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Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: What does Bersih 3.0 want?

ON 28 April 2012, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) will hold its third major demonstration in the city. On 9 July last year, up to 50,000 protesters took to the streets to demand for clean and fair elections despite heavy-handed government tactics to clamp down on the civil society-led movement.

Supporters during the Bersih 2.0 rally on 9 July 2011. (Pic by Jeremy Choo @ Flickr)

Supporters during the Bersih 2.0 rally on 9 July 2011. (Pic by Jeremy Choo @ Flickr)

Although the government denounced Bersih 2.0 as a dangerous, illegal entity, it eventually set up a parliamentary select committee (PSC) on electoral reform, which tabled its report to Parliament on 3 April 2012.

But Bersih 2.0 remains dissatisfied. Even before the report was tabled, it announced it would hold a sit-in at Dataran Merdeka, dubbing it Bersih 3.0. Why isn’t the movement satisfied and what, really, is its purpose? The Nut Graph asks Bersih 2.0 steering committee member and political scientist Wong Chin Huat to explain.

Bersih 2.0 announced its demonstration even before the Election Commission (EC) had met and discussed the PSC’s recommendations. Is Bersih 2.0 being impatient by not giving the EC a fair chance? And isn’t the setting up of a PSC already a step in the right direction?

The case for Bersih’s sit-in was based on two facts. First, the PSC cannot guarantee thorough electoral reforms before the next general election. Second, more electoral fraud and irregularities continue to emerge during and after the PSC’s operation.

From the PSC report, it is clear some of Bersih’s key demands will not be fulfilled. Crucially, the report was silent on corruption and dirty politics. It did call for long-term EC reform and the setting up of a caretaker government. But there were no concrete measures suggested to penalise and deter abuse of government machinery.

In fact, immediately after the release of the report, cartoons showing (Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) as Superman were distributed in schools, and Barisan Nasional (BN) flags were hung in KTM stations in Selangor. If this is how things are now, how much worse will it get when elections are called?

(Courtesy of The Malaysian Insider)

(Courtesy of The Malaysian Insider)

Most shockingly, voters with the same names and birthdays but slightly different identity card (IC) numbers were found. This suggests cloning or “multiplication” of voters, to allow multiple voting or impersonation

The PSC report did not address this. It did not propose abolition of Section 9A of the Elections Act, which prevents electoral rolls from being challenged in court. How can you expect the electoral roll to be cleaned up when the system’s structural flaws remain? Civil society has submitted detailed proposed amendments to election laws, but the report refused to affirm the right of all overseas Malaysians to vote as absent voters.

The crux is, notwithstanding some good suggestions, the PSC’s recommendations will not ensure a clean 13th general election. Deciding not to waste time talking to the EC is therefore not denying the EC a fair chance. Rather it is about giving Malaysian citizens a fair chance at clean and fair elections so that voters can decide who runs this country when the next general election is called.

How would you respond to allegations that Bersih 3.0 is merely a political ploy of the opposition to garner support before the next general election?

Bersih 2.0 has always adopted a nonpartisan and multipartisan approach, namely that we will work with any party to pursue electoral reforms. If only the opposition parties demand clean elections, we should not question why they support the cause. Instead we should ask, where are the BN parties? Why doesn’t the BN want clean elections? Why doesn’t the BN garner support by implementing electoral reforms?

The EC has said some of the electoral roll’s discrepancies, including the existence of a 149-year-old voter, are because of mistakes in people’s ICs, which is not under their purview. It also said political parties themselves have been responsible for mistakes when they submit voter registration forms. Is it fair to blame everything on the EC?

I would never rule out genuine clerical errors, whether caused by assistant registrars or EC staff. However, the problems with the rolls don’t seem to go away. When complaints are made about fraudulent electoral records, those may be cleaned up but errors turn up again in new guises. We cannot eliminate the problems because new ones are being manufactured daily.

Unless the EC is willing to be transparent and expose those officials involved in these erroneous records, it cannot accuse others of blaming everything on it. The Federal Constitution requires EC members to enjoy public confidence. Can we have confidence with the current team when they make dead people alive and living people dead?

