Bersih: My final thoughts

By Art Harun
July 14, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JULY 14 — “Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.” — Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) from Plutarch, Lives.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that the government had made in the Bersih issue was to isolate a large section of the society from itself, anger them and convert them into a Bersih sympathiser and/or supporter.

At some point of time before the Bersih rally — in my opinion it was about the time Pak Samad said was hauled to the police station — the Bersih movement had transcended its electoral reform objective into a full-scale platform for the people to vent their frustrations, disappointments, angst and anger to the government.

To put it crassly, from that point of time Bersih became a platform for many people to show their middle finger to the government, for whatever personal reason(s) they may have.

All the government had to do in the early days of Bersih 2.0 was to deal with Bersih and its demands. The demands were not about the escalating inflation and price of household items; not about Teoh Beng Hock or Sarbaini; not about corruption; not about the electricity rate hike; not about the Astro price hike; not about the police, MACC or whichever agency.

The demands were just about fair and just elections or what was perceived by Bersih as such. That was it. It was politically related but not politically motivated. (For the uninitiated, there is a difference between the two.) The fact that some opposition political parties were in solidarity with Bersih did not demote Bersih into a political party with the inevitable and attendant political baggage.

The premise of Bersih was an idea, a thought. The idea was our election process is not fair. The resulting conclusion from that idea was that our electoral process needs reform or at least a change. That was all.

Being an idea, or a thought, Bersih operates and infects the masses insidiously. It is in their head that the idea is planted. It is not in their behaviour. A Bersih sympathiser or supporter with the said planted idea would not act in a way an Al-Qaeda member would. He or she was not going to strap C4 around his or her body, go to the mall on a Sunday, and buy the proverbial ticket to heaven by blowing himself or herself up.

Planted with that idea, a Bersih sympathiser or supporter would try to convince others that that idea was correct. That idea will infest and continue to infest.

The wearing of yellow T-shirts with the word Bersih was just a way or means employed by carrier of such idea to make known that he or she subscribed to that idea to the open world.

The yellow T-shirts were not even a manifestation of the idea which he or she carried. With or without the yellow T-shirts, the idea still infests their mind. Similarly, the colour of the T-shirts did not matter. It could have been pink for all they cared but the idea stayed the same.

The idea, as I said earlier, was that the election process is not fair and it needs reform.

And so this was what, allegorically, the government was facing about a month before the rally. There were some yellow mosquitoes flying around in some wet markets, shopping malls, seminar rooms and on the streets. That was it. Nothing more.

It was like the proverbial bloody fly in the car cockpit. Irritating, yes. Annoying, yes. Threatening, absolutely not.

And how exactly did the government react to this handful of yellow mosquitoes? Well, it took out some really large and heavy cannons and shot the mosquitoes!

The government firstly denied that our election process was not fair. That was okay. Because by doing that, the government was actually trying to supplant an opposing idea. But what it did later was beyond rationale. Any strategist, political or otherwise, worth his or her salt, would cringe in disbelief.

It went out seizing the yellow T-shirts. People who wore the offending attire were arrested. How did arresting people wearing yellow and seizing the yellow item assist in erasing the idea which Bersih had planted? The idea was in the head. That idea did not reside in the yellow T-shirts. That was the government reacting according to the proverbial “marahkan nyamuk kelambu dibakar” (loosely translated, angry with the mosquitoes, burn the mosquito net) way.

First, the public reaction was one of disbelief. Soon it became a joke. The government, the police, the home minister and all else who were perceived to be the instigator to the act of banning the colour yellow became a big joke.

The joke then became even a bigger joke. That was when the government and its machinery, direct and indirect, embarked into phase two of their “war propaganda”.

I have stated in “The Doctor is Not In” that an oppressor would cling to every “fact”, even manufactured ones, to justify its oppression. I quoted Umberto Eco in “Turning Back The Clock” who said:

“In general, in order to maintain popular support for their decisions, dictatorships point the finger at a country, group, race, or secret society that is plotting against the people under the dictator. All forms of populism, even contemporary ones, try to obtain consensus by talking of a threat from abroad, or from internal groups.”

