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Friday, April 6, 2012

Why the Need for Bersih 3.0?

By Kee Thuan Chye

THE call to rally has been made. There’s going to be a Bersih 3.0. Those who have been waiting for it are ecstatic.

April 28 is the day, and this time the anti-Lynas group, Himpunan Hijau, will be joining in. It looks like this is going to be more than just about electoral reform. It seems to have gone beyond that. It looks like those who are going to turn up for the rally will be declaring their stand against the Government and its administration of the country.

It’s beginning to seem like a rally to say “no” to Barisan Nasional (BN).

Hardcore anti-BN elements will be there. Those who have been declaring “ABU” (Anything But Umno) will be there. The Opposition will be there. As an ardent supporter of Bersih, I will be there.

But Bersih has mentioned an expected turnout of 500,000, and I wish it hadn’t. That’s a virtually impossible number. Even 100,000 would seem difficult to achieve, although it is planned that the rally will take place simultaneously in cities other than Kuala Lumpur.

The number of people that eventually show up will be crucial. If it is big enough, it will send a clear signal to the Government that the rakyat is not happy with its administration. It may even decide if elections should be called yet.

But if the number falls far short of expectations, it could indicate that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent strategy of ‘bribing’ the electorate with cash handouts has indeed worked, and he can call for elections as early as possible. He will probably laugh all the way to the polling booths.

Bersih 3.0 could indeed be a litmus test of voter sentiment.

So, will people turn up? Will the fervour be as strong as it was for Bersih 2.0, which was partly charged by the heavy-handed measures taken by the authorities to scuttle it?

This time, it is unlikely that the authorities will react the same way. They would have learned their lesson after the severe backlash they received over the Bersih 2.0 rally of July 9 last year.

However, this doesn’t mean they may not employ certain measures to discourage people from attending Bersih 3.0. Already, de facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz has said that Dataran Merdeka, which Bersih has chosen as its protest venue, is not a lawful assembly point.

It’s not likely, though, that this will be of great concern, although it may create a bit of tension because the rally organisers would then have to be called to meet the police to thrash out certain conditions, as has happened in the last few big gatherings since the passing of the Peaceful Assembly Act.

Of greater concern – particularly to me – is whether the middle ground, who form a major part of the rakyat and who are not as gung-ho as the hardcore about going to rallies, will be charged up enough by the new demands of Bersih to take to the streets.

The three new demands are for the resignation of the current Election Commission members; the clean-up of the electoral rolls; and the invitation of international observers to monitor the general election.

To me, the most compelling is the one calling for the electoral rolls to be thoroughly purged of irregularities. The parliamentary select committee (PSC) on electoral reform has recommended that another such committee be set up to oversee the clean-up, but Bersih has called for an independent audit. That certainly makes good sense.

I think Bersih must focus on this as its rallying cry. This will serve well its ultimate purpose for protesting on April 28 – that of ensuring that there will be no fraudery committed by any quarters at the upcoming 13th general election. This must be its theme writ large. If it is persuasive enough to move the middle ground, the latter may come out to march.

Already, the battle to win over the middle ground has started in the mainstream media, which is making the Government look good by providing a rosy picture of the PSC’s 22 recommendations for electoral reform. The Star was quick to shout out on its front page of April 4: ‘Hooray for voters’.

People who access only the mainstream media – and many of these comprise the middle ground – may have been moved to wonder why Bersih is still kicking up a fuss. Consequently, some of them may conclude that Bersih is only trying to cari pasal (find fault).

Bersih must therefore impress on all and sundry that while many of these recommendations are positive, the PSC must clearly specify that some can and have to be implemented before the 13th general election. And unless this happens, it will not be a clean and fair general election.

Bersih must drum it into the rakyat that there is already hanky-panky going on; it must provide solid evidence through a mass awareness campaign.

In keeping with its theme, Bersih must clamour for an impartial investigation into allegations that immigrants are being offered citizenship so that they will vote for BN.

The most important thing that Bersih must make the rakyat understand is that the election process has to be made clean before they next vote. And this may not happen if pressure is not applied on the Government to undertake the clean-up.

For this important reason, we need Bersih 3.0.

Not much time is left before the next general election has to be called. The rakyat must turn up in full force on April 28 if the call for free and fair elections is to ring out clear and loud. Bersih will have to depend on its own initiatives and marketing to make this come about.

Pakatan Rakyat will of course provide support by calling on its members, but this will not give sufficient legitimacy to the cause. It’s true that Pakatan members are also Malaysian citizens and have every right to be part of the rally – and their participation does not make the rally partisan – but the non-aligned citizens are the ones who matter most.

After all, Bersih 3.0 is for them – because it is meant for them to vote for a government cleanly, fairly and properly. If they don’t come out to claim it, what hope will there be for a better Malaysia?

Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians.

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