Bersih 3.0: BN accountable for police brutality

— Tommy Thomas
The Malaysian Insider
Apr 30, 2012

APRIL 30 — When a government uses the police to tear gas, fire water cannons and physically intimidate large numbers of its people, it loses its moral legitimacy to continue governing. A repressive government does not deserve to rule. Barisan National’s brutal handling of Bersih 3.0’s proposed sit-in on Saturday, April 28 crossed the tipping point of acceptable behaviour, and the people of Malaysia must, by a large majority, punish it at the next general election. The Najib administration has forfeited any moral right to govern Malaysia!

The barricading of Dataran Merdeka

Is it not an irony of the highest degree that a place in central Kuala Lumpur that bears the name “Merdeka” is closed to its people? Much of the disinformation that emanates from our highly controlled mass media stated that the government had offered Stadium Merdeka and other stadiums to Bersih, which “unreasonably” turned them down, and “stubbornly” insisted on Dataran Merdeka. From the civil liberties perspective, such government propaganda misses the whole point. Freedom of assembly, association and expression belong to the people. They decide to exercise such freedoms at places and times of their choosing. In all the places in Malaysia outside Kuala Lumpur, venues chosen by Bersih were accepted by the authorities — all these rallies occurred without incident. Likewise, in the 80 cities across the globe, events organised by Global Bersih were held at venues chosen by the organisers, and were also held peacefully.

Why should an unelected, unaccountable civil servant called the Datuk Bandar order thousands of Malaysians not to congregate at the Padang where Merdeka was proclaimed some 55 years ago. Who is he to deny us our fundamental freedom entrenched in the Constitution? The best argument for the return of local government elections is the wholly unacceptable behaviour of the Datuk Bandar last week.

Further, what gave the police the right to put up barbed-wire barricades around the Dataran? The order given by the magistrate (whatever its lawfulness may be!) did not extend to the use of barricades. If the action of the police was illegal, surely people were entitled to breach the barricades, and enter the Padang. Dataran Merdeka does not belong to the government, Datuk Bandar or the police. It belongs to the people.

Hence, my first criticism of the government’s handling of what was intended by Bersih to be a sit-in was the irrational and unjustified denial of Dataran Merdeka for that purpose. If the sit-in on Dataran Merdeka had been permitted, no incident would have occurred, and it would have proceeded smoothly and peacefully, as happened everywhere else in the world.

“Sit-in” turned into “walk”

With friends, I arrived at Masjid Negara at about 11.30am on Saturday. The barricades were placed about 200 metres from the masjid (and, thus, about 600 metres from the Dataran). Speeches were given by politicians, which could not be heard. We stayed outside the masjid until about 1.45pm when the procession to Dataran started. Thousands of people thronged the streets. It was joyful, with a carnival or picnic atmosphere. Slogans were chanted, and the camaraderie among the marchers was fantastic. People of all walks of life were present. Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, colour, class, gender and age, were amply represented. It was a microcosm of the general population.

When we reached Jalan Tun Perak at the Maybank end, the crowd was absolutely massive. Seas of yellow were everywhere. This would have been about 2.30pm. Speeches were given at the steps of Maybank, but again nothing could be heard. We followed the crowd on Tun Perak, hoping to reach the barricades at the top of the road, but sheer numbers of people did not allow for that. So we turned into Lebuh Ampang. At about 3pm, while on Lebuh Ampang, we saw smoke from tear gas which apparently had been shot over Jalan Tun Perak. We ran into a restaurant to take cover. A few minutes later, I left the restaurant. At that moment tear gas was fired into Lebuh Ampang. I ran back into the restaurant, whose staff immediately brought down the shutters. About 15 minutes later, we left the restaurant through a back door, and left the area. One could still smell tear gas in the entire vicinity.

Along the way home, we spoke to numerous members of the public and observers from the Bar Council. They were unanimous in their conclusion that tear gas had been fired for no reason, and without warning. It was as if the police had quotas of tear gas canisters to be finished, so that new stock could be purchased this week. After all, it is not their money!

Many comments were expressed during our walk that the government was using our (taxpayers’) money to bully and intimidate us. The use of helicopters hovering at low heights, the massive deployment of the police, and the use of tear gas and water cannons were all paid for by taxpayers. Here was the police turning their arms, paid for by us, on us. Insult to injury!

The critical observation to make is that as a result of government’s prevention of the planned sit-in, hundreds of thousands of people converging from numerous roads into the barricaded Dataran were stopped from entering it. Before the crowds could depart by walking on roads already absolutely packed with thousands of people, tear gas was fired, causing injury, panic and stampede.

