#BERSIH: When the Bandwagon is the Only Choice

Sabrina Aripen tells us why and how she ended up marching even though she’s a ‘good child’.

“An obedient child is a good child.”

“Children should be seen and not heard.”

I’ve always been the good child. The child that does what he or she is told to do. All the way through school, I’ve followed rules to the book. Well, I’ve had my moments but these were quickly reciprocated with small punishments. Like being made to do squats or stand on a chair, being slapped on the wrist and the like.

From young, we’ve been programmed to obey. In Malaysian schools especially, we’re trained to sit in class quietly, and just listen. Never to contradict. Never to question.

What the teacher says is equal to law. Or to that effect. If we say, “No, Sir/Miss, I disagree”, or  ask, “Why should we do that?”, we’d immediately be branded as troublemakers, or even, stupid. Something punishable.

Most non-Asian foreigners who come to our classrooms would be amazed at the quietness and apparent disciplined behaviour of our students.

It’s called being ‘hardworking’ or ‘studious’. I’d say we’re being robots. Devoid of independent thought.

This is how I see the government of today. Citizens of Malaysia are expected to just sit and swallow the treatment, laws and such doled out to us without question. Like candy given to a child, we’re supposed to skip around happily with our dosage of sugary treats a.k.a. the BR1M funds and others. And be overcome with thankfulness for such great endowments.

If we ever asked why certain things were done, we’d be treated as if we were too dumb and not eligible for proper explanations. We’re simply to trust what they say because they know best. Our opinions do not matter.

Once upon a time, I too was a complacent citizen of Malaysia. I knew we had issues, but I never felt particularly bothered about it. Or personally affected. My first encounter of #BERSIH was last year on the 9th of July, when roads were blocked and the police stood together in troops to guard against potential invaders infiltrating the Padang Merdeka in Kota Kinabalu.

Honestly, I was annoyed. For on that day, I’d organised a workshop on beauty which had been planned months and months ago. It was going to be held at the Kinabalu Club, right next to the Padang Merdeka which was under heavy surveillance. People found it hard to get in, but luckily the event managed to take place in spite of the difficulties we faced, thanks to the participants who braved their way through the roadblocks.

But eventually, the #BERSIH gathering did not take place in Padang Merdeka that day. It was a lot of fuss for nothing.

Back then, I was afraid to even consider wearing yellow for all the negative connotations attached to it. Yellow! We were certainly brainwashed. I mean, how is a t-shirt a threat to public safety, much less a colour? (Of course, I didn’t think much about it that way back then).

Things started changing for me when I joined the Fiesta Feminista in November. I hadn’t realised at the time that it was actually a gathering of activists, some hard-core. It was certainly an eye-opener on the many problems plaguing our society today. While it focused on women’s issues, it took on a more holistic view that showed participants how those issues were related.

It was also a moment of realisation of how much we complain without doing anything concrete in the end. We complain from the comforts of our armchairs which doesn’t help matters because we aren’t addressing the root of the problems at hand. Even less helpful is our so-called leaders who continue to demonstrate that they aren’t willing to listen to the people, choosing instead to propagate their own agendas.

Idealists may argue with me and say that the leaders would do this and that if we only talked to them, but I am sorry to burst their bubble. I’ve worked in a number of charitable events where the invited guests of honor would promise the moon and stars to look good for the media, yet a few weeks later, such promises would have fizzled away to nothingness.

For someone who didn’t understand the full depth and reasoning for #BERSIH a mere 9-10 months ago, I find it kind of funny that I’m now one of many people who strongly advocates it. One’s mindset does evolve with the people one associate with after all.

I think the main problem with getting support from public is how this movement has been stigmatised as a way of ‘punishing the government’ and as such, deemed unlawful. What has been reported in mainstream media hasn’t exactly been helpful either in dispersing the misconception that being involved in #BERSIH somehow guarantees one some time spent in jail.

But we’re a democratic country, aren’t? Yet given the current situation, I’d say we live under the rule of an authoritarian government. One that cracks the proverbial whip and expects us to obey. Blindly.

 

I’m sorry. I didn’t attend university to obtain a mindset incapable of critical thought. Neither did millions of other Malaysians.

Definition of Democracy

a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority

b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

Do you think the above definition describes what we have in Malaysia today? Honestly, NO.

So, again, why #BERSIH?

Let’s think about your everyday life.

You go to work, and there you have a boss. Or a supervisor. Now, why do we need a supervisor? Well, while I’m sure there are lots of honest, hardworking people out there, I’m equally sure we all have times when we love to slack off when the boss isn’t watching. We play games, facebook, chit-chat, etc, at work. Not good for the company, of course, but hey, it’s fun! A supervisor, among other duties, keeps a check on staff to ensure productivity levels are in place. Companies, too, have auditors to keep them on their toes. So who is the independent watchdog for the Election Commission? #BERSIH is.

Yes, #BERSIH keeps an eye on the Election Commission. It’s a non-partisan movement fighting for free and fair elections and so it aims to ensure that these take place in our country. Nowhere in its objectives is there mention of bringing down the government. Yet, for some reason, that idea exists and has some people’s panties in a twist.

That’s mainly why I don’t understand why certain quarters are against #BERSIH. Unless they’ve something to hide. Unless in their hearts of hearts, they know too well they’ll lose in the next General Election if they play fair.

But the thing is this: If this was a true democracy where people have the power to decide their future, we could easily vote in PR for the next GE, and just as easily vote them out if they don’t live up to our expectations. It really boils down to knowing that our votes matter.

The Election Commission is supposed to be independent from influence by the government, and have the powers to regulate the manner in which elections are conducted. They should also be serving the needs and rights of Malaysian citizens. Unfortunately, that’s just a fairy tale confirmed by the recent amendments to the Elections Offences Act. Amendments that were rushed through Parliament, to seemingly suit the interests of one party.

Is this right in a just, equitable and transparent government? The answer is again, a resounding NO!

The Election Commission has failed in their job. Miserably. Therefore, we should all call upon its leaders to resign.

I’ll say no more, other than I felt even more motivated than ever on 28th April 2012 to turn up as a show of my resentment at how we’ve been treated so far – basically, like children on a playground fed with candy and all kinds of fairytales.

I’m sure many of you who are concerned citizens of Malaysia came out like me to DUDUK BANTAH! Just as I’m sure many of you wanted to but were afraid to. If you fall in the latter category, be comforted to know that Article 10 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia (the highest law of the land!) guarantees Malaysian citizens the right to the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

So, what are you waiting for? Reclaim your rights! Even without a Bersih 4.0, you can do so. Write to the Electoral Commission for instance, and demand for free and fair elections. And keep doing it till they know you mean business.

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Involved in many causes, many NGOs including Sabah Women's Action-Resource Group (SAWO) and many events at once, but it is a choice and just something she cannot resist. According to her, life is too short to be content with being bored. Her favourite phrase is 'Carpe Diem', which she applies to her everyday life. More of her ramblings can be found on her personal blog: www.sabrinaaripen.blogspot.com

Posted on 9 May 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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