How true is that? Umberto Eco could have been talking about Malaysia actually. Did he have a digital crystal ball or what?

Barely recovering from shaking our collective head over the arrest of people wearing yellow, the government went into ape mode. Bersih was infiltrated by communists. It was also funded by Christian groups. Some ministers and the police then said there were evidence that Bersih had certain “foreign elements” bent on creating havoc and overthrowing the government.

All classic wartime propaganda. But really, who was at war? Nobody except for the government.

Sticking with the “war” theme, the government’s well-known, but the most laughable and idiotic shit stirrer, Perkasa leader Ibrahim Ali, launched a counter movement and called themselves Gerak Aman (Peace Movement, in English), with Ibrahim Ali as its “war general.”

So, we had a peace movement with a war general. And a war general without any war to go to. He then promptly issued a really peaceful statement, i.e. the Chinese had better stocked up food and not come out to the streets on July 9.

This was followed by some silat organisation declaring that it will “wage war” against Bersih participants. The next day this organisation appointed itself as the “third line of defence” of Malaysia, an appointment which was duly accorded official approval by none other than the prime minister himself later.

At this point in time, the government’s handling of the Bersih issue had moved from disbelief-dom to jokes-ville and now to a surreal and burlesque town. The government had then managed to anger the Bersih sympathisers and supporters, isolated the Christians and Chinese, and turned itself into some kind of a mixture of Robin Williams and Russell Brand (no insult meant to Katy Perry, of course).

Ambiga, the chairperson of Bersih, was instantaneously declared as an enemy of Islam. Quite how Bersih’s electoral reform agenda became intertwined with race and faith is quite beyond many to conjure. But enemy of Islam she was. That managed to isolate the non-Muslims and even the thinking Muslims from the government’s stance.

So, after that, the pesky yellow mosquito problem had turned into a full-scale stampede of biblical proportion, joined in by the elephants, lions, tigers, snakes and what have you. Congratulations.

The climax of all of these — the mother of all screw ups — to me, was the mounting of roadblocks during the morning peak hours from Wednesday, July 6 onwards.

By this time, even the normal apathetic middle-class Malaysians who could not even be bothered to register themselves as voters became agitated and upset.

This apathetic middle class are a very comfortable lot. They will not move their ass to do anything if that would mean bringing themselves out of their comfort zone. Finding the TV remote control is bringing themselves out of their comfort zone to these people. They will not be asked to do anything until and unless they become uncomfortable.

And, of course, being stuck in a traffic jam in their second-hand BMWs, Benzes and whatever was uncomfortable to them. And they told themselves, enough with this crap. I am going to show my middle finger to the police!

By this time, almost the whole section of the urban society was isolated by the government. Even the civil servants who were late for work were thinking of joining the rally.

Speaking of the police, apart from being busy carrying guns and waving the traffic to pass by, they managed to find parangs and Molotov cocktails at Sogo. There you have it. Bersih was bent on creating havoc.

Why parangs? Why not guns and bombs? And to think about it, the Molotov cocktails were made in plastic bottles. Who in their right mind would make Molotov cocktails in plastic bottles, hello? From which university did the guy graduate? Off campus? Online course?

Disbelief. Joke. Burlesque. Ridicule. Anger.

What a transformation.

The easiest thing to do was to fight the idea that our election process needs reform. That was all that was needed. An idea is fought by, firstly, showing that that idea is not quite correct. Or that it was not credible. Then neutralise that idea with a better and more acceptable idea.

An idea is not fought by arresting the people having that idea. Or by banning a colour depicting subscription to that idea. Or by declaring the person heading the movement perpetuating that idea as anti-Islam. Or that it was Christian idea. Oh my God. Fail!

Now, let’s not talk about what happened during the rally. Suffice if I say that the people joining the rally were not the hooligans they were made out to be. We all could watch all the YouTube videos and decide for ourselves.

The thing which I want to comment about is this.

If the government’s handling of Bersih before the rally was beyond belief in its irrationality and unreasonableness, its handling AFTER the rally is not any better, if not far worse.