Alleged violence

Spin-doctors went into over-drive after the event to highlight the alleged violence against policemen and their property. The oldest trick in the book, employed for centuries by police and law enforcement agencies globally, when trying to control crowds in large rallies, marches, etc is to use police operatives in plain or unidentified clothes to work as agent provocateurs to start trouble. Unless an independent, credible organisation reviews all the evidence, and makes a finding that the Bersih marchers were actually responsible for causing violence, I am not prepared to accept the police version. In any event, one must also consider their provocation and intimidation that resulted in such behaviour. The entire context must be taken into account.

It was clear to me after spending more than five hours on the streets last Saturday that those who walked were absolutely peace-loving, and opposed to any physical action, let alone violence. Bersih is a genuine people’s movement, a bottom-up manifestation which has struck a chord among millions of Malaysians. The government’s demonisation of Ambiga Sreenevasan unjustifiably personalises a movement which cannot be stopped, regardless of the wishes of its leaders. Bersih has a dynamic life of its own. Thus, if a referendum is held in Malaysia today on the single question: “whether the voter supports Bersih’s campaign for free and fair elections”, an overwhelming majority of Malaysians would say yes.

Likewise, the much repeated statement that the Pakatan opposition parties have hijacked Bersih for their own selfish political purposes is not supported by the facts. Admittedly, thousands of Pakatan marchers walked the streets on Saturday. They were noisy, boisterous and loud in the support of their leaders. That only represents a partial truth. An equal, or perhaps larger numbers of persons walked, not because they support Pakatan, but because they are totally disgusted by the Election Commission. If Pakatan benefits electorally by securing the votes of this large group of persons, Barisan Nasional and its proxy, the Election Commission, only have themselves to blame. They are the authors of their own misfortune. The latest revelation that the chairman and deputy chairman of Election Commission are members of Umno merely confirms why they have never been neutral in the discharge of their duties.

General election

Although Bersih was the organiser of this highly successful walk in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, I suggest that the causes which propelled the majority of protestors to walk were not limited to just having a free and fair election. Conversing with scores of fellow protestors, I got the distinct impression that Bersih is just the final straw, the tipping point. The underlying causes of grave unhappiness among Malaysians include a profound sense of injustice, rampant corruption which (like cancer) is killing the vital institutions of the nation, inflation, growing disparity between the rich and the poor, excessive development (Lynas), unregulated immigration, increase in crime, breakdown of law and order, and so forth. Bersih was merely the catalyst for action.

From my vantage point, about 100,000 people attended the rally in Kuala Lumpur. According to Bersih, which had the benefit of observers in all the areas of Kuala Lumpur where the crowds converged, it was as large as 250,000 people. By any yardstick, this was a fantastic turnout, and Bersih must be congratulated for a grand job. A special tribute to brave and cool Ambiga, as the very acceptable face of Bersih.

A mark of its success is that Najib will not be rushing to call elections. Damage control will take months. Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of protestors in Malaysia and elsewhere — apparently 80 places, including Mount Everest, celebrated Bersih on Saturday afternoon — must spread the word about the unfairness of our electoral system, and the determination of Barisan Nasional to win at all costs, regardless of means. The heavy-handed treatment of Bersih marchers on April 28 must be the springboard from which a nationwide movement must be launched to end 55 years of continuous, unbroken one party rule at the ballot box. The time for change is now!

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 8:10 pm

    Bersih 3.0 huge turn out (many middle class and young people (vote bank) will frighten the ruling establishment. Had the “carnival ended nicely” without the violent finale even Najib would smell good. However I am not sure – possibly some politicians from both side of divide- may want to use/hijack the event for their political purpose, so that the unnecessary ending became the necessary. To me, its no big deal to let Bersih have Dataran. (In normal days/nights even lepaks and mat rempits go there). Likewise what’s wrong with Stadium Merdeka? Also historical but no Oomp??? But some one from either side had to say “no” to the other just to produce a necessary deadlock or gridlock!

