I am not a member of PKR, DAP or PAS. If you read my previous article, Despues de Revolucion, you will know that I am ambivalent about the viability of a coalition government with conflicting platforms and interests.
Be that as it may, I freely admit to being smitten by the magnetic public persona of Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Who would not be, after a playful jab in the cheek, twinkle in his eye, and personal invitation to intern with Keadilan?
However, at the very same student-dialogue event, I had asked him earlier in the night: “What can you tell us (the youth of Malaysia), who are jaded with local politics, who have witnessed the same sniping and bickering for the past decade – what can you offer us that would suggest a government in the near future with some form of integrity, stability and progress?”
Wily politician that he is, DSAI swerved the question with admirable panache. This troubled me. I declined the invitation to join his revolution. (I had to cover my ass – perhaps more than figuratively – in case Sodomy 3.0 ever arises).
I am kidding Dato’ Seri, please don’t sue.
* * *
Fast-forward a couple of years, and I have returned to the motherland.
Nothing much has changed in the political landscape. Many urbanites of the FB/Twitter generation have become politically aware, but large swathes of the population (in particular, the middle-class Malays: children of contractors and civil servants) remain apathetic toward pushes for reform (even if it is distinct from the Opposition’s Reformasi). This development manifested itself clearly in the aftermath of the BERSIH 2.0 rally this past Saturday. Popping up after every few pro-BERSIH status updates, would be one denouncing the gathering as a waste of government funds (police mobilisation), a nuisance to the general public (roadblocks, lockdown of public transport), an embarassing international advert for our normally peace-loving nation, or simply an Opposition-backed facade aiming to instigate unrest.
Purely from an objective viewpoint, the first three accusations are not the direct result of any actions by the BERSIH congregation. The gross overreaction of PDRM (or rather, their paymasters) toward the BERSIH “threat” in the days leading up to the event was a regrettable “oversight” (more conspiratorial minds would suggest the city lockdown was calculated to instill fear and animosity in neutral non-participants – a move that seems to have done its job). All the roadblocks and closures would have been unnecessary had the authorities not reneged on the original compromise of a Stadium Merdeka rally. Police presence could easily have been cut back manifold. If you do the numbers, the probable attendance and accompanying traffic in and around the area would have been no different than that of any major sporting event. Hardly worthy of FRU mobilisation or hasty conscription of police forces (many of whom seemed fresh faced and barely out of their teens).
Although the events in downtown KL were understandably somewhat overshadowed in the foreign press due to the South Sudanese day of independence (congratulations and best wishes to them), many Malaysians are upset that our generally peace-loving nation is being portrayed in such a negative light on the international stage.
However, there were aspects to the day’s events that television viewers were not privy to. Local camera crews or foreign journalists, intentionally or otherwise, did not capture the essential fact that those gathered were peaceful to the end.
Although I witnessed many heartwarming moments, I will not start a schmaltzy soliloquy about old ladies being tear-gassed, youth of different backgrounds and beliefs linking arms like they were blood brothers, or even the eco-conscious souls gathering bottles and trash left behind. I will leave such anecdotes to #bersihstories and the more sentimental among us.
However, a personal observation that drives home my point occurred as we were about to disperse.
Milling around at the Pasar Seni LRT station, many of those present had just about decided to start the long trek home when mineral water bottles began flying from above. The culprits = Traffic police. Yes, you read that right.
Huddled behind the windows of their quarters opposite the station, uniformed men and women watched us.
And then threw water bottles.
I did not notice if anyone was hit, but, regardless, is it really appropriate, or even advisable for anyone, men entrusted to maintain law and order no less, to physically agitate a crowd of thousands? At least the FRU can claim they were following orders. I feared for what would ensue. Roadworks in the near vicinity meant an abundance of rocks and stones that would have made short work of the barrack windows – and subsequently short work of any credibility of the BERSIH rally as a peaceful event. A half-hidden figure taunted the crowd with a “come hither” gesture.
Angry shouts filled the air, many incredulous at the audacity of the perpetrators. Fortunately a few sane souls, Malay men in kopiah, urged us to leave it be, “Ini semua provokasi sahaja. Jangan layan, provokasi”.
It is unfortunate that Buletin Utama’s bleatings about hidden caches of weapons (conveniently found with BERSIH shirts – reminds me of the Pak Pandir tale: TIADA HARTA KARUN DI SINI!) and their stories of “puak pengacau mengganggu keamanan” is what reaches the ears of most Malaysians. Under absolutely no circumstances was there any sign of violence on the part of the civilians, even under duress (which frankly, still amazes me, considering the size of the crowd and the scale of provocation).
The final, and perhaps most “insidious” accusation that detractors have brought up about the rally is that it has been hijacked by Opposition leaders as a vehicle for DSAI to win the premiership via undemocratic means.
Let’s think about it for a moment.
A demonstration urging freer and fairer elections. Who has the most to gain from election reform? Who will benefit from unbiased media? How is it any wonder at all that the PR leaders are falling over themselves to back BERSIH!
Regardless of Opposition involvement, thousands thronged the streets this past Saturday. Many in the crowd, like me, had no political affiliations. Despite not having an Anwar, a Tian Chua, or a Hadi Awang to lead the procession, we forged ahead. We made a statement, in no uncertain terms, that things had to change.
Whether you are a part of Najib’s “silent majority” or a fervent PAS foot-soldier, whether you believe BERSIH’s success was a step forward for all Malaysians or if you still think it was an annoying waste of time, you have the right to your opinion.
You have the right to congregate peacefully, you have the right to walk the streets of your city, and you have the right to wear a yellow shirt. None of these actions should require roadblocks, transportation lockdown, or the institution of a police state.
As a result of the authorities’ incompetence, what started life as a simple march to hand over a memorandum became much more than that, it became a symbol of the preservation of the rights enshrined within our Constitution.
* * *
When I asked DSAI two years ago what he could offer to the youth of our nation, perhaps I was asking the wrong question to the wrong person.
Bak kata Pakcik Depan Sogo: “Tanya diri kau apa bakti kau kepada negara, jangan tanya negara apa bakti dekat kau”.
The very foundation of modern democracy is the freedom of discourse: each voice must be heard and considered. It is incumbent upon us to preserve this freedom, and use it for the betterment of our nation. As 20,000 rakyat Malaysia showed on Saturday, our voice WILL be heard, charismatic politico at our head or no.