By Henry Loh | Aliran
Of late we only need to scan news sites and local dailies and we are likely to come across news items that highlight that “men have lost their reason”. To express unhappiness over the organisation of Bersih 3.0, we had grown men (ex-army veterans) performing “butt exercises” outside the front gate of Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan’s residence. Their crude and unbecoming behaviour only serves to highlight their level of maturity (or lack of) and remains but a sad reflection of their character.
We have also read about individuals going to the residence of the chief minister of Penang to conduct “funeral rites” while placing a garlanded framed photograph of the CM on the gate of his house. Other examples of such behaviour — the sending of a faeces-shaped “chocolate cake” and the disruption of ceramahs (the throwing of stones and water bottles) — all point towards this unwelcome and alarming increase in irrational, violent and unreasonable behaviour.
The perpetrators of such crude and unbecoming activities have clear intention to harass and intimidate the recipients of their antics. The trend continues and is likely to worsen. The Star (June 21, 2012) reported that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has served a letter of demand to Ambiga and Bersih steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah seeking compensation of RM351,200 for losses and costs incurred during the Bersih 3.0 demonstration in the city centre on April 28, 2012. The letter, signed by DBKL director-general Salleh Yusup, said that Bersih should submit the compensation within two weeks or face legal action. The letter of demand from DBKL is in addition to an earlier suit filed by the government of Malaysia against Ambiga and nine others for RM122,000 over damage to vehicles during the rally.
These acts of harassment will only serve to strengthen the resolve of Bersih leaders such as Ambiga and Maria Chin to continue their struggle for free and fair elections in the country. They and the other Bersih leaders can take comfort in the fact that thousands upon thousands of people came out of their own free will to march on the streets of KL and many other cities in the world to demand free and fair elections. Damage to property could in all likelihood be attributed to the actions of the police, when they used their water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse the Bersih participants, who by many accounts were already making their way home.
To a question raised in Parliament, the Home Ministry replied that a total of 967 tear gas canisters and grenades were fired during the rally. Was it necessary for such an excessive use of tear gas canisters and grenades? According to the Home Ministry, the government spent a total of RM1.8 million as a result of Bersih 3.0. Much money could have been saved if the police force had shown more restraint and stuck to their objective of ensuring that protesters did not enter Dataran Merdeka instead of chasing down protesters who were already far away from Dataran. Indeed if there had been more restraint, damage to property would also have been minimal.
In the case of the Bersih 3.0 gathering in Penang, people came out in the thousands and gathered at the Esplanade. They listened to some speeches, chanted their demands for free and fair elections and then dispersed peacefully — and that too after ensuring that the field was properly cleaned up and free of litter!
The powers-that-be ought to realise that Malaysians are generally peace-loving, caring and concerned individuals. Time and again we have proven that we are mature enough to gather in peace to make a stand on any issue and to behave in a responsible and non-violent manner. Of course, there will be a small minority such as the Perkasa types, who will not hesitate to provoke and cause trouble at gatherings — but they certainly do not represent the majority of civil society.
In the past, the ruling government was fond of referring to the “silent majority” — those who are not members of any NGO or political party. It claimed that the “silent majority” only desired stability and was not prepared to rock the boat. Indeed, this may well explain why the ruling Barisan has been able to dominate the last 11 general elections.
At the 12th general election in 2008, the winds of change started to blow at a much higher velocity and as many as five states fell into the hands of the opposition. (One state, Perak, fell back into the hands of the Barisan when three state assembly members switched their allegiance and supported Barisan instead of Pakatan Rakyat.) The political arena and landscape has changed considerably since the 2008 watershed general election.
With the dawn of the Internet age and the easy availability of information, scandals such as the Scorpenes deal, the National Feedlot Corporation and PKFZ are no longer under wraps and are now public knowledge. Blatant corrupt practices that seemed to go unpunished are now making the Malaysian public sit up and take notice. Malaysians are now more informed, knowledgeable and aware of significant political, social and economic events. Politicians can no longer pull wool over our eyes and expect us to believe that all is well.
The success of Bersih 3.0 is a testament to the power of civil society forces at work. Politicians on both sides of the divide should sit up and take note that their every move, decision and position taken on all significant issues are being monitored and evaluated. Voters will then know how and what to decide when the next general election comes around.
Not surprisingly, many politicians who have for years enjoyed the position, privileges and perks that political power provided are doing their best to maintain their current stranglehold. They fail to see and cannot accept the fact that the electorate has reached a level of sophistication and developed a discerning attitude to stand by what is right and just and speak out against greed, corruption and abuse of power.
Acts of harassment and intimidation are done by those who refuse to see the light. Instead, they hope for the status quo to continue. They certainly do not represent the majority. While they may have allowed their good judgment to lapse and dissipate, I am hopeful and confident that others — the majority of peace-loving, discerning and concerned Malaysians — will nurture and continue to treasure their “voice of reason”. As Ambiga said recently, no one should underestimate Malaysians. Hidup Malaysia! Hidup Rakyat! — aliran.com
Henry Loh is an Aliran executive committee member.