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 8:10 pm

    From Establishment’s side it’s ridiculous to say “no you can’t go inside there but you are not stopped from going up to there where the barricades demarcated! What’s the difference? Then these barricades, they’re not necessary but if you think its necessary why not put 3 or 4 one after another so that no one could ever breach without getting lacerated) instead of leaving here and there without any? From anti establishment side Bersih could agree with authorities not to breach barricades and enter the Square and yet at the end could not control its breach giving theother side the much needed pretext to allege breach of promise/undertaking to launch into action! Most of participants thought the “carnival would start from 2pm to 4 pm but at 2.30 pm Bersih/Anwar could declare the event ended (without being known to others gathering elsewhere) and also giving authorities an excuse to require a return to normalcy and clearance of the main roads.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 8:11 pm

    When authorities have been given “go ahead” to act and clear the streets (whether due to breach of barricades or premature end of ‘carnival’, its predictable (from past experience) there will surely be brutal action in many cases and consequent moral outrage by public which will have predictable negative effect on BN (desired by the Opposition) and on Najib’s reformist/transformational credentials (desired by players at both divides). Those ordinary like us who suffered brutality paid the price for the political gain of those (politicians) who would hijack Bersih for their political objectives.

  4. #4 by limkamput on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 9:02 pm

    Sage, please stop talking nonsense. Everybody went to the rally with their eyes wide open. Bersih organisers too knew exactly why the opposition leaders, members and supporters were there. So stop talking about hijacking Bersih or meeting the political objectives of the opposition. The reality is Bersih and the opposition need each other to accomplish their objective. It is useless to put up a pseudo front as if Bersih is strictly non-partisan. Have you seen one serving BN minister or deputy or central committee member at the rally? If you can cite me one, then I would agree that the opposition has hijacked Bersih’s rally.
    Have I not told on Saturday night (i.e. immediately after the Bersih rally) that it was useless to be a pussy cat. It is useless to talk about court order and barricade that no demonstrator should cross. There shouldn’t be court order and barricade in the first place. What hope do we have if seemingly educated and clever people are debating and arguing like nincompoops? Do you know why Burma is a nincompoop country? It is the nincompoop people who are not willing to cross the barricade. We are not far from Burma or maybe we are already there. Seriously, Suu Kyi can go on waiting for another 30 years; it will not make a difference. After all, the greedy West ever wanting to do business with Burma, have already started to dismantle sanction.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 9:11 pm

    Whenever Bersih starts a new rally, the government will get paranoid. It (government) will put up road blocks, barricades and deploys police everywhere with the intent to stop the rally. What makes the government so scared of Bersih? The only answer I can think of is the government does not want its fraudulent poll practices (which are to its advantage) to be dismantled. It is sad that after 54 years in power, the BN government still relies on unfair evil poll practices to cling on to power.

  6. #6 by cseng on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 10:01 pm

    BN has no interest in facts, free, fair, good governance or lesson learnt. BN is taking every opportunity to paint intended perceptions thru TV1,2 3 and Utusan, targeting selected 17-18% of voters at selected constituencies, this would be enough to win them next GE.

  7. #7 by Taxidriver on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 10:10 pm

    A very frank and honest view by limkamput # 3. My vote, bro.

  8. #8 by Winston on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 10:13 pm

    Tommy Thomas, you’ve really said it!
    You laid bare the real reasons why Malaysians are turning out in massive numbers to express their revulsion with the UMNO/BN government.
    This walk is the expression of decades of repressed anger at being exploited, cheated and lied to at every turn!
    However, the momentum of the publicity generated by this event must be converted into solid action in rousing the section of the Malaysian public who UMNO/BN has always treated as their “fixed deposit” – the rural folks of both East & West Malaysia – to deny this despotic government of their votes.

  9. #9 by negarawan on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 10:44 pm

    UMNO is only fit to rule cows that live in condominiums……

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 11:29 pm

    Isn’t Bersih’s agenda supposedly politically non partisan? Isn’t its fight for clean elections is to level playing field so that Malaysians can determine which of the 2 opposing coalitions, competing on level playing field, deserve majority support/mandate to govern? If so isn’t this agenda by Bersih compromised of NGOs politically non partisan? However according to Lim Kam Put, “it is useless to put up a pseudo front as if Bersih is strictly non-partisan”.

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 11:31 pm

    Bersih steering committee member, Maria Chin Abdullah said Bersih 428 was to feature only speeches from Ambiga, co-chairman A Samad Said and songs. Ambiga herself said that Bersih had no control over what politicians say at its public events. “We did not know that they [opposition] leaders were going to speak. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim came up and spoke to the crowd. There were groups in the crowd which wanted to hear the opposition leaders speak…I cannot control what they say,” she said, amidst reports that PKR deputy president Azmin Ali and Anwar might have a hand in inciting certain people in crowd to breach the barrier/barricade (agreed to be observed by Ambiga). Ambiga added that the plan for the gathering did not allow for politicians to speak. In fact, she said that had Bersih known that politicians were going to deliver speeches, it would not allow them to do so. “We wouldn’t have allowed them to speak,” she told a press conference”. So Lim KamPut, is it your learned position that Ambiga was less than candid with her public statements, that it’s a sandiwara? That Bersih has gone beyond its raison de etre and now could be advancing street demonstration as a way to regime change?

