Post-Bersih 3.0: A time for healing

— Azlina Aziz
The Malaysian Insider
May 07, 2012

MAY 7 — On the eve of Bersih 3.0, my husband Nazir and I visited the surroundings of Dataran Merdeka to see for ourselves preparations for the rally. Although it was only 10.30pm on Friday night, a large crowd of protestors was rapidly building up, with police officers lining up around Dataran. We were shocked, to say the least, by the expanse of barbed wire encircling the square. The vision of protestors on one side and the police on the other, separated by barricades and sharp steel, seems to symbolise division, confrontation, aggression. We both went home that evening with a deep sense of foreboding and unease.

The events that unfolded the next day are too familiar now to recount. But whether you attended the rally or observed from the sidelines; whether you supported the cause or condemned it; whether you countenanced public assemblies or disapproved of them altogether; I think it’s fair to say that most of us have been deeply disturbed by the events that played out in our capital that Saturday. The scenes of mayhem — attacks on police motor vehicles, protestors facing tear gas, a pistol allegedly being drawn in a crowded area, physical assaults on members of the public, police force and press — are not ones familiar nor palatable to us Malaysians who value security and order.

It is a sad state of affairs when the actions of a few who resort to violence and aggression result in suffering and trauma for scores of people, and the aftershocks of the event continue to roll on. In coffeeshops, offices, newspapers, web forums and blogs are heated debates on the “rights” and “wrongs” and repercussions of what happened that day. Many are angry. Some are fearful, and anger often goes hand in hand with fear. Others are eager to find someone to blame for the turn of events. The violence and confrontation that played out that day have intensified the gulf and fissures in our society. A vision of unity for Malaysia seems further away than ever. Sadly, recent public statements by social and political leaders have only accentuated division and dissent.

In the blame game and recriminations that have followed, I cling to the belief that maintaining unity must be foremost on our minds, as the most effective counter to disruptive elements of violence and chaos. To do this, we must start by healing the gaping wound that opened up that day and it is my hope that two major concerns will be addressed. Firstly, violence cannot and will not be tolerated in a civilised society. All those who resorted to violence on that day must be brought to justice whoever they are, and whichever side of the divide they stand on. The chairman of Bersih has condemned the actions of violent protestors as “wholly unacceptable”. The IGP has made a rare appeal for help from members of the public in identifying rogue police officers.

For the sake of unity and promoting the healing process, is it too much to ask for the authorities, public and organisers of the rally to set aside their differences and work together in identifying and acting against the few who resorted to violence?

Secondly, I fervently hope that the authorities will engage with the many thousands who turned out en masse that fateful Saturday, a fair number of whom were ordinary Malaysians who felt compelled to give physical presence to their concerns on a variety of issues, of which electoral reform is just one. Grievances and resentments should not be allowed to fester. Those that are more perception than reality require better engagement and explanation. Those that are substantive require attention and action.

Healing the wounds of Bersih 3.0 is imperative before we embark on what will possibly be the country’s defining political event in decades to come: the GE 13. Public confidence in the electoral process is essential if we are to avoid an aftermath of anger, dissent and disorder that the unfolding of Bersih 3.0 seems to suggest.

As it stands, the stage is set for the results of GE 13 to be contested even before a single vote is cast. It is a slippery slope thereafter, one that we have witnessed in other countries, with hugely detrimental effects on the social fabric and economy. Much has been said about the progress of the Parliamentary Select Committee and the officials of the EC, and I will not touch upon this here. But surely a quick and effective step to improve public confidence would be the appointment of a few upstanding Malaysians, who command the respect of all parties, to be entrusted with overseeing the general election.

Bersih 3.0 was a traumatic event for Malaysia. I hope we can overcome the trauma and learn from our mistakes. I hope we can come together in unity and say “No” to violence in whatever shape or form. It is time for engagement, for listening, for cutting the invisible barbed wires that separate “them” and “us” and extending a hand over the divide to those who may disagree with your views but have as much of a stake and future in the country as you do.

It is time for healing the wounds of our increasingly polarised and fractured society. Only then can the forces of chaos and disruption be defeated. Only then can we take comfort in the knowledge that the GE 13 will not only be free and fair, but free of turmoil and dispute.

* Datuk Azlina Aziz was formerly employed as associate director of Barings Securities Research responsible for industry analysis and political commentary. She holds a master’s degree in women’s studies from Oxford University. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her two children and husband Datuk Seri Nazir Razak.

  1. #1 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 7 May 2012 - 1:18 pm

    You spoke with such fear and unease. But are you really sure of that? Jib somehow thinks that you and everyone who are against umno are in fact anti-agung, anti-sultan, anti-islam jenis umno, anti umnoputra, anti-umno, unpatriotic, ungrateful, terrorists and communists and deserve to “face the music” (meaning arrested and locked away). Umno with all the might of the police force and the army is more fearful of you and ppl like us. Hmmm … this is just too confusing.

  2. #2 by PRmaju on Monday, 7 May 2012 - 8:54 pm

    You want to heal? Umno wants to continue to steal !

  3. #3 by monsterball on Monday, 7 May 2012 - 10:33 pm

    You can be sure…Bersih 3 participants will gather again and in greater numbers…if Bersih 4 is needed to send another message to Najib and his government.
    I was staying in a hotel and so many from all over the country…have booked rooms in advance and on the April 28th Saturday morning….all dressed with Bersih T-shirts..all Malaysians..not just one race…going out for breakfast…and ready to walk.
    All greeted me ..”Good morning Uncle”.
    Never felt this kind of Malaysians with one mind…one objective…one purpose in life so such a long long time.
    I feel 10 years younger and all my old man’s aches and pains…all gone…ready to do my part.
    Najib and all his UMNO b ministers can never ever experience real freedom like us.
    They bluff and steal for decades and they are good at lying and cheating…that’s all.

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