Bersih 2.0, Perkasa and the ‘middle-ground’ fallacy

By Pak Sako
June 24, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JUNE 24 — Based on my analysis, I believe the government faked the plane crash and demolished the World Trade Center North Tower with explosives. The South Tower, in a simultaneous but unrelated plot, was brought down by actual terrorists. — Randall Munroe, on taking the middle ground, in

An article entitled “Bersih 2.0 — is there a third alternative?” appeared in The Malaysian Insider. The author, Anas Zubedy, attempted a clever-clogs proposal.

He argued that since Perkasa has vowed to take to the streets with the Bersih 2.0 gathering, to prevent disruptions, why not go for the “centrist’s” solution to everything: take the magical “middle-ground approach” and call off both demonstrations in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Here is a case of the Pavlovian grasping for a middle path, or a golden mean compromise, whenever a dilemma arises. It leads neither to the correct answer nor to a just solution. This false compromise either signals a weakness of resolve that misses the whole point of a situation, or masks a sly strategy that claims “moderation” to blunt progressive action (painted falsely as extreme) so that the conservative status quo prevails.

This latter employs the “Overton Window” technique — aggressively promote an opposing extreme (e.g. by using Perkasa) so that the range (or “window”) of policies that the general public might see as acceptable shifts closer towards the side of the extreme. Previously plausible reformist movements and improvements will thereby be neutralised; they would have exited the frame and be viewed now as unacceptable or impracticable.

Now if there are indeed two incendiary polar extremes that could result in grave harm for all, defusing a stand-off by considering some middle ground may be justified. But Bersih’s demands are nowhere near extreme.

Unlike the demands of Perkasa, an overwhelming majority of Malaysians would desire what Bersih desires — free and fair elections, a fundamental democratic requirement. It is hard to see how Bersih’s plan for a peaceful and orderly demonstration is a danger or threat to Malaysian society. Bersih has clearly stated their eight demands (see their website). Assess their logic and reasoning.

The question that the authorities should be asking is what exactly are Perkasa and Umno Youth marching for. Are they in support of Bersih’s demand? If so, all is well and good. The more the merrier.

Anas Zubedy’s neutering “third alternative” of moving the march to the dead of Putrajaya is blinkered. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of the rally, to civilly advocate Bersih’s views in the broadest public space and urge the government to correct administrative shortcomings that are seen as anti-democratic?

Anas Zubedy prophesied that a couple of hours of organised marches on a single day will result in disruptions of such a scale that “our foreign-born Indonesians and Bangladeshi brothers and sisters” will starve and that businesses will suddenly be unable to “make a profit to continue providing employment to the thousands”. Business areas must be avoided, and we should be prepared to compensate for any loss of income, said Zubedy.

Did the days and weeks of industrial strikes by the French over the years reduce France to a banana republic? Didn’t the French public willingly bear the brunt of the costs of their actions?

Temporary and moderate sacrifices in material gain and comfort out of the spirit of solidarity are sometimes necessary for achieving certain noble societal goals. Liberty and justice for society as a whole cannot be given some price tag and then rejected by wrongly comparing these with a speculated single day’s sum of income loss for certain sub-groups. A true economist would flatly state that this is no subject for cost-benefit analysis.

If the authorities co-operate out of goodwill with the Bersih organisers in managing the march, and are willing to disarm any troublemaker without fear or favour, there should be absolutely no disruption that could lead to any permanent loss of livelihood or limbs. If anything, clever and adaptable businesses would profit substantially by catering food or drinks to the Bersih crowd. The net result could very well be positive.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 6:07 am

    When one talks of “extremes”, it is in terms of what? There are only two: either ends or means to an end. In terms of ends (ie objectives of clean election) whoever said Bersih 2.0’s ends are extreme? Even the Barisan Nasional/UMNO never said that: why else did they orchestrate the EC to talk to Bersih? It is Bersih that says the time of talking is over, now its time to march. Neither did Anas Zubedy question Bersih’s ends! He’s talking of the means to accomplish the ends – and whether Bersih’s means/method – to demonstrate in downtown KL instead of the road to Putrajaya regardless of business loss to businesses & petty traders – is not wee too extreme and can be moderated to middle ground by doing it in Putrajaya or road to that place. Pak Sako accuses Anas Zubedy of “Overton Window” technique when, actually in terms of means (not ends), its Bersih’s organizers that deploy this technique – ie trying to shift public perception of public demonstration (as a means of political expression) from traditional unacceptability (in the past) to new window of acceptability (now).

  2. #2 by Winston on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 6:19 am

    Why go into all sorts of confusing and convoluted arguments!!
    The whole purpose of Bersih’s rally is to make Malaysians aware of the way the elections in this country is way tilted in favour of the incumbent.
    And let them decide what action to take to rectify the situation!!
    So, stop muddying the situation and waste everybody’s time!!

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 6:30 am

    The real question is : Is Bersih’s means (to demonstrate in KL even in face of counter-march by Perkasa & UMNO youth that may lead to untoward incidences and in the face of stand-off with the authorities) a trifle extreme when, comparing, there are alternative venues?

    Of course it is. Don’t be a hypocrite and say it is not – using Bersih’s moderate (in act laudable) ends, which is not in issue, as an excuse.

    The fact is that we have reached the point – whether we admit it or not – that comparatively extreme means to achieve moderate and good ends (fair and clean elections) is very much on the cards and to those wanting change there is no need to apologise for it!

