Lessons to be learnt for all
By SHAHANAAZ HABIB email@example.comIf Bersih's true intentions were for electoral reforms, it would have been better for it to engage both Barisan and Pakatan than take to the streets.
AT a mamak stall behind Hotel Midah opposite Merdeka Stadium, police and FRU teams deployed in the area took turns having a hearty breakfast of roti canai and teh tarik.
It was only 8am and they were in good spirits.
Others sealed off the road to the stadium with razor wire and blocked off a number of roads to prevent Bersih 2.0 protesters from converging.
This was also the scene at a number of areas encircling the city.
The Police and FRU were on full alert around Central Market, Masjid Jamek, Dataran Merdeka, the National Mosque, Sogo, and Petaling Street, among other spots.
They even searched the bags of some commuters getting off at the Masjid Jamek LRT station and took away those whom they suspected of being protesters.
At that time it seemed like the heart of the city been successfully cordoned off and protesters would not be able to get anywhere close.
Shops were shuttered and only a few people seemed to be walking about.
At 11am, even Perlis PAS commissioner (and former PKR secretary-general) Mohd Anuar Tahir, who had come from Perlis to join the protest, didn’t seem so sure how far it could go because of the heavy police presence and road blocks.
Standing inconspicuously outside a 7-11 outlet along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, a short distance from Masjid Jamek, Anuar watched police as they combed the area for Bersih protesters.
“Even if we don’t reach Merdeka Stadium, I think the protest is already successful. The way they (the police) have shut down the city shows they are afraid. And the publicity given to us has been so huge.
“Even the Agong, by meeting Bersih, has given great recognition to us,” he said before moving away.
Bersih is demanding electoral reforms for free and fair elections.
The Government, though, has accused Bersih of ulterior motives, saying it is trying to topple the elected Barisan Nasional government through street demonstrations and unlawful means – something which Bersih denies.
The government has also outlawed Bersih and the yellow Bersih T-shirts.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has also said that even though the Agong met with Bersih 2.0 leaders, the movement remains illegal and outlawed, and told people to stay away from the protest or risk being detained.
And yesterday, it appeared that tens of thousands were still willing to take the risk.
At about 12.45pm – despite the city lock-down and stringent checks – groups of protesters managed to converge and march.
Suddenly, people showed up from all corners and their numbers grew very quickly.
One of the first groups marched near Central Market to Leboh Pasar Besar towards Dataran Merdeka where the FRU team and its trucks were waiting.
After ringing the bell and giving protesters three warnings to disperse immediately, the FRU then fired tear gas into the crowd, forcing protesters to scramble and take cover.
But all this did was to make the protesters move away and regroup elsewhere.
One group headed towards Merdeka Stadium while another was in Petaling Street and heading towards Central Market chanting “Reformasi” and “Bersih, Bersih” before tear gas forced them again to disperse.
A particularly boisterous group, some in Bersih T-shirts, some carrying yellow balloons and yellow flowers, marched to Jalan Pudu near Puduraya and again their numbers quickly grew.
Again the police fired rounds of tear gas to disperse the group. Some ran into a restaurant to wash their stinging eyes and to seek shelter.
The rain didn’t stop the protesters either. They continued to regroup, and more tear gas was fired.
Some protesters even caught the tear gas canisters and flung them back at the police.
“I was caught in between,” said a policeman whose eyes were red from the tear gas.
At one point, PKR leader and Subang MP R. Sivarasa together with Perak DAP leader Ngeh Koo Ham, who both wore Bersih T-shirts, came forward to negotiate with the police. They asked that the protesters be allowed to march a short distance along Jalan Pudu towards Jalan Sultan.
“We have no intention of fighting with the police. We will be disciplined and just walk a short distance,” he said, as the police seemed to agree.
But a short while later, as Sivarasa and Ngeh led the protesters, the police detained the two.
A number of opposition leaders and Bersih 1.0 leaders were also picked up. Some, including Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga, were detained but all were later released.
As Sivarasa was being led away, he said that as far he was concerned, Bersih 2.0 had achieved far more than it had hoped for.
For Sabah Barisan Nasional secretary Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahalan, Bersih 2.0 has clearly been hijacked by Pakatan Rakyat.
“If I were Ambiga, I wouldn’t go near (Opposition leader) (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim. But here, you have Ambiga and Anwar having joint press conferences.
“And the protesters were shouting ‘Reformasi’ instead of ‘Bersih’,” he said in reference to the “Reformasi” chant by protesters when Anwar was sacked as deputy Prime Minister and deputy Umno president.
Rahman said he personally agrees with some of the electoral reforms that Bersih 2.0 has been seeking, including fairer coverage in the mainstream media, but he wishes things had been done differently.
He believes if Ambiga had gone on her own strength as the former Bar Council chairman to seek for electoral reforms and distanced herself from “elements of politics” including Anwar and PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu, she might have even received support from Barisan Nasional.
“Ambiga might have a good cause but I am a bit upset with the way she is going about it. She doesn’t even try to engage the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC),” he said.
If the intention was for electoral reforms, he said, then Ambiga should have engaged both Barisan and Pakatan while remaining impartial.
“She could have approached us and talked it over coffee. Have they (Bersih 2.0) tried to convince BNBBC? I agree that there are certain things that can be improved in the elections. For this, they (Bersih) should play it right (and engage all),” he said.
He also said that asking for “free and fair” elections is also too provocative because it suggests that the Government in power is illegitimate.
“You call them illegitimate and expect pleasantries?”
He added that Bersih 2.0 also should not have abandoned talks with the Election Commission.
Rahman, who is Kota Belud MP, also stressed that in the three years he has been in Parliament, Pakatan MPs have never once attempted to seek to amend the Election Act to improve the system.
As for yesterday’s Bersih rally, Rahman said he is confused as to whether it was for electoral reforms or the right to assemble. There are lessons learnt too for Barisan.
Rahman said he is disappointed with the Election Commission (SPR) for not being able to answer allegations made against it in a way that the ordinary people would understand.
He is also disappointed with interviews on TV1, TV2 and TV3 where they do not address probing questions to the SPR chairman, he added.
“I was cringing when I heard the interview. The host is playing a pro-government stance and putting people off by not asking hard questions.”
He also said SPR needs a good spokesman to answer questions about the elections that have been raised by the opposition.
Be it on the streets, programmes, projects or the ballot boxes, both Barisan and Pakatan will continue to fight for the hearts and minds of Malaysians.
The decision will probably be known only in the next general election.