How has the government responded to talk of a rally this time? Have they been more responsive to Bersih 2.0′s aims?

Prime Minister Najib has been unusually quiet on Bersih 3.0. He suffered a severe drop in popularity after the Bersih 2.0 crackdown where six were detained without trial under the Emergency Ordinance and a record 1,667 persons arrested on the same day.

Heavy police presence in downtown Kuala Lumpur on the morning of 9 July 2011.

This time, Najib has chosen to use media blackout instead of police violence to contain the soaring support for Bersih 3.0 from all sectors. However, old habits die hard. This week, Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) and the police rejected our sit-in plan at Dataran Merdeka. DBKL even acted like the police in removing protesters at Dataran Merdeka last week, and a day before the sit-in declared that Bersih 3.0 had become a “security issue”. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has also threatened that police will take the necessary action against demonstrators if they turn up at Dataran Merdeka.

Will DBKL, an unelected entity and an extension of the federal government, employ violence to forcibly remove Bersih 3.0 protesters? Will the police act in the same way they did last year? It depends. The larger the crowd, the safer everyone will be! DBKL or the police will find it difficult to accommodate 50,000 protesters in the lock-up.

If Bersih 3.0 doesn’t have the same turnout as Bersih 2.0, does that mean that previously disenchanted voters are now satisfied with the government’s measures to address complaints about the electoral system? Would it mean that Bersih 2.0′s cause no longer has the same level of public support as before?

Barring police and DBKL obstacles, if our numbers are smaller than or equals last year’s turnout, then Najib can say the public has bought his “reforms” and the EC can boast that the Malaysian electoral rolls are the cleanest on earth.

However, I doubt that is possible. I haven’t come across a single person who went to the Bersih 2.0 rally who has decided not to join Bersih 3.0. Conversely, I have met countless people who missed Bersih 2.0 and vow not to miss Bersih 3.0. Rain or shine, roadblocks or not, they will get as close as possible to Dataran Merdeka.

We have two simple directions to all participants. First, the sit-in starts the moment they get blocked from moving forward. Second, once the police start arresting peaceful protesters, others should turn themselves in. Last year, the police prepared nasi briyani for 1,667 persons. Let’s see if they have ordered enough for 5,000 or 10,000 people this time.

We are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to defy unjust authority. We will not be broken by the force of violence. Instead, DBKL and the police must be prepared to have their authority broken by brave Malaysians who will walk and sit in until they get arrested.

What will be the effect of other causes such as Occupy Dataran, Abolish PTPTN and Himpunan Hijau also converging on Bersih 3.0? Do you think the message of Bersih 3.0 will be diluted?

Not at all. The anti-Lynas group is there as Himpunan Hijau 3.0@Bersih 3.0. We have mothers who believe their children’s future is at stake if politicians are protected by dirty elections. They call themselves [email protected] 3.0. So, any group can be there as part of the national force demanding clean elections. If you have a specific cause to champion, come to Dataran Merdeka on 28 April as “Your [email protected] 3.0″.

Himpunan Hijau rally in February 2012 (Pic by Gan Pei Ling)

Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally in February 2012. All are welcome to join the Bersih 3.0 gathering. (Pic by Gan Pei Ling)

Why is Bersih insisting on gathering at Dataran Merdeka? Why not one of the other venues suggested by DBKL?

Dataran Merdeka is historical and easy to access by public transport. No stadium can beat Dataran Merdeka on this. Getting us to move to Cheras or Titiwangsa would be irresponsible by creating traffic jams in nearby residential areas. How many taxis do you need to ferry 100,000 protesters or more? How many hours of traffic jams can you bring to those areas?

In comparison, as long as the police and DBKL do not put up roadblocks, and coach operators are not stopped from entering the city, traffic will not be much greater than on a normal busy Saturday. And we will bring in millions of ringgit of business to downtown Kuala Lumpur. I hereby urge Najib, the ultimate boss of DBKL and the police, not to sabotage the economy of downtown Kuala Lumpur.

As for Stadium Merdeka, which is in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, how do you do a sit-in in a closed stadium? What happens after the field is full? Do we ask people to sit on the seats? How do people move around with limited entry and exit points?

