Bersih and the mystery of the missing PM

By Nathaniel Tan | May 4, 2012

This is part two of an attempt to examine the following: what matters most about this rally (versus what does not), an analysis of both the police car that ran into protesters as well as the barricade breach incident, and what Saturday tells us about the government, leaders and people of Malaysia.

Whither Najib?

Videos of the police car being overturned during the Bersih 3.0 rally must have been a wet dream come true for BN spinmeisters the likes of Tan Keng Liang.

What can we say objectively about the violence at the rally?

Some posit that all the “violent protestors” were in fact agent provocateurs planted by the powers that be.

This is of course entirely possible, but it cannot be confirmed or bersih 3.0 rally police motorbike speeding in the crowd 2denied entirely at this point, based on available evidence.

I deem it probably unlikely that every single person who exhibited violence at the rally did so at the secret behest of the authorities.

If there were indeed supporters of Bersih who turned violent at the rally, what does that tell us about Bersih?

I posit: very little indeed.

The people who turned up at the rally are not Bersih “members”. There is no such thing.

A rally like this attracts all sorts. I would estimate 99% in attendance (not counting policemen or saboteurs) are fervently committed to a culture of non-violence. Then there is the 1% who, as Batman’s butler tells us, “just want to watch the world burn”.

In terms of proportions, saying rallies should be banned because violence sometimes occurs would very much be like saying we should ban motorcycles because snatch thieves use motorcycles (although, sometimes the behaviour of some motorcyclists on the road get me thinking this may not be such a bad idea).

Room for improvement?

Could there have been better crowd control on the part of the organisers?

I think the simple answer is yes. I take this view partly because I always believe there is room for improvement. There are very few exceptions indeed to this.

I understand and appreciate the severe constraints and challenges the organisers faced.

I would nonetheless humbly recommend expanding considerable effort in vastly improving the lines of communication from organiser to participant. When hundreds of thousands of people gather, they are looking for firm decisions to be communicated firmly to everyone.

Chaos and confusion are after all always attendant to the absence of clear lines of communication, command and control.

What about the other end of the spectrum?

While we cannot yet say for sure who is responsible for the violence that appears to have been perpetrated by people in yellow shirts and such, there is no doubt regarding extensive video footage of police brutalising unarmed, often helpless citizens.

In many instances, a pack of policeman descend upon an individual who had been separated from the crowd, and beat him mercilessly, without any reason at all. The sight of it curls the stomach, and shows the very worst excesses of people abusing their power and their uniform.

If and when a more systematic collection of this visual evidence is compiled, I believe what we find will be extremely damning.

A measure of last resort

In conclusion to this part of the discussion, two fundamental things:

Firstly, there appear to be no recorded incidents of violence prior to the police firing tear gas and water cannons upon the crowd. A popular theory posits simply: If they had just let us in, none of this would have happened. I generally believe this to be true.

(Of course, if you believe the conspiracy theory about the barricade, then we were “let in” precisely for this to eventually happen).

Secondly, we must examine the hypothesis: had there been no rally, there would have been no violence.

Indeed, empirically speaking this may seem irrefutable.

At the same time, I think there is no doubt that had there been no rally, there would be even less hope for electoral reform – paving the way for the nightmare of a democracy stolen from the rakyat.

Without resistance, the unjust will always reign unchallenged and supreme.

I have always said no one likes going out in the dead of the afternoon to face tear gas and water cannons (ok, almost no one); but Malaysians will not sit by and watch their fundamental right to chose their own government fairly heinously usurped. That is the simple truth of it.

Seeing how all other measures have so clearly failed to result in meaningful action or reform, hundreds of thousands of Malaysians saw no available alternatives left to ensure the government took notice.

In the end, ordinary Malaysians went out there and risked their all because they believed a line has to be drawn somewhere – and together as one people, we drew that line at Dataran Merdeka.

What was Najib doing?

The government handled Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0 very differently.

In the former, every minister and his/her mother came out to condemn Bersih. This time, the evidence suggests a complete gag order.

Only Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (left) was sent to do the dirty work, and he didn’t seem to have a clue what he was really saying – a feat he seems to have successfully extended post-Bersih.

