IF we were to believe everything the Barisan Nasional (BN) is saying about Bersih 3.0, the movement for free and fair elections is indeed problematic in several ways.
According to BN elected representatives, the planned 28 April 2012 sit-down protest at Dataran Merdeka, known as Bersih 3.0, is “unnecessary”. It has been hijacked by, or is in collusion with, the opposition coalition of Pakatan Rakyat and is manipulating the issue of free and fair elections for other agendas.
Perkasa goes as far as to claim Bersih 3.0 is inspired by “foreign powers”. Bersih 3.0, like Bersih 2.0 last year, is also going to be disruptive and should be held indoors. One BN Member of Parliament even charged that those who choose to demonstrate are “people who have lost their minds”.
Are any of these claims about Bersih 3.0 true? How can the rakyat judge for themselves if the BN’s description and analysis of the movement is accurate? And what do these claims tell us about the individuals or groups behind these disparaging declarations of the Bersih movement?
Hijacked and infiltrated
Likely the most damaging criticism of Bersih is that it’s being used by the opposition for their own ends, namely to topple the BN government.
Perception is everything. It clearly didn’t help when the leaders of Bersih 2.0 appeared in a press conference together with PR leaders just before they attempted to march on 9 July last year. It also didn’t help that during the Bersih 2.0 rally, several key PR leaders were seen negotiating with the police on behalf of the throngs who were trapped by police and FRU trucks in several areas in Kuala Lumpur.
Still, are these evidence that Bersih is an extension of the PR and is doing its work to rally citizens against the BN?
The truth is, there is evidence that the Bersih leadership isn’t the PR’s lackey. A most convincing proof for me is the way Bersih co-chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan so immediately and clearly put Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his place last year when the politician attempted to suggest that he had influence over the civil society-led movement.
Politicians such as Anwar will, no doubt, attempt to piggyback on and co-opt successful people’s movements in their bid to wrest Putrajaya from the BN. And that is not something that any Bersih 2.0 leader can necessarily control.
What matters isn’t what the politicians attempt to do. What matters is how Bersih, which was specifically re-launched as Bersih 2.0 in November 2010 to be independent of political parties, responds to these attempts.
So far, I’m convinced by the response and actions of Bersih 2.0’s leadership that the movement is not dancing to the PR’s tune. And without any evidence that Bersih 2.0 is taking orders from or beholden to “foreign powers”, we should be able to identify a red herring when one is thrown our way.
Proof in the numbers
No matter who supports Bersih 2.0 and now Bersih 3.0, the proof that there is a need for citizens to express their dissatisfaction with the current electoral system is in the numbers.
BN politicians can declare all they want that the 28 April sit-in is unnecessary, or that Bersih 2.0 should be patient while the Election Commission attends to the recommendations by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms. The fact is, the PSC’s recommendations aren’t good enough, not when the evidence is piling up that our electoral roll needs to be cleaned up and integrity returned to the electoral system.
The EC has also been bewilderingly reticent about being pro-active in ensuring free and fair elections. In fact, the EC has been complicit in gerrymandering that has benefited the BN and diminished the equality of each person’s vote. Hence, Bersih 3.0’s call for the EC to resign unless it takes measures to restore the public’s confidence in the agency.
I am constantly reminded of poor manners and sulky behaviour every time the BN says Bersih 2.0 has been infiltrated by the federal opposition. The truth is, Bersih 2.0 has opened its doors to all individuals, including the prime minister, organisations, and political parties who believe it is time to reform our electoral system.
The way the BN is acting right now is akin to guests who choose not to attend a party they have been invited to. And when others take up the invitation and start to benefit from being at the party, these uninterested guests start complaining and accusing the host of being puppets of the guests who turned up.
Really, what’s stopping the BN from joining the party? It could have just as easily ensured that the PR wasn’t the only coalition benefiting from the popular support Bersih 2.0 is enjoying. And yet, it chose to stay away from the 9 July 2011 rally. Not only that, it treated Bersih 2.0 with an iron fist for hosting the cause for free and fair elections.
It’s no surprise, then, that the only reason I can think of for the BN not wanting to associate with Bersih 2.0 is that the coalition does not support the call for free and fair elections. And that’s nobody’s doing except the BN’s. One just wishes the BN would have the honesty to say what its real problem is with Bersih 2.0 and the planned sit-in in Dataran Merdeka, rather than cast aspersions that attempt to distract from the real issues at hand.
Yes, in the days to come, the PR will ramp up its support just as we can expect the BN and all other state apparatus to disparage and cast doubts on Bersih 3.0. And yes, at Bersih 3.0, the PR’s presence will be visible and photos will show the movement’s leaders with those from the opposition coalition.
In many ways, that will be inevitable because of the way Malaysian politics is.
It will also be inevitable because few have the experience, resources and skills to manage large street demonstrations. The reality is, without the help of political parties like PKR, the DAP and especially PAS, it would have been near impossible for Bersih 2.0 to have ensured that last year’s 9 July rally was as peaceful as it was, police action notwithstanding.
Likewise, the organising expertise of these political parties will prove useful again in Bersih 3.0 unless the police and the BN administration can be trusted to ensure a smooth and safe sit-in in Dataran Merdeka.
Hence, in my opinion, seeking help from these political parties is a responsible choice, especially when in the past, the state and non-state actors have shown every indication of threatening violence, and with impunity, against peaceful citizens.
Thus, the question is, when the BN says that Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0 have been hijacked by the opposition, are we smart enough to see beyond these simplistic declarations? Or will we let the state dictate to us which causes are worth supporting?
Jacqueline Ann Surin thinks it’s rich of Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to tell the Bersih 3.0 organisers that its 28 April rally must be conducted peacefully. Over the past few months, Umno and Perkasa supporters have been the ones threatening and using violence against peaceful ceramah and rallies.