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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bersih rally an eye-opener: BN loses big, GE-13 now seen in 2012

Sulaiman Kamal | 6:48 AM | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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In the shadow of the Bersih rally, BN sees a haunting presentiment of its own defeat. Yet, in their fear of an Arab Spring spreading to Malaysia, they may have lit the fuse of a Malaysian Spring.

Never before has the regime which has governed for 54 years exhibited such fear. And never have Malaysians risen to occasion as they have today. More than 100,000 thronged the streets of Kuala Lumpur depite knowing that tear gas, chemical-laced water, canings, rubber hoses, jail and bail would be in store for them.
Unnecessary and foolish drama drew world attention
It was only a peaceful rally called by an umbrella group representing 62 NGOs to press demands for free and fair elections but BN has treated it as a naked attempt to overthrow it by force and reacted with paranoia. The high-handed, thuggish and lawless methods used to suppress the rally have left Malaysians with a bitter taste in the mouth.
But despite an intense lockdown of Kuala Lumpur by the police, closure of the city bus and LRT terminals and masses of preventive arrests, the regime failed to stop people from exercising their constitutional right to gather. Tens of thousands of Bersih supporters took to the streets and were met by tear gas, water cannons and wooden batons in shameful scenes that were broadcasted around the world. A rally which would have been tamed by being confined to a stadium has gained the utmost impact by meeting state sponsored repression head to head in the streets.
Najib's weakness exposed
Prime Minister Najib Razak's handling of the Bersih rally has been weak, insincere and inept. One wonders if he was actually in control. After Bersih's meeting with the Agung he declared that he was prepared to meet the organizers and offer a stadium for them to rally. This was soon denied in his usual backpedalling style while the police continued to persecute Bersih supporters. Then the Cabinet announced that no stadium in the city could be used. It was clear that the running scared regime had no intention of allowing the rally to take place whether on the streets or in the stadium.
If Najib had kept his word and graciously paved the way for Bersih to make use of Stadium Merdeka and ordered the police to stop harassing and arresting Bersih supporters he would have scored political points with the public and a moral victory for having forced the gathering off the streets. The sting would have gone out from the public’s anger like air from a balloon and a stadium rally would have limited impact. But he fell back on the only way he and his party knew - using force instead of engagement. Now he is being labeled as shady and disrespectful to the Agung.
Then the police
Does anybody in BN control the police? In giving the police free rein to quell the rally, the men in blue have been a disgrace to their uniforms, arresting any member of the opposition wearing yellow in defiance of known laws, creating unnecessary traffic gridlock and giving the public the impression that their priority is political oppression first and fighting crime second.
Unfortunately for Najib, the police have no inkling of the political damage they are causing BN. But damage there certainly is. Even Umno leaders have admitted that BN has suffered body blows in credibility and goodwill among voters.
In trying to snuff out the Bersih rally, BN used age-old methods which have long ceased to work in a matured, networked and enlightened populace. Demonizing a call for free and fair elections has left the public wondering why BN is so fearful of free and fair elections. Intimidation by the police failed to cow Bersih activists and only serves to outrage right thinking citizens at their partisan actions.
Victory for Bersih
The objective of Bersih to put pressure on the Election Commission and raise political awareness has certainly been met. As Bersih Chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan eloquently put it, "It has stirred a sense of outrage against the exhibition of raw power by our government who live in a time warp, who do not realize that their strategies do not work anymore. You cannot quell our voices, you used the might of the state against the rakyat... it is totally uncalled for." Even more important, she said the rakyat are beginning to feel empowered to make change, despite police intimidation.
The political fallout to BN may cause the general election which is widely expected this year to be postponed to next year as Najib tries to repair the damage. But if there is still no electoral reforms Bersih should organize another rally next year and it should be de-centralized to be held in every major town in Malaysia including Sabah and Sarawak so that the police cannot concentrate their forces in one place. Notice should also be given to the moribund Election Commission to galvanize them to act or see a politically energized rakyat overwhelm the built-in advantages to BN in the next general election.

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