in Melbourne, Christchurch, London and Los Angeles without police interference. Globally, Malaysians abroad who still care about the ongoings of local events stood in solidarity with the same aim of clean and fair elections. No violence erupted. It is then embarrassing that our own country has outlawed this organisation. What’s more, even our respected monarchy has agreed to meet with these people – hence cancelling out the illegal status of the organisers?
I am deeply perturbed that one death was reported at the Bersih rally on 9th July 2011. The husband of a PKR leader collapsed when tear gas was shot at KLCC, resulting in his death. We’ve had rallies involving 100,000 people before and no casualties were reported. How then did we manage to come this low? Surely, any government would know that protests are part and parcel of a democratic nation. Freedom of speech should not be curbed if we are to progress as a nation toward first world status. Yet, here we rue the death one politician simply because we as citizens have been denied the simple right to voice our demands for basic reforms.
As we can see, yellow was banned for the day, but it did not deter the passion of the people. It is this strong stand for what’s right for the country that we should see in our ‘rakyat‘. The touching scene of a man with no legs holding crutches, choosing to march alongside with the rest of the people for Bersih 2.0, is what makes me proud to be Malaysian. If we do not want apathy from our people, then we must be ready to see them put their foot down for something. After all, if we do not stand up for something, we will fall for anything.
Bravo rakyat Malaysia! You have inched your way towards making Malaysia a land where freedom of speech is a right we can grasp on to!