Opinion

Bersih 3.0: Here they come, the beautiful ones

Praba Ganesan

Praba Ganesan is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Social Media Strategist. He wants to engage with you, and learn from your viewpoints. You can contact him at prabaganesan@hotmail.comor follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan

MAY 3 — The biggest protest in living memory for Malaysians.

An impressive chunk of Malaysia rallied all over the country and in foreign cities to express their political convictions. No analysis from one person is going to change the new national reality: The people are here, and they’ve got something to say.

Except for one deputy minister, also an Umno supreme council member, the government of the day is not listening to the underlying message. They’ve opted to highlight all the weaknesses in the chain and ignore the rest.

This is why the crowd will swell in the next edition.

Those who rule can’t just say the time of government knows best is over, they have to start acting like the time of government knows best is over.

Because right now, how most of us see it, it’s all talk.

Let’s go through the issues related to Bersih 3.0.

A national awakening is upon us, and no level of spin alters the reality. Our people are speaking, and they will continue to.

They started it first, no?

Umno’s media zeroes in on the “unlawful” entry of individuals into Dataran Merdeka. This needs some breakdown.

The square is a social meeting place all year round. It is also a major and cheap dating spot. Boyfriends around the Klang Valley have saved Saturdays from ruin by biking down with their partners.

Go down to the square anytime this week — now that the court order has lapsed and the barriers removed — sit right in the centre and then consider.

Barisan Nasional (BN) did not want Dataran to be the stage for those opposing them. Even though BN has its events there all the time. The police would be outside the square then, directing traffic, mapping out movement, escorting BN leaders with an ever-expanding team of outriders and ensuring the VVIP seats are protected. Caterers work around the clock.

That’s Dataran Merdeka circa normal days.

BN does not want Dataran to showcase its opponents. The symbolism is dangerous to its own political survival. Political fights are almost always about symbols.

They were disingenuous when they went all out to close down Dataran Merdeka to fellow Malaysians. It is vital to remember this background when examining what transpired in Kuala Lumpur during Bersih.

The police, public transport companies, City Hall and every agency under the federal government were intent on disrupting Bersih. And it was not because of law and order.

Only the most ardent BN supporter would say with a straight face that the issuing of the court order was impartial. It had politics written all over it.

That’s the space, the actors then.

If the police were genuine in wanting to avoid any violence, they would use violence as a last course, not a convenient one.

If X number of people encroached into the disallowed area, then they must decide if the group is charging at the police or charging into the space. Our police and mainstream media have a long history of playing up any transgressions by everyday Malaysians against the police, so if the police were attacked by unarmed people, it would be heavily reported.

In summary, they would endeavour to force back those who encroached, if possible without force.

Is this the harder route? Yes. But this is exactly why policemen are trained. To hold them to a lower standard is not fair even to them.

Instead, they opted for the “let’s-have-a-go-at-them” method. Tear gas fired and water cannons unleashed, followed by batons.

Dataran Merdeka’s shutdown was political and the police went with full anti-riot force at the first opportunity.

There are some who expect all those who oppose BN to meet a higher standard of engagement, while not applying the same demand to BN. When one side is continuously and consistently unreasonable, can their opponents when they display levels of unreasonableness in retaliation be heavily criticised?

Even if you reject the “be unreasonable with the unreasonable” method, you are still forced to ask why did the police go after everyone, not just those who encroached. The tear gas canisters were dropping and sliding everywhere the crowd was, far beyond Dataran Merdeka.

They must have been mindful that the large turnout meant that people were like in a sardine can. Lobbing tear gas at these groups, standing idle and cramped is asking for a stampede. Only the sense of community and civic duty of the majority of the participants prevented mangled bodies on the streets.

Second, when the area was secured, why did the police pursue groups, individuals all around the city for hours? Most just wanted to get home, and with public transportation blocked off, they ended up being prey for the police.

You people, you gorgeous people

While the police and encroaching protesters are taking up all the media coverage, the main success of Bersih is being under-reported.

Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians are willing to put their money where their mouth is. They’ve left the kedai kopi (coffeeshop) and are putting a face to their unhappiness. Objection to the state has always been a discreet conversation. Not anymore.

Bersih announced April 28 as rally day, three weeks ago. It did not need to goad, tempt or canvas the people.

The people just showed up.

It must frighten those in the corridors of power in Putrajaya — a place with oversized buildings with poorly-maintained toilets.

A typical BN event requires a lot of money to get attendees.

But Bersih just had to announce the event. The people were eager and were hunting high and low for Bersih T-shirts.

They were organised. Expecting access to the city to be curtailed, they worked the problem. They co-ordinated their friends. They strategised.

And there was ingenuity. Balloons, giant blow-up balls, banners and other accessories.

People were taking pictures, posing with the police in the background.

It was a carnival until police action turned things sour.

The thousands in Kuala Lumpur, other locations in Malaysia and abroad are not Pakatan Rakyat supporters necessarily. They were there because they want a better political stage and environment. They are done with the hush-hush manner of running a country.

They are stockholders, not employees. They want access, consideration and their voices heard. They don’t like to be told or lied to.

These aspirations are not new, they have been the focus of online debates and discussions. They have decided to stand together in the open and make a stand, finally.

Though Najib and crew will play up the isolated violence, non-verbal communication, a smashed car and those arrested, their internal discussions will veer to the new Malaysia they are confronting. It is not just Anwar or Ambiga, they have become many and they cut across race, religion and income class.

There will be a rethink about the general election timeline at PWTC now.

That being said, the real winners of Bersih 3.0 were the rakyat. The people are ready to take charge.

They own the country, not just live in it.

*The views expressed here are the personal views of the columnist.

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