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 6:40 am

    For moderate means would not achieve anything (unless one wants to wait or 500 years) – more so when an earlier ‘extreme’ means of Bersih 1.0 (with clashes with police)in 2007 have proven by recent Sarawak elections to have achieved nothing. Now why would anyone think Bersih 2.0 doing the same march now – if allowed to proceed peacefully- is going to achieve anything more than Bersih 1.0 in making ruling elites more receptive?
    Do Malaysians need Bersih 1.0 or 2.0 to ‘educate’ us that our electoral processes are rigged and far from satisfactory? I don’t think so.

    The real question is what ordinary Malaysians are prepared to do by way of a show of “people’s power” – and the price they are willing to pay for better governance and change – in a face off with state power of a government that is not willing to change.

    That is what Bersih 2.0 is all about. The organisers and people behind it know that. They put in tentative steps, by this “Overton Window” technique, ordinary Malaysian to the test.

  5. #5 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 8:22 am

    Its amazing the arrogance of these zealots and kleptocrats in their stubborness not to recognise that all of UMNO/BN tricks, resources and power is NOT going to stop Bersih. They will pretend until th ends of days before they will recognise the futility of what they do.

    Bersih has become too cool to stop. Bersih 2.0 is history in the making and everyone wants to be part of it. How are we going to answer to our children and grandchildren when they ask us, where were you when they changed Malaysia and the World look at us with admiration?

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 9:07 am

    Governments can entitled to expect people to play by the rules whether electoral process or rule of law provided that these rules provide a level playing field. For eg how can an opposition team play a game of football when the whole ground tilt against them, the referee and linesmen favor the other team??? When institutions and rules are stacked against – and there’;s no way to change these civilly or by rational engagement – what does what expect the other side to do? Sure they will protest and march in flout of these stacked rules simply because there are no other more civil way to procure fairness and justice ! It becomes a test of strength. Thats what happening elsewhere from Middle East and beyond.

  7. #7 by HJ Angus on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 9:22 am

    I think the time has now come for the people to make sure the government they elected also plays to some rules of decency and fair play that people DEMAND.
    That is what BERSIH requests and the objectives are reasonable and justified as even the EC claims it cannot act against the government’s misdeeds.

  8. #8 by limkamput on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 9:59 am

    When a government can no longer counter an argument with reason and an accusation with explanation, the only alternative is for it to resort to raw power, associating with third world rogue leaders and appealing to extremists in our midst. The march is about posturing and galvanising, it is therefore a must when almost institutions of government can no longer be trusted to play their constitutional role.

  9. #9 by Comrade on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 10:01 am

    The heavily tainted Sarawak State election
    The failed talks with the Election Commission
    Leave the Bersih 2.0 with no alternative
    But to use the rally to voice out its objectives

    The Bersih 2.0 walk will be held on 9th July
    Its permit the police will not supply
    The “illegal” rally will go on as planned
    Democratic and noble, it shouldn’t be banned

    Bersih 2.0 promotes free and fair election
    Elections were tilted in favor of BN coalition
    PR could still shock BN with the big gains
    BN cannot fool the people again and again

    PR must be united and work harder
    To make the People Power stronger
    Come GE13 kick corrupt BN out of Putrajaya
    Give Malaysia the beginning of a new era

  10. #10 by limkamput on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 10:03 am

    Sdr Lim, What is wrong with my post above, i expect some answer too each time my posting is moderated.

  11. #11 by wanderer on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 10:07 am

    There is no middle ground when dealing with cheats and crooks. How do good people convince a Kotor govt supported by bombastic thugs to do the right thing…how can we expect change with half hearted effort?…change or nothing, not courage, no glory!

  12. #12 by Winston on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 11:25 am

    Acting City Chief Police Officer Senior Asst Comm Amar Singh said police would take such action in the interest of public safety.

    “The rally is illegal as no one has applied for a permit.

    “Even if they did apply, we will not approve it in the interest of public order and safety. – End of quote
    Well, just read the above which appeared in The Star Online.
    Can anyone make any sense of it?
    This is what Malaysians have to contend with!!!
    Understand now?

  13. #13 by Winston on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 12:04 pm

    One thing why this country is in such a miserable state.
    Because good, influential, even well respected people, who can make a difference, refused to do anything to right the wrong.
    They would rather look after their own rice bowl!
    Only those in the NGOs and the opposition did.

  14. #14 by tak tahan on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 1:04 pm

    If this bigoted government of the day refused to listen to the wishes of the Rakyat,what else can we do except preparing for the BERSIH rally.No other alternative middle ground or Putrajaya playground but it has to be in KL streets for we want all civilised citizens across every ethnic groups to bring down the government to its knee.Anything less,we will be stuck and remained in the status quo.We definitely want a CHANGE and nothing else matter that much to us.

  15. #15 by tak tahan on Saturday, 25 June 2011 - 1:38 pm

    The PDRM thugs,evil AG,buffoon cum racist leaders,comical Ali aka general commander,mamakotek the serpent,Taih Mahmud the kleptomaniac and whole idiots bunch of them have to make way for a change of government!Yes,BERSIH must go on in KL streets.

  16. #16 by aizatzubedy on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 3:23 pm

    I refer to your respond to my article in TMI – Bersih 2.0 – Is there a third alternative?

    Over the past few weeks I have gotten the chance to chat with many of my friends who are in business. It seems there is a census among us – the majority of the business people are pro making sure that our elections are freer and fairer.

    We would definitely like to see more transparent rules of law and processes in making sure our elections will get the right people who we voted for. But, we also find the uncompromising position taken, that it must be done in KL not wise.

    Read more on this article

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