The other peon sent to the lonely and dangerous front was KL Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail. While last year the prime minister was at the forefront of discussions about Bersih, this time he sent someone not at the federal level, not at the state level, but at the municipal level.

Who then is responsible for the police violence?

In cases where dogs attack humans, we hold their owners legally responsible.

Equally, I am of the school of thought which believes that when something goes wrong in a ship, there is no point in going after the sailors – ultimately, the captain must always bear final responsibility.

In this respect, Najib’s captaincy in this situation most resembles that of Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia – the man who refused to return to his sinking ship after he abandoned it, despite being ordered by the Coast Guard to do so to help with the rescue efforts.

This spectacle gave rise to the meme, Vada a bordo, cazzo!, which translates roughly to “Get back on board, you !#$@!”

Imagine the scene.

On the same day that hundreds of thousands of Malaysians went down to the streets and faced tear gas and water cannons to demand clean and fair elections as their fundamental democratic right, the prime ministers sits and thinks about an appropriate course of action.

He ponders. He wonders.

He decides: “I know, I should go to Bukit Tunku and get a hair cut.”

Has our prime minister gone mad? Does he fancy himself a Nero amidst a burning Rome? Vada a bordo, cazzo!

Having learnt from Bersih 2.0 that the more they tried to suppress Bersih, the worse they looked (a classic case of being trolled), the government – and especially Najib himself – chose to remain utterly quiet this time.

Of course, someone had to be fed to the lions. Hishammuddin, Ahmad Fuad, and the Inspector General of the Police all probably found themselves facing the firing squad with dead silence from the top. I can’t imagine how much they must resent the prime minister’s cowardice.

The trickle down effect of cowardice

This absence of leadership goes a long way in understanding how things happened on April 28.

It seems the only clear instruction to the police from the IGP was: don’t do anything unless they breach Dataran.

A number of things: Firstly, this could be why the protesters were “allowed” to breach the barricades, if that was what indeed happened.

Secondly, there does not seem to have been clear instruction as to what to do after action began to be taken.

Reviewing the videos and eyewitness accounts of violence, I find myself thinking of a popular song by the Baha Men.

On Saturday evening, I spoke to someone on the train to KLCC who told of how the police were breaking the peace and forcing their way into restaurants, roughing up anyone in a yellow t-shirt (video evidence has since emerged of such instances).

They were chasing Malaysians around town late into the evening, for no apparent reasons whatsoever.

As seen by the way they fired tear gas after people were already dispersing, their motivation seemed to be one of vengeance – vengeance devoid of any real purpose or leadership.

Too long have we endured a culture of police brutality, and too long have we abided those who are truly responsible.

Najib’s cowardice in failing to deal with the entire Bersih matter maturely is nothing short of disgusting.

The wise thing to do would have been to let the people gather peacefully at Dataran Merdeka, listen to what they have to say, and then let them disperse peacefully.

If he thought he could happily let some other fall guys take the rap while he shut up for weeks, and then crawl out of the woodwork to whine and spin after the fact (after, of course, his ‘urgently needed’ haircut), he has another thing coming.

Courage in our final lap

Ultimately, all this is about nothing more and nothing less than the right to choose our leaders fairly.

It was on the last day of parliament that the government – in a move that can only signal truly malicious intent – enacted amendments to electoral laws that actually make it easier for the government to cheat and steal an election.

Some ten days before Bersih (either arrogance or pure desperation), and literally in the dead of night, amidst stopped clocks – they eroded yet another fundamental liberty that is the human right of every Malaysian.

Not until that moment did I realise how serious the ruling party is about cheating, how close they are to the edge, and how desperate they are not to fall off.

One way or another, I feel we are in for some truly challenging months ahead. It may not be long before we can be compared to the worst tyrannies and dictatorships in the world.

Nevertheless, I refuse to let my fear restrain me from taking a stand against injustice.

On April 28, f July 9, and Nov 10 before it, Malaysians came together and said Ya basta! Enough is enough.

No more power through corruption, no more apathy through ignorance, no more oppression through tyranny.

The powerful will use every last measure at their considerable disposal to corrupt the democratic process, and we, the rakyat, will have to use every last measure of our considerable strength to resist it.

If ever you despair, you remember that commitment and resolve that was written on the face of every one of your brothers and sisters that came out to walk with you that scorching Saturday afternoon. You remember and you take heart.

