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Bersih 3.0: A double-edged sword — Vivek V. Velan

APRIL 17 — Nine months have passed since thousands of Malaysians from all walks of life went to ground in anger and hope, tired of the continued deceit, fraudulent politics and false promises of the current regime. Their actions in some way can be derived from the somewhat lack of faith even in the opposition for it takes more than mere economic scandals and backhanded politics to stir up the emotions of the common man to take to the streets. And take to the streets they did for in their hearts they believed that the time for change has come. The Bersih sterling committee headed by Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and Datuk A. Samad Said as chairpersons could not have envisaged the sheer magnitude of response that would follow when Pakatan Rakyat threw its support behind the movement.

In a simpler context, Bersih’s aim was to push for cleaner elections wherein dirty politics is to be abhorred and the entire election system is to be overhauled either by reforms or revamping current systems. The Najib Razak administration’s gross mishandling of the rally where police force was used against unarmed protestors, tear gas shot at hospitals and the unlawful arrests of hundreds of protestors have been highlighted both locally and internationally.

Without going into detail, Barisan Nasional’s ratings fell drastically and the government was under pressure to rectify its mistakes for the people were enraged at the government’s stance in handling what was supposed to be a peaceful protest.

Nine months have passed since thousands of Malaysians from all walks of life went to ground in anger and hope, tired of the continued deceit, fraudulent politics and false promises of the current regime. Bersih 3.0 is upon us nigh in a fortnight from now and although the demands in essence remain the same, the movement in itself is now threefold.

Firstly, the Parliamentary Select Committee’s (PSC) proposed recommendations involve the Election Commission in implementing 22 proposed reforms or undertaking further study and reporting back to establish a system that will enable the PSC to monitor said implementation. Bersih’s response was that the drawbacks to the reforms do not satisfy the major criteria for the push for reform and has stated the Election Commission is incapable of handling the reforms required due to a lack of credibility as well as that most of the proposed reforms proposed can be implemented immediately in light of the coming general election.

Secondly, in addressing the issue of Lynas, a potentially dangerous radioactive waste site slated to be built in Kuantan, Pahang has been bulldozed by the government with complete disregard for public opinion. While the safety of the site remains in question, it is the incumbent regime’s somewhat ostentatious flaunt of power is what angers most, for yet again the people become subjected to grandiose lordship of the very men elected to serve them.

Finally, the somewhat relatively minor issues that have since been associated with Bersih, namely the student protest regarding amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU), the march for liberty and freedom in protest against the Peaceful Assembly Act where again note that Parliament pushed through the Bill without taking into account public opinion and of course the Anything But Umno/BN (ABU) movement, where blatant anti-government sentiments are often displayed. A tangible pattern begins to emerge and what was initially intended to be a non-partisan movement has now to some degree aligned itself with the opposition and thus turned the entire agenda to seem almost anti-government.

While the intentions of the organisers and many participants and supporters alike are noble, there will be a certain faction of people who intend to use Bersih as a front to promote and disseminate their own ideologies and interest and it is this which I fear the most for the current quandary in which our political landscape is based on is so fragile and fraught with layers of complex dispositions, one false move, one error in judgment will lay waste to all the hard work put in thus far.

Being a firm believer in the doctrine of democracy where freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are basic rights accorded to the people, the question that follows is what are we actually fighting for? Are we merely sheep being shepherded around to follow the group or do we have a clear picture, a common dream that we envisage for this country? The maxim “nothing is more dangerous than a man without direction” comes to mind and to this I ponder on even so when there is not just one common direction but many intertwined goals forced to come under one banner for the sake of convenience.

Product innovation and sustainability are often cited as the main reason behind Apple’s success. The technique involved uses a polarised time frame to gauge public receptiveness to a new product. Hence the reasoning behind the release of new versions of the Iphone and Ipad every few months is to maintain interest and market share. Similarly, the success of Bersih’s predecessor, which resulted in a political tsunami in 2008, followed through in 2011 and now in 2012 can be seen as a similar approach in politics as to maintain public interest and to ensure that the resulting publicity re-create the hype that ignited the spark in the 2008 general election.

Bersih 3.0 will no doubt once again test the resolve of the Najib Razak administration in its promise for change and in all our zest for change, we leave ourselves open to the fact that the coming peaceful sit-in will provide a golden opportunity for the government to portray to the public that it is indeed sincere in its promise for change by allowing the protest to go ahead undisturbed and providing the public with police protection. Should this happen, the general outcome would be catastrophic for Pakatan Rakyat’s hopes to take over Putrajaya for outcome of the coming elections will not be decided by the 30 per cent Barisan Nasional loyalist or the 30 per cent opposition hardcore but rather the middle ground and neutral voters who will judge both sides based on performance and lucid reasoning and they will if they begin to question the motives of Bersih, for credibility is like paper, once crumpled cannot be returned to its original state.

To conclude, there are simply too many factors to be taken into account to predict the overall perception to a second rally in nine months and adding into the fact that almost all national press and media are controlled by the incumbent regime, it would be child’s play to handle the Bersih 3.0 protest with dignity and then portray the ill-effects of said protest in terms of economic losses and negative international publicity to the public thus undermining the need for Bersih 3.0. The recently published article by Professor Ong Kian Ming, on the dubious voters that will determine the outcome of the 13th general election, cannot be taken lightly and changes have to be made within the electoral system and the Election Commission itself if Malaysia is to move forward and be released of her parasitic shackles that for so long has ailed her.

However, Bersih must strive to ensure that it is their voices that will be heard on the day and not the many blocs of assemblage who clamour to join under the pretext of a cleaner and fairer election but instead only serve to do more harm than good. The stance taken should be a firm, non-partisan and an absolute emphasis on a single cause.

Should they fail to do so, I fear that overriding political factors will shadow their cause and thus call an end to a movement that has become the people’s voice, Malaysia’s only hope for change.

* Vivek V. Velan reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

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