In all the furore over a peaceful rally for clean, free and fair elections, Malaysians must carefully separate the wheat from the chaff, observes Cuci-Cuci Malaysia.
Prior to the Bersih 2.0 event, both the alternative and the mainstream media were abuzz with news of arrests, detention and the use of repressive laws such as the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance and police crackdowns on various groups to avert alleged chaos in the country.
There have also been reports that citizens are making police reports against the Bersih 2.0 rally on 9 July. In the run up to the event and a looming general election (the date has not yet been disclosed by the government), loud rumblings could be heard from the authorities, police, and civil society. The nation, seemingly, was on the brink of erupting into public disorder.
Arrests and raids
Most of this rumbling, however, grew louder with the sudden arrests of groups of political and social activists from 25 June. Despite this, many more apparently joined the ranks of Bersih 2.0 supporters declaring their stand by wearing and buying more of these ‘effective’ yellow T-shirts. Seeing that the arrests only served to attract more support, the authorities and police decided to out-law these yellow T-shirts ( or any yellow-coloured outfit). Not only is this laughable but certainly absurd, but what can we expect of authorities who like producing ‘sandiwaras’ to deflect public attention from the real fundamental issue of electoral reform.
When this still did not stop the Bersih rumblings, the police resorted to heavier handed methods like threatening to break into the Bersih 2.0 secretariat if they didn’t allow the police to ransack and confiscate (without a warrant) office equipment and rally paraphernalia.
Prior to that 30 members of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) were arrested and detained on a serious but spurious charge of reviving the now defunct Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and waging war against the King, simply by having T-shirts bearing images of famous historical communist leaders, Bersih 2.0 pamphlets, “Udahlah…saralah” campaign leaflets, flags and banners in their possession. So, these were also considered illegal, apart from the act of being passengers on a bus involved in a roadshow. The bus driver and his seven-year-old son were also arrested for reasons unknown.
Finding that support for those arrested and detained had not ebbed, the authorities and police went on to wield the threat of using the ISA, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, ultimately ‘hitting’ the PSM with the Emergency Ordinance. It looks like the BN fears the colour yellow, a few pamphlets, banners, flags and T-shirts. Earlier, in the year, they were threatened by a cartoonist who coined the word ‘cartoonophobia’; he was also arrested for publishing a new book of political cartoons for public amusement.
Interspersed with all these police efforts were the anti-Bersih organisations mainly Perkasa and Umno Youth with a rag-tag following of pro-Umno-BN organisations. One hesitates to call them civil society organisations as the sporadic protests they hold are far from civil.
Ibrahim Ali, the prominent mouthpiece of this group and Perkasa chief, has made several public statements to the effect that there will be trouble unless Bersih 2.0 terminates its plan to hold a rally for clean, free and fair elections. The police may have made token efforts to call him and others from this group for questioning. But it is clear that they who threaten violence and even bloodshed are merely given a ‘slap on the wrist’ for attempting to aggravate the situation by inciting conflict.
Ibrahim Ali, who publicly threatened Chinese Malaysians by ‘advising’ them to “stock up on food” as “anything could happen” denied this was a threat. He also appeared to deny the overtones of a ‘May 13’-type threat that the BN regime has habitually brought out in every pre-election period. Ibrahim Ali and his gang have uttered words like “fight to the end (lawan habis-habisan) to stop the rally if the organisers insist on taking to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on 9 July”. At the same press conference he said, “(If they proceed) there will be a clash (pertembungan). If that happens, it is for the better.” Looks like Ibrahim Ali wants this to happen.
He goes on to mention instigating a ‘jihad’ against the Bersih 2.0 peaceful protesters and seemingly predicts an orgy of destruction,”I cannot imagine, when they bring a big crowd and start throwing stones, burning cars…Perkasa will go down to make sure we stop (the Bersih rally),” he said.”
Subsequently, Perkasa engaged in the numbers challenge, boasting that the anti-Bersih 2.0 protesters could number 100,000 to Bersih 2.0’s anticipated 200,000. But reports of numbers of those turning up remain ambiguous, as Ibrahim Ali shows reluctance in stating a definite number of anti-Bersih expected, “Malaysia has around 27 million people. Say Bersih gets around 300,000, there are still 26 million more Malaysians.”
To make matters worse, Perkasa went on to threaten trouble amongst Malays, since the Malay community forms the majority of the 27 million Malaysian population – a section of whom support PKR and PAS. Ibrahim Ali predicts a Malay civil war.
Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa are not the only scare-mongers around. Bayan Baru MP, Zahrain Hashim of the so-called ‘Independent MPs Caucus’ talks about having a “pre-emptive strike” before the Bersih 2.0 rally could take place on 9 July. Zulkifli Nordin, the MP for Kulim Bandar Baru, from the same caucus, claimed that the Bersih 2.0 rally was politically motivated by Parti Keadilan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim to deflect attention from his sodomy trial.
Similar warnings by BN component parties are echoed across the water in East Malaysia. Deputy Foreign Minister Richard Riot Jaem told Sarawakians to “stay away” from the Bersih 2.0 event as “it could lead to bloodshed”. He went further, citing the anti-Mubarak protests in Egypt and other mass protests taking place in the Middle-East that turned violent.
Whether these fears are real or exaggerated is open to question. Knowing the peaceful nature of most Malaysians, it is doubtful that uncalled-for riots will occur unless intentionally sparked.
Ibrahim Ali was called in for questioning by police to answer to sedition charges but was not arrested or detained despite his insistence on making negative and impliedly threatening remarks against the Coalition for Clean, Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) and the public who wished to join the rally to urge the government to reform the electoral process.
There have been very few arrests by police and no serious charges brought against such far-right incendiary groups whose speech contains terminology so obviously explosive to public order and peace. Their sole purpose seems to be to maintain the current status quo and political environment at any cost.
These ‘batu-api’ groups attempting to hold the people to ransom are still freely roaming the streets. Their latest ploy was to bring Ambiga Sreenevasan’s loyalty to Agong and the country into question by calling for the withdrawal of her citizenship. If that is not slander, then what is?
Calm and composed
In contrast to all this aggressive posturing by the anti-Bersih crowd, Ambiga, as spokesperson for the Bersih coalition maintained a calm composure, assuring the authorities, police and ‘rakyat’ that the Bersih 2.0 event would be peaceful. The coalition intended to peacefully present a memorandum on election reforms to His Majesty the Yang DiPertuan Agung at Istana Negara on 9 July.
We heard no threats of riots or any other kind of trouble, no aggressive or violent words uttered by any member of Bersih 2.0, no bargaining with the opposing side, and no foul or vulgar remarks from Bersih.
Ambiga herself has not levelled any personal attacks on anyone, even those who have launched personal attacks on her. Instead, she has made efforts to dialogue and discuss problematic aspects of the anticipated rally with police and other authorities. She also sought an audience with the His Majesty the YDP Agung when the situation appeared deadlocked, necessitating His Majesty’s intervention.
In all the furore over a peaceful rally for clean, free and fair elections, Malaysians must carefully separate the wheat from the chaff or else be completely misled and misinformed. The question here is, who are the people scaring the ‘rakyat’ for their own ends?
The electorate must decide now and take a stand as the future of our country depends on the choices we, the rakyat, make at the next polls.
Cuci-cuci Malaysia is the pseudonym of a regular contributor to Aliran.