Deja vu as no lessons learnt

— The Malaysian Insider
Apr 27, 2012

APRIL 27 — Those who forget history … well, you get the picture.

Electoral reform group Bersih decides to hold a protest and the government gets into a huff. Plays nice for a bit and then acts tough. Locks down the city. Possible chaos if there is police action. And then the government spends time and money again to be good to the people.

Tomorrow, thousands of Malaysians have promised to stand up for their right to clean and fair elections by sitting down for two hours. In 11 cities in Malaysia and 72 cities across the world.

Most Malaysians will get a chance to do that if they are abroad. And perhaps some city authorities in Malaysia are enlightened enough to allow that and not repeat the mistakes that happened in Bersih 2.0.

The question is why haven’t the authorities learnt anything from the past two Bersih rallies? Why offer alternative venues, play nice and say that Bersih has no traction and then outsource the muscling to the police and the city authorities?

Last year, Bersih 2.0 said they wanted to rally at Stadium Merdeka but the government said no, maybe and later a firm no. Putrajaya even banned the movement and anyone wearing a yellow T-shirt with the Bersih logo was considered less than kosher.

The then Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin even met the Bersih 2.0 organisers to resolve the issue. But it came to naught. The police locked down the entire city centre, set up road blocks along all arteries leading to the city to stop the movement.

It didn’t stop Bersih 2.0. Thousands turned up, in yellow, although their leaders were held by police. Tear gas and water cannons ruled the streets but the people stared them down and chased some cops away. Thousands of images — be it pictures or videos — were uploaded to the Internet immediately to show what happened on July 9.

The police said only 6,000 people turned up and nearly 1,700 were detained for a day. The images said otherwise. A police version of events weeks later paled in comparison to the narrative from the participants.

So, has anyone in authority learnt anything from last year’s rally? Bersih 3.0 is a reaction to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) recommendations. They believe it hasn’t gone far enough to address the problem of electoral rolls stuffed with fake names and details. That it will not be a clean and fair election despite all of the Najib administration efforts to reform the electoral process.

They want to sit down for two hours at Dataran Merdeka. Not Stadium Merdeka or other stadiums. But the authorities are adamant that won’t happen. So the city square is now locked down for 48 hours. And it looks like we will see a repeat of last year’s events.

Which isn’t really flattering for the government. The Bersih rallies show that there are a number of people willing to walk and sit for their cause against an authority that will not listen to them. An authority that speaks of political transformation but has little to show on the ground.

Putrajaya should have learnt something from last year’s rally. Because everything they are doing now only makes Bersih stronger. And relevant to every Malaysian who just wants a better Malaysia.

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