COMMENTARY BY THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER
30 August 2015
Thousands gathered at five points in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to converge around Dataran Merdeka, the iconic field that first witnessed Malaya’s new flag in 1957 and now home to the National Day parade.
It was Day One of Bersih 4, or the fourth rally organised by the coalition for free and fair elections Bersih 2.0. Most turned up in the familiar yellow T-shirt with the words Bersih on it, some with the numbers 3 from the previous rally in 2012, but most with 4 for the current one.
They bravely wore it, although the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) had banned the combination of yellow clothing with the words Bersih 4.
After all, the government had done the same in 2011 for Bersih 2.
Unlike previous rallies, Bersih 4 has been quite different. It was planned for 34 hours and held in at least three Malaysian cities – capital city Kuala Lumpur and state capitals Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and Kuching in Sarawak.
Here are five things that are different in Day One of Bersih 4 from previous rallies.
1. It is peaceful if the police allow those gathering for the rally to just go about their business of rallying. There were no untoward incidents, no violence, no one broke the law and everyone appeared to have a good time.
Fact is, it was a carnival from the official start time of 2pm right up to this morning. People walked, cycled, some on Segways. There was a marching band. There were performances.
And everyone cleaned up. Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman that lead to Dataran Merdeka were almost spotless.
2. Business booms during rallies.
Hotels around the vicinity were full, and were charging premium rates.
Some of the memorable names in the food industry, the A&W restaurant, Coliseum Cafe, Ibramsha Nasi Kandar and Jai Hind Restaurant, were packed from noon right up to closing time.
Some even had to close early because they ran out of food and drinks.
No one complained that the rallies were bad for business. Some taxi drivers even gave free rides to those turning up for Bersih 4.
Even the blind musicians around the Masjid Jamek station knew that their talents were required and it would be peaceful. They sang through the evening as those gathered there camped for the rally.
3. Malaysians, and even tourists, turned up for Bersih 4.
There were initial laments that Bersih 4 would be dominated by a few races, and not the majority Bumiputeras. Wrong, everyone turned up – from Orang Asal to Sabah and Sarawak natives and of course the Malays, Chinese and Indians.
It was a Malaysian affair. Even former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali came by for a visit.
But the stars were the ordinary Malaysians who came ready with salt, gas masks, goggles and running shoes ready for a rally.
Even some tourists came to have a look at the rally, gamely posing for pictures with those gathered around Dataran Merdeka.
4. Numbers are encouraging in Sabah and Sarawak, and outside Malaysia.
While the Bersih 4 focal point was Dataran Merdeka, the numbers that turned up in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu have been encouraging for the organisers and proof that the issues that appear to just concern those in the peninsula are also a concern for those across the pond.
The numbers who turned up in cities across the world were also encouraging. If anything, it is something for BN to ponder. Why are people turning up for Bersih 4 and can the government respond to their demands and answers on issues of the day?
It would be better than just belittling them or labelling them as not loving their country ahead of the National Day. It is precisely their love for the country that they demand a government that can run the country better.
5. The authorities appear to have matured.
That only traffic policemen and City Hall wardens were around Dataran Merdeka and even in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu speaks volumes for the government’s new-found maturity in handling matters.
These are early days of course. There were Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) troops and trucks on standby but none were used yesterday and hopefully today.
The lack of threat yesterday also seemed to dampen the spirits of those going for the rally. Their salt, Alucid and water compound to take away the sting of tear gas was unused.
But it just means that the civil service, and perhaps some ruling party politicians, know it is better to allow people to let off steam rather than clear them away as was done in the past.
Or maybe it is the National Day weekend and everyone is behaving Malaysian – laid-back, relaxed and courteous to a fault.
After all, the biggest difference yesterday was that the Bersih 4 rally lacked focus and appeared to drift towards another PKR protest until even the jaded party supporters started cheering the one man who used to crack down on them – Dr Mahathir – because he actually turned up to see them.
There is still hours to go for Bersih 4 to end and the National Day celebrations to start. One can only wish that both events are celebrated by all Malaysians – and not just exclusive to different political groupings.
Because both events are about democracy, good governance and freedom. – August 30, 2015.