Photo by June Rubis. Sabah Police Contigent is apparently friendlier and rakyat oriented

The beautiful carnival-like atmosphere in Sabah, where cooperation between police and protesters was a highlight.

When I made my way to the city on the morning of 28 April 2012, I must admit that I had my moments of reservation. I’d seen pictures of the 1986 Sabah riot where five people had perished, including a Filipino carpenter on work permit who tried to attack a police officer with a machete. These images flashed in my mind.

Source : Asiaweek
Source : Asiaweek

The event was slated to start at two in the afternoon. However, after reading a comment made by the President of the Malay Chambers of Commerce Malaysia (Sabah), Datuk Awg Buatamam Hj Ag. Mahmun, who said that one of the reasons they objected to the rally was because it might cause traffic jams. He also said that it might create a sense of insecurity among visitors to the city, both foreigners and locals.

With this in mind, I decided to make an early start. I reached the area just a little over twelve o’clock, way too early! There was no traffic jam; well, at least none which was exceptionally worse than on normal days. I proceeded to the Atkinson Clock Tower, which has free parking available. As I drove up the hill towards the tower adjacent to the rally venue, i.e. Padang Merdeka, I noticed that there were many policemen stationed at its perimeters. I found out later that coincidentally, the City Hall in collaboration with law enforcement bodies was organizing its ‘Safe City’ programme at the Padang on that day, which was the reason why Bersih Sabah was declined the usage of the venue. Hence, the police presence was not necessarily for Bersih Sabah per se.

At about 1:30 in the afternoon, Bersih supporters started streaming in to Padang Merdeka. First a pair, then a small group and later a larger group.

Bersih supporters making their way to Padang Merdeka
A different group making a detour from Gaya Street to the former State Library as police personnel looked on
Supporter of Himpunan Hijau. One of the earliest to arrive
Here they come!
The group made their way to the grandstand but was stopped by personnel from RELA and Civil Defence.
Top brass from City Hall and Sabah police unperturbed by the chanting next to them.

For lack of better terms, I could only describe the whole situation as ‘tongue in cheek’. Why? I do not think it was a coincidence that the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) decided to do their drill around the same time as Bersih was supposed to start, which was at two in the afternoon. By the time the Bersih supporters arrived at the Padang, the FRU was already occupying it.

FRU drill under the command of Sub Inspector Samad Sumardi

The comedic element of the situation was not lost on everyone there and I think most of us, including the law enforcers themselves, found it amusing. There we were – the FRU doing a demonstration on how they deal with riots and, on the other side of the Padang, a real sitin protest was ongoing.

The situation also offered good-natured ribbing between the Bersih supporters and Sub-Inspector Samad Sumardi whose voice could be heard over the loud speakers. At one point, he demonstrated what commands he would give to rioters in an actual riot.

Undur..! Undur..! Kalau tidak, kami akan bertindak!” he commanded. Bersih supporters responded with a resounding “Tidak!”

Further on in his demonstration, he likened folks who participate in illegal gatherings as ‘sampah masyarakat‘, to which Bersih supporters responded with a ‘boo’.

With all the ribbing going on, he took great pains not to offend Bersih supporters. Later on, he explained to his audience that the whole exercise was merely a demonstration and not a message to anyone present (he was obviously referring to the Bersih supporters). Those present among the Bersih crowds were political leaders from opposition parties and a few non-governmental organizations like Himpunan Hijau, Bela Tanah Rakyat (Tabah), Paco Trust, United Sabah Dusun Association (USDA) and Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam SeMalaysia (Gamis).

FRU marking their territory
Second large group arriving from another direction
The sit-in
Spot the pretty policewoman 'spying'
I spotted at least three tourists in yellow T-Shirts in the crowd. This was one of them. They weren't scared away.
PKR's Christina Liew singing Negara Ku. Similar scene could be seen in other groups. In one instance, I saw a policeman taking a video of the group singing the national anthem, and he himself was singing along


No, he was not covering his face. He was wiping away his perspiration when I took this picture.

There were moments when the Bersih supporters tried to breach the boundary and inch their way further to the Padang.