  12. #12 by limkamput on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 12:41 am

    My Dear Jeffery, simple question for you: are BN/UMNO for free and fair election? If BN/UMNO are for free and fair election, then why are they not participating in Bersih? Why are stalling almost any measure to bring about more transparent and fair election process? The fact is they are not and it is a public knowledge Bersih and UMNO are at loggerhead. The Opposition is for free and fair election (at least for now and hopefully in the future) because if without it, they have very little chance of winning federal power. So if we put all these together, where is the non-partisanship of Bersih? Look not what they proclaim or say, look at the underlying motivation and drivers. The current PM also said many things, do you believe him? Jeffery, I appreciate the good job done by Bersih, but the fact remains that if without the Opposition, Bersih would have gathered little momentum. Do you seriously believe all those who turned up at the rally are just for free and fair election and Bersih? Please think, Malaysia is just ripe for rally, if you know what I mean. Any of these issues could have caused the rally as massive as Bersih, if someone has provided the right leadership – chronic injustice, endemic corruption, blatant abuse of power, wastage and incompetency.

  13. #13 by limkamput on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 12:45 am

    Jeffery my response to you is under moderation as usual.

  14. #14 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 8:34 am

    One fact remains obviously clear 2 d entire world: POLIS BRUTALITY during Bersih 3.0!
    There r many videos showing polis battering, kicking DEFENCELESS individuals – NOT 1 mata-mata but MANY (like a pack of hyenas) brutally hammering 1 defenceless individual (even after being handcuffed), some mata2 even used their helmets 2 batter some1 already down ond floor

    Y did mata2 treat rakyat worse than an animal, like a soft-drink can 2 b kicked n squashed!?
    What right do mata2 hv 2 brutally beat up a defenceless individual!?
    Dis is in addition 2 d indiscriminate use of tear gas n water cannons against defenceless rakyat, including young n old folks

    AhCHEATkor, HisapH, IGP r held responsible 4 d BRUTAL actions of mata2
    They had openly praised our mata2 2 hv acted professionally – dis sort of professional violence

  15. #15 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 10:43 am

    Let’s not talk of BN’s position, diametrically opposed against Bersih’s for obvious reasons. It is trite that Bersih’s position for free/fair election is also shared/ supported by Opposition or obvious reasons. It maybe assumed that obviously most Bersih’s supporters would be opposition’s supporters or at least not BN’s supporters and those who turned up on 28th rally were not just for free and fair election and Bersih. These are also clear. The community/parallelism of interest/objectives between Bersih movement and PR, and common supporters above do not by themselves necessarily contradict the idea of Bersih being or its original’s claim as a politically non partisan movement.

  16. #16 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 10:44 am

    To Lim Kam Put: Politically partisan implies way beyond just the limited objective of promoting Free and Fair elections to level the electoral playing field between contending political coalitions (BN vs PR). It implies Bersih works towards PR’s political objective of dislodgment of the BN either electorally or by whatever other means (including ‘Reformasi’ street demonstrations in the spirit of what you earlier said, “don’t be pussycat’ afforded by events organised by Bersih such as on 28/4/12). My question to you (of which you have not answered) is whether you agree/endorse Bersih is politically partisan and has become auxiliary to PR’s/PKR’s/Anwar’s politically partisan purpose in the manner I stated, and whether what Ambiga said to Press (in aftermath of last 28/4/12 fracas/breach of barricades) in my earlier comment #11 is, to you, sincere or sandiwara and B.S.

  17. #17 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 10:48 am

    My post preceding this is currently under moderation. It basically clarifies – the community/parallelism of interest/objectives between Bersih movement and PR (ie free and fair elections), and sharing common supporters do not by themselves necessarily contradict Ambiga’s/Bersih’s claim at original inception as being a non (politically) partisan movement.

  18. #18 by Winston on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 - 1:07 pm

    Why is UMNO/BN so very adamant in protecting their tenancy in Putrajaya?
    In a nutshell, it’s sole purpose is to protect its gravy train!

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