Practically everyone who is reading this already know about the 9th July rally organized by the Bersih 2.0 coalition, and I believe that many of us were there on the streets that historic day.
I believe that many of us who were present at that rally chose to step out of our houses, abandon our cars, and walk the streets of Kuala Lumpur to stand up for what we collectively believe in. I believe we wanted to send a signal to those in the halls of power that we want our elections to be cleaner and fairer, that we had had enough, and that History is on the side of the rakyat.
Yet when you really think about all the events leading up to that historic day, it seems like so much could have gone awry.
A few days before the rally, I had a quick conversation with a seasoned politician from a BN component party. He conceded that this coalition of NGOs had truly out-maneuvered the government of the day, though not entirely of its own doing. “Barisan has truly outdone itself in how it over-reacted to Bersih 2.0, and the rakyat is seeing this government for what it is – nothing more than a bully!”
(Even till this day, some two weeks later, we see acts of repressive bullying by the federal government continuing – the 6 PSM members including Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar are still being detained without trial under Emergency Ordinance; those found wearing or in possession of Bersih 2.0 t-shirts could have those “illegal” merchandise confiscated; even an article in the 16th July edition of The Economist was censored for its take on the rally!)
Even so, the politician I spoke to felt that some untoward incidences may have taken place on the day of the demonstrations, and that “there may be sacrifices.” A shiver crawled up and down my spine at that very thought, as various scenarios ran through my mind – Could this be a bloody end? Or will that weekend be a new beginning for our nation?
Thankfully, despite the 1,667 arrests on that day itself (and the hundreds in the days preceding it), no deadly acts of violence occurred, and in this instance the veteran party man was thankfully wrong.
Nonetheless, the demonstration marked both ends and beginnings. To an extent, it represented the end of certain myths – that street protests are violent; the constant screeching calls of “berdemo bukan budaya kita”; that May 13 constantly hung like the sword of Damocles. This historic day also marked the beginning of new cultures or attitudes – of taking multi-ethnic Malaysia, even during rallies, as a given; of sobriety and tempered tone in the Bersih 2.0 committee’s responses to hyperventilating state apparatuses; of the idea that Malaysian civil society has come away strengthened and rejuvenated.
But I think that Bersih 2.0 in general and the rally in particular needs to be analyzed more. For one, not all who support Bersih 2.0 are necessarily supporters of the federal opposition. As should be clear by now, the 62 NGOs are clamouring for eight demands that ultimately benefit the people in terms of strengthening the democratic process in Malaysia, and we should not read this immediately as a blanket support of policies or positions held by certain parties.
We have come away from 9th July more sober, more thoughtful, and I do believe more committed to making the kind of changes that will be necessary to get this country back on track – socially, politically, economically.
In other words, Bersih 2.0 marks the maturing of the Malaysian electorate, although the process is obviously far from being complete.
And so, we can only ask, what happens next?
(First appeared in SelangorTimes on 22 July 2011)