Bersih 3.0 London
|Trained as a barrister, Emily is now a twentysomething writer based in London. She is interested in the many different lives that people live in different places. You can find her at http://www.mock-heroic.net|
MAY 1 — The chants outside the Malaysian High Commission in Belgrave Square were varied and colourful. But although they were sharply critical of the current government, the impassioned cries of "Hidup Malaysia! Hidup rakyat!" and the enthusiastic singing of the Negaraku made it clear that these Malaysians were as patriotic as they come.
Pic by Guan Chua Leong - http://theboywhoatetheworld.com/
The brightness of the yellow colours might have been slightly dampened by the rain and the necessary donning of black waterproof parkas, but the people's spirits definitely weren't. There was a woman in a wheelchair and a couple who had brought their baby along in a pram, stealthily marching on. I saw a girl waving a banana, presumably because she hadn't been able to find anything remotely yellow in her wardrobe.
People spoke of how impressed they were that Malaysians had turned up despite the lousy weather, and one recounted how emotional he had felt when he'd watched a shot from a Bersih 2.0 video last year of a man standing firm with his yellow banner even as rain streamed down his face.
The loose team of Bersih 3.0 organisers estimate that approximately 800-1,000 Malaysians attended the peaceful rally this year, up from 500 the year before. And while Malaysians living in other parts of the UK had to join the rally in London last year, numbers were strong enough this year that they could hold their own rallies in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Nottingham.
"It's especially encouraging to see so many young people," said Yolanda Agustin, lead co-ordinator of Suaram International and one of Bersih’s organisers. For many, it was a sign of a younger generation that is both braver and more aware.
Tiong Suet Tyng, an 18-year-old studying for her A-Levels in Cambridge, was standing with a cluster of her friends. It is her second year in London, and her first Bersih rally.
"We're here chanting for a better future for Malaysia. And the fact that I'm only 18 years old… by the time I can vote I want it to be better. I want it to be clean," she said.
Many government scholars were also in attendance, wearing yellow Guy Fawkes masks as a symbol of both rebellion and anonymity.
See-See Leong, another Bersih 3.0 organiser and campaigner for My Overseas Vote, said, "This was indeed a show of courage rarely seen by Malaysian Londoners, who have an image of government-sponsored students as being meek and reverential to authority.”
The growing crowd of Malaysians spent a good hour or so chanting outside the Malaysian High Commission building. There was nothing to distinguish it; there was no Malaysian flag flying outside. The building looked completely deserted, though at one point we saw movements in one of its windows.
"The Malaysian High Commission had taken down the Malaysian flag ahead of the Bersih rally. If the intention was to disguise their identity to distance Malaysia from the claims of fraudulent elections, then the pretense backfired. Supporters joked that the national flag was being washed for Bersih,” See-See said.
Midway through the march's designated route, I bumped into an old university friend, who told me that her mother, who lives in Malaysia, had told her she must go to the London rally and take her sister with her - and this is, I think, emblematic of how attitudes are changing in Malaysia.
As the Malaysian artist Cheeming Boey said in one of his illustrations: "When I was a kid, we didn't have "Bersih" anything. My mom just told me life isn't fair and I had to do homework." These days, according to what I hear from friends back home, even their parents are rallying alongside them, tear gas and all.
Pic by Cheeming Boey — http://www.iamboey.com
The march ended in the Old Palace Yard in front of the George V statue opposite the Gothic Houses of Parliament. The Bersih supporters had a message for David Cameron:
"Cameron! Tell Najib! Free elections are alright!"
Yolanda said, "It's very simple, we want to say to [David Cameron] that at the end of the day, we believe that he and Britain should have a responsible engagement with Malaysia. Basically, we want to see better human rights before further trade and further businesses go ahead. We're very disappointed by the way [David Cameron] had a good opportunity to say to Najib during his visit to Malaysia that he wants to see serious electoral and democratic reform take place, but instead he sort of gave Najib a lukewarm pat on the back for so-called abolishing the ISA."
Suaram International has also issued a memorandum to 10 Downing Street to the same effect, requesting that the British government offer up election observers for Malaysia's next general election.
However, See-See said, "The work doesn’t stop after the Negaraku. We have to follow up on the memorandum to the British government. There is also the job of raising awareness of the upcoming Court of Appeal hearing of the My Overseas Vote case on May 16th. Although the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform have recommended overseas voting, there is no obligation on the Election Commission to implement the recommendation. A favourable court judgement would make it binding on the Election Commission to provide overseas Malaysians with the means to vote from abroad. The 1 million Malaysians overseas need to be aware of this subtle point. The work is not done."
Suaram International is the international advocacy wing of Suaram, a prominent Malaysian human rights organisation that works to defend and promote civil liberties in Malaysia.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the correspondent.