An observation by the Deputy Minister of Youth & Sports, YB Senator Gan Ping Sieu on the Government’s response post-July 9th.
THE Bersih 2.0 rally may be over but we are still reeling from the event.
Going by media reports, people are terribly divided over the events surrounding the gathering.
Even my Facebook and Twitter timelines are choked with postings showing starkly opposing perspectives into this whole controversy.
But just what can we make of the rally? To me, the options are plain. Either the Barisan Nasional leaders sit up and take stock of the event, or they continue with their old ways.
From the beginning, I made a very clear stance about Bersih 2.0: I do not support open rallies.
But there is no reason why we should not look into why thousands of Malaysians, including those from the ruling party, defied police and court orders to proceed with the rallies.
From what I have gathered, many of those who took part in Bersih 2.0 can’t even list down all the eight points demanded by the movement. And some of the demands are couched in general terms that provide no clear details on their allegations.
Many people I spoke to, especially the young, could not fathom why, even days before the rally, the police were arresting people just for wearing yellow.
The arrest of the PSM “communists”, the demonising of Datuk S. Ambiga and the “Christian conspiracy” have only served to irk our people.
I strongly believe it is the authorities’ perceived high-handedness and the subsequent overreaction that led to sympathy for the movement, and the subsequent ballooning in the number of its followers, many of whom were apolitical to begin with.
From what was essentially a rally to demand for election reform, the movement soon evolved into one that has constitutional and human rights dimensions, where people strongly felt their fundamental rights for example, freedom of assembly, expression and participatory democracy were being challenged or infringed upon.
The changing political landscape around us, fueled in part by the Internet, has rightly or wrongly captured the imagination of many Malaysians, particularly the young.
Many are excited when they see regimes in North Africa and the Middle East tumble or shake with the help of the social media.
Nearer to home, the change of government in Thailand and the unprecedented losses for the People’s Action Party in Singapore have sent a hopeful message for those yearning for “change” here.
The question is what do we do about it? What is in the nation’s best interest?
First, we need to acknowledge that a high-speed train is coming our way and unless we jump on the bandwagon, we risk being left behind or, worse, being hit.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that the era where the Government knows best is over.
There is also a pressing need for this Government to engage, and be seen to be engaging with, the people, especially the youth, through both conventional means and the new media.
In this regard, I can’t agree more with Datuk Saiffuddin Abdullah who said that some of the Government’s actions in relation to Bersih 2.0 had hurt the Barisan Nasional and that we need to enhance our political communications.
In hindsight, the engagement process and communication leading up to the Bersih 2.0 rally could have been better.
The Election Commission (EC) could have better explained the validity of each and every demand by Bersih 2.0 and any proposal for further reform in the election process.
I am all for free and fair elections. But the EC’s failure to effectively counter some doubtful allegations, especially in cyberspace where these issues were raging, allowed the opposition to pull wool over the people’s eyes.
For example, on the indelible ink demand, the EC could have easily explained that even developed countries do not see it as necessary or suitable.
If the proposal to introduce the biometric thumbprint method is better, it must be properly explained.
Social media is also another battlefield the Government needs to work on. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are no longer just another platform to keep the public updated about government initiatives.
They are the new war zones where battles over the priced public perception are won and lost.
Politics, after all, is a great deal about managing public perception and expectations.
I believe Bersih 2.0 has presented an opportunity for the ruling coalition to look at where it has gone wrong and to go back to the drawing board.
It is not too late and I am optimistic that despite the vitriol against the Government’s handling of Bersih 2.0, Barisan is still a better option for the people PROVIDED we can win their hearts through better engagement, sincere reforms and effective transformation.
All of which, of course, require strong political will to see it through.
* This is a reproduction of an article originally published in The Star on 17th July 2011. The original article can be accessed here: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2011/7/17/nation/9119514&sec=nation