Can we move forward with Bersih 4?

P Ramasamy
Sep 1st, 2015

COMMENT The massive Bersih 4 rally that took place in the heart of Kuala Lumpur on on Aug 29 and 30 can be described as tremendous success considering the number of people who took part in it.

It is estimated about 500,000 people were involved and many spent the night sleeping on sidewalks and pavements. Bersih also took an international profile, with similar rallies held in some of the cities worldwide.

Yes, Bersih succeeded in highlighting its objectives of: reforming the corrupt and decadent electoral system, reviving institutions that have become defunct and most importantly, the removal of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for his involvement in massive corruption related to the disbursement of 1MDB funds.

Unlike earlier Bersih movements, this time there were no untoward incidents involving the police or other law enforcement agencies. The police were surprisingly well-behaved and disciplined.

The actual Bersih rally is over, at least for the time being. Whether Bersih 5 will take place or not will depend on the whether the government takes initiatives to speed up reforms in the country.

Of course, the hardest thing will be to expect Najib to resign from his post. There are no indications that Najib will resign from the pressure exerted by Bersih.

In fact, there are already overt and covert signs that Umno and other Malay extremist organisations will use the large presence of the Chinese in the rally to drum home the point that Bersih was a Chinese-initiated movement to topple the Malay leadership.

Former DAP vice-chairperson and the current adviser of MACC, Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim has provided a completely racial twist to the recent Bersih rally. He lamented that the large presence of Chinese in the rally indicated that it was attempt on the part of them to humiliate and dishonour Malays during Merdeka celebrations.

Needless to say, the sizeable presence of Malays and Indians probably, or conveniently, never caught the eyes of Tunku Aziz!

In the coming days, weeks and months leading up to Umno division general assemblies, we can expect Utusan Malaysia to build up and propagate its racial theories about how Chinese are going to take over the leadership from the hands of Malays, in other words from Umno.

Was Mahathir’s presence of any help?

We can’t say for sure whether the presence of the former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was something that was helpful to the Bersih movement as whole. The man who had nothing but contempt for protests and demonstrations suddenly turned to support the “cause of the rakyat” in this Bersih rally.

Mahathir said he supported the people’s cause but not Bersih. His attendance at Bersih 4 was a classic case of taking the opportunity to ride the wave to remove Najib and revive Umno, but he showed no interest in the reforms that the country badly needs.

Participants could have welcomed his presence, but are fully aware that his sole purpose in attending the rally was to revive Umno, an Umno that will behave and dance according to the tune he sets!

Now, with the rally over, what is going to happen? Are we going to expect major changes to the nature of the country’s administration? Will Najib’s days in office be numbered? There are no clear answers to these and many other questions that are foremost in the minds of Malaysians.

Changes not expected overnight

Bersih leaders do not expect changes to take place overnight as these will take time to gain momentum. But at least the Bersih leaders have played a role in bringing together thousands of Malaysians to the streets in wanting change and a better future for them and their children.

Bersih, whatever, its limitations, has defied norms by telling and emboldening Malaysians to come together as one in demanding for change. For Bersih, politics should not be left to the politicians, however, well-meaning they are.

Even if the majority of the participants were Chinese, it does not negate the fact that they were there as Malaysians and citizens. They did not flock together as a Chinese group organised by some Chinese leaders.

In fact, many of them members of the middle-class and not even members of the DAP! Sorry, DAP does not have the monopoly on how the Chinese behave.

Chinese and Indians were eager to participate not because they belong to particular ethnic groups, but because they are victims of the political, social and economic system. It is only normal for Chinese and Indians to take up a more active role in the Bersih movement, given their own predicament in the country.

Years of independence have not assured these two communities a meaningful place that they call it home. Often being reminded as “pendatang”, the stigma alone is enough to galvanise these two communities to spring to action!

It was noticeable that the lack of Malay participation was conspicuous in Bersih 4. In fact, Malay participation increased on the second day and a variety of factors were responsible for this.

First, the absence of PAS in Pakatan Rakyat was the major factor behind the lack of large-scale participation of Malays. Second, confusion in Malay circles about the split in PAS and the process toward the formation of a new party could have added a damper on their participation in Bersih 4.

Rally essentially an urban phenomenon

Third, related to this was the absence of concerted mobilising strategies on the part of the Malay opposition forces to galvanise Malay support for the Bersih rally. Fourth, the incarceration of Anwar Ibrahim in Sungei Buloh could be another reason why Malays were not mobilised enough.

Fifth, the Bersih rally was essentially an urban phenomenon. It was the inability to attract rural Malays that could explain why non-Malays outnumbered Malays!

In actual fact, examining the Bersih rally from the point of ethnicity does not make sense at all. Thousands of Malays, Chinese and Indians who attended the rally in yellow were merely interested in political change. They attended the rally only with this in mind. They did not go to Kuala Lumpur as Malays or Chinese or Indians.

They went as Malaysians and citizens of the country. It isunderstandable and not understandable as to why some so-called learned persons, like Tunku Aziz (photo), would stoop so low and beyond imagination to provide a racial twist.

Were Chinese, Malays and Indians there to question Malay political power in the hands of Umno? What about the speeches by some prominent Malay leaders? Were they there to question Malay political power?

Let us not question the integrity of Malaysians who took part in the Bersih 4 rally in Kuala Lumpur. Let us not put Malaysians in the familiar and dangerous ethnic pigeon-holes!

It is the inability to capture of dynamics of societal interaction that allows racists and extremists to cast doubts and aspersions against a movement that has sprung up to take Malaysians to a new and more progressive level of thinking, away from the primordial sentiments!

P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.

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