Bersih 2.0 — is there a third alternative?

By Anas Zubedy
June 23, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JUNE 23 — Bersih 2.0 is scheduled for July 9 in the KL city centre. Even now supporters are rallying people to take part. The news has gone viral; many are excited.

At the other end, Perkasa wants to retaliate by having a counter-rally with its own supporters. It is talking about a face-off to see who has the bigger group, perhaps who can shout the loudest. Both parties want to prove a point. Both parties have their right, although I see more sense if Perkasa were to organise its rally on another day, another time.

Meanwhile, a number of police reports have been made by business owners and NGOs opposing the demonstration.

Let me present a centrist’s point of view. I think both Bersih 2.0 and Perkasa should be provided an avenue to have peaceful demonstrations in a space where is non-disruptive to others. Let me explain.

Peaceful demonstrations are part and parcel of democracy. Our Federal Constitution through Article 10 grants us the right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly. It is an excellent avenue for the government to get direct feedback from the rakyat. It is a check-and-balance mechanism, a safety valve for the rakyat to vent out their frustrations openly.

If this direct feedback from the very people they are elected to serve will help our government play its role better, then we should provide avenues for the rakyat to be better heard. We need support systems and processes to allow for peaceful demonstrations — one that expresses the rakyat’s aspirations while minimising disruptions.

On the other hand, for the rakyat peaceful demonstrations should be the last resort when all other avenues are exhausted. They should not be the first choice used opportunistically. Our constitution also assures the right to choose to support or not to support a cause. It guarantees the right to earn a decent living, to grow rich both materially and spiritually.

When we take away the income of the poor even for a day, for some it may mean a day with no food on the table. For our foreign-born Indonesian and Bangladeshi brothers and sisters, losing a day’s wage of RM30 means a loss of one week’s income back home. Merchants and business organisations need sales during the weekends to survive and make a profit to continue providing employment to the thousands under their care. We cannot afford to lose millions of ringgit every time the rakyat gather to voice concerns. If we still want to go ahead, we should pay those who lose their income compensation.

When one party exercises its freedom, it must not infringe upon the freedom of others. We must look at the constitution in its totality, not pick and choose whatever and whenever it suits us.

What is a third alternative? We need to have avenues for peaceful demonstrations that do not disrupt businesses and the daily functions of our fellow rakyat.

Both BN and PR governments need to assign appropriate spaces for the purpose of large demonstrations. Downtown Kuala Lumpur is not suitable, and neither is a stadium. All parties need to exercise empathy when choosing when and where to demonstrate. People need to march on streets, not arenas; but they need to stay away from areas where businesses are conducted.

Perhaps Bersih and Perkasa should have their demonstration on the roads of Putrajaya. It is a good alternative as, after all, that’s where the government administration is. Furthermore, temporary stalls could be set up, and allow some rakyat to make some extra income.

In ancient times, smart kings apportioned days for their subjects to air grievances so that they can listen to problems and mismanagement directly, bypassing ineffective and corrupt officials. Today, in our era of democracy, peaceful demonstrations serve the same exact purpose. But we need to do it right; with empathy, the ability to place oneself in another’s shoes; from all sides.

The rakyat have the right to air their feelings. They should be able to hoist their placards and hope to be heard. It is for government leaders, new and old media, and those with the means, to translate their call into news, policies and actions that make a difference. For this to happen, we need peaceful and non-disruptive demonstrations that are effective.

The goal is to get the point across, not to see who can shout loudest. We must always look for the third alternative, the middle ground. To do that, we need to move away from our biases and our stubbornness. We need to practice empathy, to look out for the interests of all our fellow rakyat.

We need to always ask ourselves — is there a third alternative?

  1. #1 by dcasey on Thursday, 23 June 2011 - 1:41 pm

    Strange enough, the exact same thoughts crossed my mind….PUTRAJAYA….is the best venue for the big walk, without interruptions and disruptions to anybody’s lifeline. That place is dead during the weekends and especially at night….it’s creepily deserted.

  2. #2 by HJ Angus on Thursday, 23 June 2011 - 2:09 pm

    Yes I agree we should allow peaceful marches and Putrajaya is a good place…..
    Let all the three groups gather there with a time margin of say 2 hours between marches and a designated route that will be protected by the PDRM and invite media groups to witness and record the historic event when the government allowed common sense to prevail; instead of the usual bully-boy tactics.
    Make the route at least 5km long and all those marchers will also get a healthy work-out. Aren’t 40% of Malaysians overweight?

  3. #3 by optimuzz on Thursday, 23 June 2011 - 4:28 pm

    Agreed. I think common sense should prevail. In fact, this will probably be seen as a positive move by all parties concerned, and at the same time give credibility to the rally.

    We’re not here to make lives difficult. We just want to make our point known…we don’t need to turn it into a circus, nor give the authorities an excuse to come out with water canons and tear gas blazing away..

  4. #4 by Winston on Thursday, 23 June 2011 - 4:28 pm

    First of all, it is highly suspicious what agenda those who are going to hold counter marches to Bersih 2.0 will have?
    It is because of all sorts of shenanigans that caused Bersih 2.0 to be held in the first place.
    Even the head of Bersih and her team were denied entry to Sarawak when they went there to monitor the elections.
    So, does it mean to say that the counter marchers will promote unclean, unfair elections?
    Also, holding the rally in a popular avenue will enable the rally to be witnessed by foreigners and let them know that all is not well here.
    A rally will not be disruptive unless those with hidden agenda caused it to be disrupted.
    In fact, the shop keepers, being citizens themselves, should support the rally by closing their businesses for that day and take part as well.
    The future of the country and its citizens is more, much more important than a half day’s or even a whole day’s revenue!

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