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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why Is Perkasa Against Bersih?

By Kee Thuan Chye | Malaysian Digest

MANY people have come to regard Ibrahim Ali as a clown, including Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz. One hopes Ibrahim was just talking like a clown when he recently announced that his organization, Perkasa, would oppose the planned Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9 by staging a counter-demonstration. “That means,” as he himself says, “on that day, there will be confrontation.”

This is militant talk. This is a threat to cause violence. And to add fuel to it, Ibrahim has pledged that in the event of a clash, “I will fight to the end”.

But why would Perkasa want to oppose the Bersih 2.0 rally? The rally has nothing to do with race – it is not demonstrating against Malay supremacy, which Perkasa was set up to defend. The rally is calling for electoral and institutional reform. It is calling for the electoral roll to be cleaned up, postal voting to be reformed, indelible ink to be used at elections, all political parties to be given free and fair access to the media, automatic voter registration, a minimum of 21 days for the campaign period, the strengthening of public institutions, a stop to corruption, and a stop to dirty politics.

Is Perkasa against free and fair elections? Is it against calling for a stop to corruption?

Ibrahim explains: A big demonstration like the Bersih rally, which expects to draw about 100,000 protestors, will cause chaos. It could be like the protests in the Middle East.

Ibrahim thinks people will throw stones, burn cars, and injuries will result like in Tunisia.

History has shown that this was not the case during the last Bersih rally in 2007. About 40,000 people were estimated to have taken part then, but it was an entirely peaceful rally, except when the police fired water cannons and hurled tear gas at the protestors. No one was out to throw stones or burn cars.

This time around, the rally is expected to be peaceful as well, aimed at creating awareness among Malaysians of the need for electoral reform. If no one intervened, including the police, if the permit was granted and the police kept vigil merely to pre-empt untoward incidents, there should be no harm done.

So, what Ibrahim has predicted is unfounded. Besides, his reference to Tunisia is ironic. The protests there actually brought down an unpopular and repressive regime. Is such a positive cause, like Bersih 2.0’s, to be spoken of in negative terms?

In fact, what will cause chaos is the clash that could result if Perkasa and the other NGOs he proposes to co-opt take to the streets at the same time to oppose the Bersih 2.0 rally. What he is proposing to do is the real danger. But Ibrahim knows he can get away with expressing it because he has always been untouched in the past. Many have been the times when he said things that could have caused him to be charged with sedition, but never has he been called to account for them. Last month, he said he would launch a jihad against Malaysian Christians if they tried to usurp the position of Islam, and before that, he had said other things that incited hatred against non-Malays.

It may be that the Government takes no action against him because it considers him a clown, or even a paper tiger. Or it may be that he is actually helping the Government by opposing the Bersih 2.0 rally because the ruling party seemingly does not endorse the idea of free and fair elections. After all, the 2007 rally was partly instrumental in its loss of its two-thirds majority. The ruling party would no doubt be worried that another such rally could dim its prospects at the next general election.

Whatever the reason or reasons, in the context of Ibrahim’s current pronouncement, it looks bad for the Government. Speculation has already been rife that Perkasa is actually affiliated to Umno, that it is the organization to which Umno has outsourced the job of defending Ketuanan Melayu so that Umno is not seen to be racist; now, with Perkasa going outside of its prescribed agenda and raison d’etre as an organization to oppose Bersih 2.0, it appears to be another Government stooge.

In politics, perception often takes ascendancy over reality, so even if is not true that Perkasa is affiliated to Umno, the perception that it is has now been confirmed.

Ibrahim says he is stopping the Bersih 2.0 rally in the name of democracy. This is based on his reasoning that “there are people who do not agree with this rally”. Well, fine. The people who do not agree have a right to express it publicly too. But by the same token, Bersih 2.0 has a right to stage its rally, so stopping it is actually anti-democratic.

He reportedly goes on to say that he is not worried by the expected Bersih 2.0 turnout of 100,000 people because most Malaysians will not accept the movement’s demands. If he’s not worried, then why bother to oppose it? He reasons that since Malaysia has a population of 27 million people, even if Bersih 2.0 were to bring 300,000 to the rally, there would still be 26 million plus who would not agree with it. His mathematics is okay, but his reasoning is clearly faulty and hopelessly warped.

Nazri may be right after all in calling Ibrahim Ali a clown. But even so, if there is a movement going on to campaign for reform, clowns should not be allowed to spoil the party. Especially if they are clowns who might start an unwanted fire.

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