The IGP became a laughing stock when he quickly announced that only 6,000 people attended the rally. Then the home minister chipped in to say the police was fair and in fact very restrain in their approach on July 9. The prime minister said the police were a picture of tranquillity and displayed a monk-like attitude towards the rally goers.

Ha ha and ha.

The Minister Liow denied teargas was fired into compound of Tung Shin. Chua Soi Lek, not be left out, chipped in to say the police had to tear gas the hospital in order to protect the patients. And today, 11 doctors from that hospital state their willingness to affirm affidavits under oath that the police did in fact shoot water and tear gas into the compound of the hospital on July 9. They said the police even entered into the buildings to search for rally goers.

The prime minister has left for the UK. The mainstream media went ape-like in blaming Anwar and mocking his injury. This obsession with Anwar Ibrahim is actually quite irritating. Let me tell you all something. Most rally goers did not give a hoot about Anwar that day. That day was not about Anwar. It was about their middle finger which they had wanted to point to some others.

The international press — which, of course, in the government’s book, are always bias and out to pursue their secret agenda against our country — have not been kind to the government. Even the Jakarta Post editorial (“Malaysia is rich but not free”) was not flattering. Yesterday, Bloomberg’s William Pesek was scathing in his opinion. Pesek is an influential writer and Bloomberg is a reference point for many foreign investors. So, what’s the plan here?

Someone died during the rally. Have we heard a word of sympathy or condolence from the government’s side? I have not. All we had was the usual defensive “don’t blame me” statements.

Are we human? Or have we stopped being human? Since when? —

  1. #1 by Loh on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 7:24 pm

    ///Sticking with the “war” theme, the government’s well-known, but the most laughable and idiotic shit stirrer, Perkasa leader Ibrahim Ali, launched a counter movement and called themselves Gerak Aman (Peace Movement, in English), with Ibrahim Ali as its “war general.”///–Art Harun

    The Shit Stirrer Ibrahim Ali only had 20 of his followers stirring shit that day.

    ///This was followed by some silat organisation declaring that it will “wage war” against Bersih participants. The next day this organisation appointed itself as the “third line of defence” of Malaysia, an appointment which was duly accorded official approval by none other than the prime minister himself later.///-Art harun

    Emperor Najib only followed Empress Dowager Cixi in accepting the boxers. Of course Cixi caused the demise of the Ching dynasty just like Najib is planting the downfall of UMNO.

  2. #2 by dcasey on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 7:42 pm

    Thanks Art for a straight faced, a matter of fact but amusing piece. Really spot on!! I really enjoyed reading this.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 8:05 pm

    I put it to you that Najib & Co could not be seen to accept Bersih’s agenda. The reason is simply – they either already or will commit electoral fraud in order to win. In fact its quite evident they have invested heavily in fraud, are relying on it and will fall without it.

    There is absolutely no reason for Najib to have made an offer then renegede on it, to work with the Agung for an ‘advisory’ and then go against the Agung wishes. In fact, as a memo from his office came out many days before, he had made up his mind long before the day and opportunity after opportunity to change his tact did not deter him from going ahead. Such dogged determined stubborness for a man who is largely PR-obssesed and do not commit publicly to much before his troops clear the hill for him, clearly show a man who has been locked up in the lie he must live with no matter what.

    All these questions are irrelevant, because Najib has already trapped himself in a strategy that is doomed to go head-to-head with the people, our systems, our values and our future.

  4. #4 by bruno on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 11:41 pm

    You are perfectly correct Art.What was suppossed to be a low profile protest march turn into an international fiasco.Our Umno GOM has turned our once well respected country into the world’s laughing stock.

    PM Najib’s choice of cabinet ministers consists of rejected stock left over from previous administrations.These are the getting nowhere politicians,stagnant deadwood and deadbrained dumbheads.

    Immature political brains in Umno war-rooms caused unneccesary panic.The mentioned of 300 thousand rally participants by Mat Sabu send Umnoputras wetting their panties,scrambling for the rest rooms.This caused the domino effects into rally day.Now the damage done by Umno and its cronies will ensure their first defeat in this coming GE.After this coming GE a handful of Umno guys will be in the opposition bench.