Remember, and know this – it may take days, it may take a lifetime; but armed with nothing but our integrity and our conscience, believe me, we shall overcome.


Part 1: Bersih 3.0: What matters most and what does not
NATHANIEL TAN believes this world is full of people, he was born to love them all. He blogs at and tweets @NatAsasi”

  1. #1 by loveandgratitude on Saturday, 5 May 2012 - 4:21 pm

    Najis you can Run[away to Sarawak] but you can’t Hide!
    You just follow Mamak style.

  2. #2 by sotong on Saturday, 5 May 2012 - 5:11 pm

    The ordinary people of all races SAYANG each other and their country…’s evil of leaders/politicians to continue create mistrust and hate to divide them with politics of race and religion.

  3. #3 by monsterball on Saturday, 5 May 2012 - 5:12 pm

    We Najib gone missing.
    He got chicken heart….ran away to Dollah…talk alot and run Indonesia..both .came back when someone tells him..everything is under control.

  4. #4 by rockdaboat on Saturday, 5 May 2012 - 10:02 pm

    Only fools think that they are smart and can fool the whole world. Little do they know that the whole world is watching them and laughing at them.

  5. #5 by sheriff singh on Sunday, 6 May 2012 - 1:08 am

    ‘Some ten days before Bersih (either arrogance or pure desperation), and literally in the dead of night, amidst stopped clocks – they eroded yet another fundamental liberty that is the human right of every Malaysian.’ – NT

    ‘In the end, ordinary Malaysians went out there and risked their all because they believed a line has to be drawn somewhere – and together as one people, we drew that line at Dataran Merdeka.’ – NT

    Yes, my friends, much has happened over the past three weeks – the rushing through of 6 (or was it 8) Bills in one day eroding the people’s rights further, to Bersih 3.0 with over 250,000 participants, and its aftermath.

    The Bills pa.sed are now in the Senate for debate and approval. The Senators are to provide another layer of ‘check and balance’. One therefore waits to see what our Senators will say or do but the pas.age of the Bills are a foregone conclusion.

    But don’t the PR have their own Senators? How will they respond to the obnoxious Bills? Will they fight or will they surrender meekly? Will they also take into consideration the mood on the ground given Bersih 3.0 that our rights have been eroded and the people is desperately clamouring for free and fair elections and a free and democratic country ?

    We cannot have Senators who continually espouse their ‘personal opinions’ (and break ranks) but fail to look at the much bigger and important picture of where our country is heading or has headed.

    The people is concerned and alarmed at the course our weak and perhaps self-serving leaders have taken us and have come out in full force ‘…and risked their all because they believed a line has to be drawn somewhere – and together as one people…’.

    So can we count on our Senators to do their jobs, to do what is necessary? If not, they should do the honourable thing and not harp on their ‘personal feelings, opinions and beliefs’ and let us all down.

    The people have put their trust in all of you so don’t let them all down. If you can’t read their message then you are all blind. If you are all going to be just another rubber stamp, then you have failed the people.

    So all of you : Vada a bordo, cazzo!

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Sunday, 6 May 2012 - 7:37 am

    It was clear that the PM was exercising “remote control” on the Bersih rally, instructing his men what to do from afar.

  7. #7 by monsterball on Sunday, 6 May 2012 - 10:11 am

    Food and drink outlets …..opened..were doing roaring business.
    Those who are afraid and closed shops are fools and cowards.
    Hope they do not complaint loss of business…this and that.

  8. #8 by monsterball on Sunday, 6 May 2012 - 10:20 am

    Has any food stalls opened for business complained they were cheated or drinks taken without customers paying?
    Seeing so many restaurants closed shop ….is the work of the Govt….frightening the shop owners..and their road blocks everywhere …with water cannons trucks and policemen armed with tear gas guns…all..creating tensions for no reasons.
    Bravo!!…clashes did materialized.
    It takes two hands to clap.

  9. #9 by monsterball on Sunday, 6 May 2012 - 10:25 am

    One side.. armed with pistols ….and batons to shoot or beat.
    The other side bear hands to protect.
    This is bullying walkers…openly.. with no shame.
    yea…bulling it is…and look at that coward PM…ran to Kuching.
    What kind of a PM is that?

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