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“428” will go down in Malaysian history as one of the national milestones in the long and arduous struggle of Malaysians to reclaim their democratic, constitutional and human rights promised them when the country achieved Merdeka 54 years ago.
The other recent landmarks of this struggle are:
Firstly, Bersih rally on November 10, 2007 (“1011”) bringing out 40,000 Malaysians in support for electoral reforms.
Secondly, the “Political tsunami” of March 8, 2008 general elections (“308”) which cut down the mighty Barisan Nasional down to size, winning five state governments for Pakatan Rakyat and depriving BN of its two-thirds parliamentary majority.
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Thirdly, Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9, 2011 (“709”) with 50,000 Malaysians braving threats and intimidation, including mass arrests, city lockdown and campaign of demonization against the organizers and participants, in support for clean, free and fair elections.
Fourthly, Bersih 3.0 “sit-in” on April 28 (“428”) with the largest turn-out in the nation’s history – estimated between 200,000 to 300,000 in Kuala Lumpur – with Malaysians regardless of race, religion, political affiliation, region, age or gender uniting in a common cause for clean, free and fair elections.
There are two important lessons from the Bersih 3.0 rally of “428”.
Older generation walked to make up for their past neglect
The first is that the peaceful Malaysian democratic uprising is unstoppable and there is hope for the future of Malaysia when we see Malaysians regardless of race, faith, class, region, age or gender coming out in hundreds of thousands in common cause for clean elections and a clean Malaysian – for it is clear signal that despite the extremist and irresponsible politics of racial and religious polarization of late, there is a growing sense of national unity and oneness among Malaysians which transcend racial, religious, cultural, regional, gender or age differences.
Never before has the country seen so many people, including sexagenarians (between the ages of 60 to 70) and septuagenarians (between the ages of 70 and 80) as well as women and youths coming out of their comfort zone to take a public stand for a common national cause.
The sexagenarians and septuagenarians are not doing for themselves, as they have passed their prime of life, or even for their children who are well-past middle-age, but the next generation to make up for their neglect and failure in the past five decades to take a stand and make a commitment for the national good.
In fact, the outpouring of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians regardless of race, religion, region, class, age or gender is the most impressive demonstration of the 1Malaysia that has been achieved in the country 54 years after nationhood and which the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has made as his signature slogan when he became PM three years ago.
He should acknowledge and celebrate the successful demonstration of 1Malaysia in the “428” Bersih 3.0 rally, but it is testament of the hollowness of his commitment to 1Malaysia Policy that he has completely missed this important symbolism of the “428” Bersih 3.0 sit-in.
Ad the BN still thinks it's enough to be 'glib'
This brings us to the second lesson of the massive “428” Bersih rally – that Najib’s glib talk of government, political and economic transformation are just sloganeering without substance, political will or commitment to “walk the talk” and translate words into deeds.
If Najib is true, serious and sincere about political transformation, that he has learnt the lessons from the disastrous mishandling of the “709” Bersih 2.0 rally causing him to announce a raft of political reforms under the rubric of “Political Transformation”, then the “428” Bersih 3.0 “sit-in” which saw a carnival and celebration of multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural diversity, unity and harmony until 3 pm that day would not have degenerated into a madness of police rampage against peaceful demonstrators through excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of police force, whether firing of tear gas, chemically-laced water cannon or downright police violence and brutality including wanton and completely unwarranted attack on media representatives.
Bersih 2.0 co-chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasan had announced at the Masjid Jamek meeting point at about 2.30 pm the successful holding of Bersih 3.0 rally mobilizing some 250,000 people in support for free, fair and clean elections and called for the ending and dispersal of the crowd. The call for the dispersal of the crowd was also repeated by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who spoke briefly after Ambiga.
The government and police authorities, with all the most expensive and state-of-the art communications system approved by Parliament, would have known of Ambiga’s announcement at 2.30 p.m for the dispersal of the crowd – which make the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of police force, like firing of tear-gas and water cannon, half an hour later at about 3 pm completely unwarranted and unjustified even if there had been a breach of the Dataran Merdeka barricades. Even more inexcusable is the subsequent continued police rampage not only against peaceful protestors but also media representatives.
More brutal and widespread than Bersih 2.0
As the Bar Council in its interim report on Bersih 3.0 today has said, the “police brutality” in Bersih 3.0 is worse than in Bersih 2.0.
These are among the observations of the Bar Council on Bersih 3.0:
> Rally was peaceful until around 3pm when police fired teargas and water cannon.
> Use of force by police without any obvious provocation or cause, was far worse, indiscriminate, disproportionate and excessive.
> Police brutality was more widespread.
> There was concerted effort by police to prevent and stop any recording of their conduct.
> Police fired tear gas directly at the crowd in a way to box in participants rather than to disperse.
> There was retaliatory behaviour exhibited by rally participants against police wrongful use of force.
> Police were observed taunting and mocking the crowd.
> Police responded, stooped when participants threw items at them.
> Police personnel failed to display identification numbers on uniform.
The police rampage at Bersih 3.0 with excessive and indiscriminate use of police force would not have happened if Dzaiddin Police Royal Commission Report on world-class police service had been fully accepted and internalized in past seven years.
In 2005, the Dzaiddin Police Royal Commission of Inquiry Report made recommendations on transforming the Malaysian Police into an efficient, incorruptible, professional world-class police service focused on three core functions to keep crime low, to eradicate corruption and to uphold human rights.
If the Dzaiddin Police RCI report and recommendations had been fully accepted and internalized by the police force in the past seven years, we would have seen a transformation in Malaysia to democratic policing from “regime policing” like colonial times, protecting and upholding the human rights of citizens instead of regarding peaceful protestors as ‘enemies” to protect the regime of the day.
When the police brutality in Bersih 3.0 is even worse than Bersih 2.0, what “political transformation” is Najib talking about?
This is why Bersih 3.0 is testimony of the failure of Najib’s “transformation” promises.