The FRU then immediately changed their formation in response to Bersih’s attempt, but it was still only a police demonstration.
A demo on how to reverse the Black Marias to form one single line of barriers (read: how to block Bersih from gaining more ground).
Barrier formed. As the good Sub-Inspector was directing the Black Marias to park, he waved hello to the Bersih supporters.
In the meantime, a police helicopter was circling and hovering above us. Everyone waved at it in good-natured fun.
Bersih supporters waving their hands and their banners at the helicopter. At one point, it hovered above us and its door opened. The police personnel started taking pictures of us just as we were taking his.
Singing at the Padang. Checkout the video here.
Lawyers on the ready to provide legal aid
Police chatting with Bersih participants
ASP Paul Lajumin. He won the hearts of the people on behalf of PDRM that day.

Photo by June Rubis. Sabah Police Contingent is apparently friendlier and more rakyat oriented.
Photo by June Rubis (who was also one of Bersih Sabah's coordinators) with two policemen.

According to a reliable source, the Sabah Police Commissioner – Datuk Hamza Taib – had issued an explicit directive to his men that he did not want to receive a single complaint about police harassment and that there should not be any provocation from both sides.

At the end of the day, I think Bersih in Sabah was a win-win for everyone involved. Bersih got to air their demands and Sabah police had an image boost. I think most of us, if not everyone, left the Padang feeling confident in the level of professionalism of our Sabah police. It also showed the level of maturity Sabahans have when it comes to peaceful rallies. It ended at exactly four in the afternoon, as promised by the organizer. I observed that participants handed out plastic bags for the collection of litter.

Some reports claim that there were only about 500 participants. I think they were estimating those participants who were actually sitting. Many were standing and walking about, mingling among the crowd. There were definitely more than 2000 present, although a smaller group as compared to Bersih in West Malaysia. However, this can still be considered as a huge leap, because zero attended Bersih in Sabah in 2011.

Congratulations to everyone involved!


For more Bersih stories, click here.

How har you do baino? I am a farmer from the Venice of the East, Beaufort, Sabah. If you find my writing to be a bit 'sot-sot' or 'mulau' (both mean crazy and quite akin to stupid), you can blame Marcus...

8 replies on “BERSIH 3.0: The Sabah Experience”

  1. really glad that the bersih 3.0 at sabah were held in peace. lucky to be a sabahan.. and.. hope the coming events which involving demo will be the same as this one.. sabah bah.. nakamaju..

  2. GLOBALLY, ITS KNOWN THAT WESTERN MODERN GOVTS ar emore advanced and civilised in terms of population and citizen treatment and mgmt of elections. NOW, in msia, its a whole diff ball game..EAST Msia is supposed to be less advanced or "less educated" than West Msia but in this case, it is not to be! KL police were nothing more than slaves of UMNO on april 28th…and they think they have the power over the people which they do not..pathetic bunch of blue dogs !!!

  3. I was there….and I agree with the writer. I was quite disappointed with the announcer as he carried on talking as Negara Ku was being sung. Creative management!

  4. I attended. The count should be 2000-3000. Many took turn to seek for drink and toilet between 2pm-4pm, I was one of them. The barely 20-30 jokers occupied the whole grandstand for no meaningful reason while the 2,000-3,000 were forced to sit under the hot sun for the noble desire of a ''clean and fair' election. These contrasting pictures will one day be posted on the wall of shops as part of Sabah's history, as what we can see at gaya street shops right now about history of Kota Kinabalu. I shall proudly telll my future generations " I was there in the midst of the yellow under the hot sun but without a picture of my face to prove"……. but I have not any idea how those 20-30 jokers in the pictures at the grandstand are going to explain their acton to their future generations. God bless them!

  5. We salute you Sabahan and police personnel who do understand the actual situation. The rakyat respect the police of their accord. Unlike in Peninsula Malaysia, the police acts as barbarian attacking the animals. They wallop as they like because they knew that they have powers and blessing from top peoples.

  6. the reason why I am proud to be a sabahan. Do it peacefully and no one gets hurt.
    Keep it up Sabahans, show to the world that we just wanna get our rights and nothing more.

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