The debacle of mishandling
JULY 11 — The dust has settled from the Bersih 2.0 march and life is now back to normal.
The much-anticipated rally took place and despite the heavy clampdown, shutting KL-bound roads and diverting traffic, an estimated 20,000 people walked in many parts of the city to express their wish for a cleaner and more transparent election process.
With all due respect, the authorities could have handled this rally in a much more civil and humane way, since this was as an initiative by civil society ( a coalition of 62 NGOs) to ask for something which should by right should be provided without even having to ask.
While the old methods of repression and suppression were used, they have not been as effective as before. This is understandable, since the world today is a much different one from that of one or even two decades ago.
Perhaps the lessons from 308 that should have been learned and corrected by now were never really understood by the powers that be, and mistakes that were made prior to the run-up to the last election were again so glaringly repeated this time. Arrogance and double standards were some of the lessons that should have been learned well.
The perception of our law enforcement personnel was that they are still living in the 60s and 70s. In this 21st century, communist threats are still being used to justify some of the arrests just because a Che Guevera T-shirt — which can be bought in many places — was worn.
There is a big difference between socialism and communism. This is no more the era of USSR or Mao Tse Tung’s China; the former has disintegrated into smaller states and the latter is now more capitalist than communist.
Who would want to revive communism, when these two giants communist states have tacitly admitted that their ideology is no longer workable, by opening their economies and adopting some capitalist practices.
Bersih’s walk would and could have been just like the lawyers’ walk some time back in Putrajaya, if the police as well as politicians adopted the same approach; let the walk proceed under watchful eyes.
Alas, an extremist NGO has to give advice to a certain ethnic group to stock up food or face the possibility of another May 13. The tension immediately rose 10 fold after this politician uttered his advice, and when Umno Youth too announced that they would counter-march on that day, the collective temperature rose another few degrees.
It was not helped by the announcement by the Home Minister that the civil movemnt was illegal. With the announcement came the arrest of those wearing yellow. This act was perhaps meant to put fear into the rakyat, but in reality, it had the opposite effect of angering many ordinary people who regard this as an infringement of basic human rights. And once again the same arrogance that drove many to voting the Opposition in 308 was on display.
Amidst the rise in temperature, one sane voice was heard. It was from none other than the beloved King, who advised that both sides should find a solution amicably. The PM also made a sane decision by offering to allow the rally to be held in a stadium.
The King's advice actually presented an opportunity for all sides to back down without losing face which is ever so important in Malaysian society.
Instead, the famed arrogance and flip-flopping emerged again. Instead of finding a solution, the authorities were seen trying to create more problems.
The prime minister gave the impression he was reneging on his promise, and that was not good coming from the top leader. Understandably, there might be strong objections by his associates and advisors to use force but having made the promise, the PM should have used exerted strong leadership to realise his promise, instead of passing the buck to the police to decide.
As a neutral observer, I see that the government’s action left the group no choice but lean towards the Opposition parties. If only BN parties too participated in the organisation of this rally, the whole exercise could have been turned round to BN’s favour.
But the archaic thinking and tactic of must-use-force-to-suppress did not have its intended intimidating effect. So an even "cleverer" idea of shutting down city access roads and causing inconvenience to thousands of motorists was adopted, hoping that by denying access, the rally would fail to take place.
The idea of shutting down the city does have one effect. Shops around the city centre were closed, and even a day before the rally, some big firms and corporations let their staff home early.
But an estimated 20,000 people turned out despite shutting down bus services and roads, and closing some LRT stations. This is an estimate from foreign observers, and this is a big figure considering that all access roads to the city centre were shut down.
Contrary to what the authorities tried to portray, those who took part in the rally were multiracial; not just Christian groups as would have been the case if the allegation of Christian funding was true. In this modern era, every citizen would have noticed this fact by just following international news channels.
In hindsight, Bersih would have been just another civil walk, had it been allowed to happen peacefully and under watch. It would not have grown so big that even my cleaning lady knows about it.
Not many, except perhaps the younger ones and the Internet savvy, would have known of its intention. But because of the mishandling, the arrogance and the flip-flopping displayed by the authorities, it has grown into a household name.
Datuk Ambiga, the courageous chairman of Bersih 2.0, is now a champion in the minds of many.
This debacle of mishandling, using the ideas and tactics of the last generation — mind you, this is no more the era of Mahathirism — will likely push many fence-sitters into the arms of the Opposition, and BN has only itself to blame.
Whatever advantage they have gained in the last few hard fought by-elections is now lost.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.