In contrast, Dataran Merdeka is perfect for a sit-in. People can come and go easily from its four open borders. If the crowd is too big, they can spill over to open spaces nearby like Taman Tasik. Why are they trying to stop us from using Dataran Merdeka, which is logistically superior? Is there a problem with the word “Merdeka” as with “Bersih”?


Political scientist Wong Chin Huat is a Bersih 2.0 steering committee member.  He is also a political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade. If readers have questions and issues they would like Wong to respond to, they are welcome to e-mail [email protected] for our consideration.

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20 Responses to “Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: What does Bersih 3.0 want?”

  1. rindo says:

    Probably they feel guilty and fear of rakyat; if we consider logically, if one party does not do any wrong deeds, what for they block something which is “justice”-ly known to society. Unless the sin and the guilt urge them to do so. Put simply, it’s like a smoker tearing off the “smoking is bad for health” poster. Why? They black out their own conscience and are not willing to listen to anyone.

  2. Abdul Hamid says:

    Specifically directed at Tuan Wong Chin Huat: If/when you specifically said that your think tank and research team has proven with data and details that showed widespread fraud by the government with the EC doing the dirty job, why did you not, as a very concerned and and responsible citizen, take the step of taking the case to a court of law and sue the power out of the present government?

    If/when you won’t do it, your organisation is a fraud and just another rabble rouser out to create chaos!

    • John Smith says:

      Do you not know the situation in Malaysia?
      Do you not know about the Lingam scandal?
      Do you not know our judiciary is controlled and not free?

      Wake up from your dream!

    • PSTan says:

      Did you really read through the article?

      Didn’t you see the following line?

      “Section 9A of the Elections Act, which prevents electoral rolls from being challenged in court”

    • Raz says:

      Well, you can see clearly [what happened] at [the] Altantuya case. What happened to Razak Baginda and Najib? Nothing…Razak Baginda was freed and he continued his Phd in Oxford. Only the two low[-ranking] special police [officers] were put in jail. So where is the justice? Nothing can be done when the whole government, law and police are fully corrupted.

  3. kiai2020 says:

    En Abdul Hamid, at first sight [it is] a good suggestion to sue in court. In reality it is not that easy. It will take a very long time and cost a lot of money… The election is very near, maybe next month [or] June 2012 so dont be so naive..

  4. faaez firdaus says:

    I agree with a lot of the points stated above, however in your case the ends justify the means. DBKL has not acted / use forced unnecessarily on this issue, they’re upholding the law. Dataran Merdeka is under their jurisdiction and its their right to maintain and protect it. In a large gathering of people that are upholding/fighting for their opinion there’s always a risk for chaos to happen, particularly by provocation by stupid individuals. I see this post is more on justifying why bersih should/can be held at a specific loaction, not a fair and balanced look on the issue.

  5. Muhammad says:

    I do not understand the Malaysian people. Look at what they are doing. [...] How come [Datuk Ambiga] is still allowed to live here? I am an Indian who converted to Islam. I have the best of both worlds in my family. In my family, I have Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. We are very happy being together.

    I think that the people in this rally are people who really have nothing to do. PKR members sicken me. [...]

  6. FireTiger says:

    @Abdul Hamid.:

    If our judicial system is impartial, if our police is impartial….then maybe.

    I remembered learning in school there are 3 seperate entities:
    1. the executive (PM and cabinet)
    2. the judiciary system
    3. the enforcement

    When one stays on for so many years, borders become fuzzy, and they clump into one single entity.

    Sue the government? By the time the case is called, the relevant people will be dead and gone.

    Why do people gather for the rally? Simple. Everyone knows that, except for you, except for those in denial, except those who benefitted directly from the dirty deals, except those who were not oppressed…NFC issue not yet settled. Just resigning does not solve the problem.

    Look around you for corruption. It is so rampant that it has become a norm in society.

    Look around for fairness in media be it TV, radio or print. Is there any?

    Why the sudden enactment of the Peaceful Assembly Act? Is the govt so afraid of its people? Maybe they realised suddenly that all the [rubbish] that they have accumulated for 55 years is starting to overflow.