    The rest will be sent out to pasture.The rest
    Mca,MIC and Gerakan will be decimated.

  5. #5 by monsterball on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 11:41 pm

    How can KOTOR accepts BERSIH?
    Najib will defend KOTOR with his life.
    Only problem for Najib….People Power is not supporting him.

  6. #6 by bruno on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 12:06 am

    The biggest joke of the year.

    Hisham and IGP both color blind mistood activist for communists.

    Cockeyed LTL thought that the Tung Shin Hospital compound was CSL’s ayam production backyard.

    CSL thought that he was talking about his sex tape instead of Tung Shin Hospital.

    Najib thought he was talking about the Bersih crowd when he was mentioning 50 thousand silat tortoises.

    Abrahim Ali thought that he was talking about Patriots when he was promising a very large Perkasa crowd.

  7. #7 by sightseeing on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 2:03 am

    UMNO’s weapon of fear has become weapon of joke:

    Enemy of Islam
    Christian groups
    Foreign elements
    Parang and Molotov cocktails.

  8. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 6:14 am

    Art, you got it right. The average Malaysians are actualy fed-up with the sandiwara put up by a bankrupt Gomen who could not lead but bent on bankrupting the nation. hence, they persist on using all the worn out words and phrases to intimate the less informed through 3rd class editorial at the printed media which cater for those, most probably next GE, will no longer be of any sequence to the progress of this nation. They are so suicidal in the handling of all those issues that we can conclude that they are just desperadoes! You have a lawyer running so scare that he look exactly like Ibrahim Ali in thought and we all laugh at IA! They have moulded their so-called leaders in the same ACHUAN that their thinking and mannerism does change all these years! Thay just cannot cope with change! and such specie must, according to Darwain must disappear!

  9. #9 by waterfrontcoolie on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 6:16 am

    …. mannerism DOES NOT change….

  10. #10 by limkamput on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 7:28 am

    Many things Art Harun said are logical and rational. Why then the authorities are doing the exact opposite? I think they have realised it is probably too late for them to do the right things, too late for them to reform and to meet the clamour for change half way. They can’t accommodate simply because if they do so, there will be more demands and more protests of the wrongs and abuses they have committed. So they did the predicted way, quite similar to any crumbling and collapsing regime throughout history and present time – first they tried to indoctrinate you, then frighten you, then intimidate, then stifle, then arrest, then shoot at you. Think about it, there is a definite pattern of reaction and behaviour of a renegade regime.

  11. #11 by k1980 on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 8:17 am

    free download (pdf, 375 pages) –The March to Putrajaya by Kim Quek at

  12. #12 by dagen on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 8:56 am

    For phaark sake, this is the third time I am going through this!

    Umno is GOD.

    Get it? Knock this piece of fact into you people’s head. And now know this next piece in too. Therefore, umno can do no wrong. Understand? In fact umno can do anything umno wishes.

    Tak boleh tahan beeeertul. Need something to calm me nerves down. Hoi cintanegara, throw me a bunch of rambutans. Yeah. Thanks, bro.

    … dagen, neutralised by umno … all for some rambutans.

  13. #13 by Loh on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 9:36 am

    Najib said that Bersih had political implication. Najib should give one example of any action of his government which has no political implication.

    Najib turned Bersih into open house through free buffet lunch. One wonders whether police planned the lunch, so that their personnel could lunch on government expense, before thinking about the arrest. That 1600 could be the number needed to finish the food.

  14. #14 by k1980 on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 10:13 am

    #12 Umno is GOD. So let us sembahyang—

    Our Jibbi, who art in Canland
    hallowed be thy umno Name,
    thy kingdom come,
    thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily roti,
    And forgive Bersih’s trespasses,
    as we forgive those
    who trespass against us.
    And lead us into corruption,
    but deliver us from democracy.
    For thine is the kingdom,
    and the power, and the glory,
    for ever and ever.

    Ah Min.

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