MAY 1 — Bersih 3.0 has come and gone. The protests outside KL were peaceful — 11 other cities in Malaysia, 85 cities in 33 countries outside Malaysia, including hikers up Mount Everest and divers off Acheh. Numbers ranged from a handful of Malaysians in some countries like Austria and Sri Lanka, to over a thousand in cities like London and Melbourne, to ten thousand in Penang.
The negatives. Many conspiracy theories abound as to how Dataran Merdeka was breached — was it just a group of unruly protesters, were the protesters instigated by the opposition, were the protesters planted by the government, were the police ordered to allow the protesters in? Whatever the case, once that happened, the police took that as an excuse to fire tear gas and spray chemical-laced water into the crowds, even those who were peacefully dispersing.
The trains stopped running at that point, effectively barring people from joining the protest and from leaving it. Again, where did those orders come from?
There was an ugly incident with protesters attacking a police car which then ran over some people. Was it staged? It's understood that the police car was later overturned because the crowd believed that there was a person trapped under it. That single episode, taken out of context, has been used to depict the protest as unruly.
The negatives which help Bersih's cause. The police chased, beat up, and arrested protesters and journalists. A bit stupid, really, with media and technology the way it is today. An Australian senator was in the crowd and got tear-gassed. Local and international journalists got their cameras smashed and their memory cards confiscated. The breach of Dataran Merdeka in no way justifies the level of police brutality. The government has shown itself to be “kejam” and “zalim,” in the words of many participants of Bersih 3.0.
The positives. Up until the breach, it was very, very peaceful. The photos of the sea of people in yellow are inspiring. The crowd was intergenerational, multiracial ... people in wheelchairs were even sighted. This show of solidarity gives us hope for a new future.
Practically speaking, what happens now? I don't think the government is actually going to revise anything about the electoral process. (The two demands which were “partially” met were the use of indelible ink and 10 days of campaigning — we asked for 21 days.) Let's not even talk about malapportionment and gerrymandering, which was not in Bersih's eight requests. In fact, a bill amended in Parliament prevents people from approaching the polling station, raising the possibility of hanky-panky.
The government might possibly offer up the Election Commission chief and deputy, discovered to be members of UMNO, as sacrificial lambs, but that's probably it. Forget about cleaning up the electoral roll or reforming postal ballots — obviously that's where their safety votes are coming from: deceased people, phantom voters, illegal immigrants bought over with instant citizenship, and police and military forces compelled to vote for the government.
How does this affect Najib's calling for elections? Elections have to be called by May of next year. Speculations about the election date over the past two years have been rife, and time is running out. Prior to the protest, every sign indicated to the election being called in June. Reasons to delay elections: the aftershocks of the protest will undoubtedly result in heightened anger against the government (Bersih 1.0 held four months before the 2008 elections saw the ruling coalition losing the two-thirds majority for the first time, and five states falling to the opposition). Reasons not to delay elections: billions of dollars have been spent to buy the people over — the government has disbursed RM500 to low-income families, raised the pay of civil servants, and are about to announce a minimum wage law.
If the ruling coalition fails to recapture the two-thirds majority (which is highly likely even despite the rampant cheating in the election process), Najib will most assuredly be Badawi-ed out sooner or later.
The biggest (and possibly only) hope is that the massive turnout in KL (estimated 200,000) will have sent a very strong signal to the government that you can only push us so far. Yes, you will cheat — what else is new — but cook the numbers a little too vigorously, and the people will rise against you. We are no longer the stupid, submissive rakyat cowering in fear. We are ready to fight for our rights.
The most likely scenario. Elections are called, the ruling coalition wins with a smaller majority than 2008, the opposition maintains the four states, reclaims the one state that was stolen from them, and hopefully wins a few more.
The best case scenario. Elections are called, and the ruling coalition is kicked out even despite the cheating. If that happens, be wise, do not celebrate on the streets. Pray for a peaceful transition lest the ghosts of May 13 are reawakened.
Why am I so passionate about my country? Simply because if we don't save Malaysia in the next few years, there might be nothing left to save. Billions of dollars have left the country in the past ten years or so, pilfered by greedy, corrupt parasitical leeches masquerading as politicians. Religious rights are being trampled on. The land is being raped—the forests in Sabah and Sarawak are being cleared with no compensation offered to the indigenous peoples, and an Australian company is preparing to dispose their toxic waste in Pahang. The education system is in shambles. Crime is on the rise. Prices have risen, risen, risen, and salaries are not commensurate — how to cari makan? The judiciary, the police, the media, the anti-corruption agency, the election commission — every conceivable institution is in the pocket of the government.
The next year will be very crucial to the future of Malaysia. Be wise and alert. There will be an increase in wickedness, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. The rakyat have awakened, and we will stand together to fight to reclaim our land. Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh!
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.