    [...]

  7. dontcare says:

    “Getting us to move to Cheras or Titiwangsa would be irresponsible by creating traffic jams in nearby residential areas.”

    Seriously??? So you think no one lives in the center of KL? Great! I’ve been working outside of KL five days a week, 12 hours a day and now I’ve to cancel my trip home, which is in the heart of KL, because these guys decided to sit-in and do god knows.

    Oh, and my 8 years old nephew cried his heart out because he can’t go to school and missed one of the most important competition in his childhood. Fyi, he got out of the car & beg the police to let him pass the roadblock. Oops, talk about a crashing dream. How do I even explain that to a child? “Sorry kid, your competition is not moreimportant than this political bullshit. They just need to march since diabetes rates are soaring and we M’sians are getting fatter by day. Exercise will do them some good you know. Ok how about we go home and get some ice-cream instead. You’ll never win this competition anyway. Now put down that phone, and stop crying! Your teacher has a life you know!”

    Sorry I’m being sarcastic. Forgive me, I’m young and people don’t take young people’s opinions seriously. True story.

    • Greg Lopez says:

      Hope the 8-year-old kid understands that the future of the nation rests on Bersih 3.0. Otherwise he could be living in a Zimbabwe when he grows up.

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        @ Greg Lopez

        I suppose you are being dramatic in replying to a dramatised comment?

        • Greg Lopez says:

          Not dramatic but stating a fact.

          Because of the past generations’ mistakes, we are where we are now.

          When they killed ordinary Malaysians on May 13, 1969, did we demand for justice? Have those involved in the riots been brought to justice?

          When Operasi Lalang occurred, did we stand up for the rights of those detained?

          When they sacked the Lord President and the five High Court judges, did we demand for justice and the rule of law?

          When billions were siphoned through failed privatisation projects, did we demand for accountability?

          Dontcare, teach your nephew principles, morals and courage, and he will do well in life. Maybe he won’t be successful, but he will definitely be respected.

    • PSTan says:

      You are blaming the wrong party here. You should have questioned the police for blocking you from going to your destination, rather than putting the blame on the Bersih 3.0 sit-in.

  8. The fact is that the assembly was unlawful The fact remains that apart from making allegations of elections that are unfair and not free Ambiga Sreenivasan has produced nothing of substance nor advanced her allegations in court with admissible evidence to support. If she seeks government outside the ballot box and court then she has nothing to gain form the majority who are still not Bersih supporters and perhaps never will be.

    What Bersih and the opposition has done is to create a precedent whereby large groups opposed to them can now gather in Penang and in other opposition states and demand those governments resign. It is the modus operandi Bersih and the opposition have promoted with Guan Eng’s endorsement of the unlawful gathering in the Malaysian Mirror.

    And the Malay [Malaysians] remain in a majority with the rest of the BN groups.

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ Gopal Raj Kumar

      You almost sound like Rafael Benítez with his list of facts.

      Only that you sound more like one of those typical Gomen mouthpieces, “the fact is this”, “the fact is that”.

      I´ll tell you what a fact is: Hishammuddin said that there is nothing illegal about Bersih 3.0. And you can take that back to your masters.

    • PSTan says:

      Please check your facts. It is not that there isn’t fact or proof available to challenge or sue the EC in court. Instead, the existing Section 9A of the Elections [Act] protects the electoral roll from being challenged in court regardless of how much proof one has.

  9. aku says:

    Penduduk Malaysia jumlah 28 juta orang. Habis tu kenapa yang ikut Bersih 3.0 tak sampai 1 juta pun?
    Yang lain-lain penduduk Malaysia dia orang kat mana pula?

    Ada sesiapa boleh terangkan?

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ aku

      Jadi kenape kerajaan yang berkhidmat untuk kita takut Bersih yang tak sampai 1 juta pengikut?

      Kamu boleh terangkan?

  10. khang says:

    When the court issued a ban on Dataran Merdeka, did the court define the boundary? Otherwise it is taken as the field or padang. But how come the barricade extended 50 to 100 metres away [...]? How come people [who] did not step into Dataran were [whacked]?


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