By Kee Thuan Chye
25 July 2012
THE High Court has declared that Bersih (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) is not unlawful. And rightly so.
Although this comes as a blow to the Government, and especially the Home Minister, the Attorney-General (A-G) should not pursue an appeal.
Doing so would hurt the Government’s image even more. It would appear to sensible Malaysians that the Government refused to admit wrong even when the evidence clearly showed it was wrong.
Furthermore, the Government had responded positively to the Bersih 2.0 rally of July 9, 2011, by setting up a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to look into electoral reform. If it continued to insist on the quibble that Bersih 2.0 is unlawful, it would contradict itself, call to question the sincerity of its PSC move. It would appear to act in bad faith.
After all, is it such a big issue to the Government whether Bersih 2.0 is unlawful or not?
The judge, Rohana Yusof, has pointed out that it’s not unlawful – on the grounds that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong granted Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasen an audience to resolve the situation even though the Bersih 2.0 rally had been declared illegal; that there were negotiations after that between Bersih 2.0 and the Government as to where the rally could be held; and that when the rally took place on July 9, Bersih 2.0 did not face any official censure.
She went on further to say that the Home Minister’s decision to declare Bersih 2.0 unlawful on July 1, 2011, was “tainted with irrationality”. She is also spot-on on that score.
Even at the time Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made the declaration, sensible Malaysians were already rapping him for it. He looked like he came to that decision because the police had before then been arresting people for wearing Bersih T-shirts without any apparent legal justification. Declaring Bersih 2.0 unlawful gave them that justification, even though it was after the fact.
Hishammuddin deemed Bersih 2.0 unlawful because it was not registered with the Registrar of Societies. But now Judge Rohana has ruled that despite that contention, Bersih 2.0 can exist as an entity under Section 2 of the Societies Act 1966 although it is not registered.
More than this, after the King had met with Ambiga, Hishammuddin arrogantly maintained that Bersih 2.0 was illegal. He famously said that “just because Tuanku met them doesn’t mean they are no longer illegal”. Fine, but then why was the prime minister, Najib Razak, offering Bersih 2.0 a stadium to hold its rally?
Why would any government offer a movement a venue to hold its rally if that government considered the movement unlawful?
Therein lay the great irrational contradiction.
To compound it further, the same Home Minister even allowed the Bersih 3.0 rally to take place on April 28, 2012. He was satisfied that it was not a security threat. He even said that if Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) would not allow the rally to take place at Dataran Merdeka, “it does not mean they cannot offer other places”. He even suggested Bukit Jalil Stadium and Merdeka Stadium as alternatives.
He came across as being so accommodating – to an organisation he had deemed unlawful. Was that not the height of irrationality?
If the A-G were to appeal the case, how would he address this point? That it was standard operating procedure for the Home Minister to behave irrationally?
Would it therefore not serve the Government better to acknowledge its incompetent handling of Bersih 2.0 than to pursue what would clearly be a wrong cause?
In fact, would it also not reflect well on the Home Minister to admit he made a mistake in acting irrationally and apologise for it? If he were to do so, he would surely win tremendous sympathy. After all, with the general election coming up soon, this is not the time for arrogance and face-saving. He has been caught out. If he tries to be defensive, he could actually lose more face.
Hishammuddin has embarrassed himself in public several times before in his capacity as Home Minister. The most recent occasion of this is unforgettable – when he said it was part of the police’s standard operating procedures to confiscate memory cards from the cameras of pressmen and the public during the Bersih 3.0 rally. The following day, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) had to correct him. He should therefore be more careful not to embarrass himself again.
The way he is going, one wonders if he should even be fielded as a candidate for the general election. Would he be a “winnable” one for Barisan Nasional (BN)?
Speaking of the general election, this High Court verdict is likely to hurt the Government and, therefore, BN’s chances at the polls.
While sceptics say that this could be another wayang kulit performance and that the judge’s decision might be overturned on appeal, the fact remains that Judge Rohana’s pronouncements will be going out to people who have so far been brainwashed into thinking that Bersih is evil. It will be going out to fence-sitters and people who read only mainstream media.
It will be going out to the teachers who were summoned by the Education Department to a special meeting in Johor last month where they were told all the bad things about Bersih.
Now they will be questioning the truth about what the Government has been saying about Bersih, the truth of the Government’s intent.
Minds might change. Those who might initially have been ambivalent about Bersih might now see things afresh. They might begin to see the positive effect of the Bersih 2.0 rally in influencing the Government to initiate the PSC on electoral reform. They might begin to see that the call for free and fair elections is legitimate and justified, and not aimed at bringing down the Government, as has been so often alleged. They might even begin to see that the electoral system is actually flawed and unfair.
Given this, if there should ever be a Bersih 4.0, the Government should tremble.
All told, this is just vindication for Bersih after all the injustices that have been done to it and its cause. No doubt, many of us can still recall with sadness the irrational things that were done in late June and early July of 2011.
It started with the detention of the 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia members under the Emergency Ordinance for supposedly resurrecting Communism and waging war against the King when they were merely going to Penang for a Bersih 2.0 roadshow. Then the police began arresting people for wearing Bersih T-shirts, and even Gopeng MP Lee Boon Chye for just wearing a yellow T-shirt. Absurdity ruled when none other than the IGP threatened to arrest anyone using any medium to promote the rally, which included yellow shoes, cars, buses!
That was a time when it looked like the country’s leadership was going mad. Now, one hopes, it will begin to return to sanity.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians.