How Bersih torpedoed the cause of electoral reforms

mari bersih bersih.pngThe dust has begun to settle as Kuala Lumpur recovers from being shaken and stirred. 50,000 people took to the streets yesterday, demanding for election reforms. It’s telling that many quizzed yesterday could only name a few of those reforms (there are 8 altogether, for those who need their memories refreshed), but that’s not important. What is was the show of “unity”, the show of a common cause, the show of “right” and how the “might” of the Government was defeated. Great fuzzy feelings all around.

But there are a few things those who support Bersih need to know.

1. 50,000 people do not make the majority. As with any large demonstration, they do make a hell of a noise, enough for the international Press to take notice, enough for the nation to be talking for weeks over the issue. But, it is still a relatively small number. Bersih should not count their chickens until all the eggs are hatched, how many people changed their minds about voting for a “oppressive” Government “opposed” to electoral reforms will only be obvious during the next elections. How many people who once supported the Opposition, but feel disgusted that they have hijacked a good cause and used a good woman as a vehicle to further their position, is also unknown.

How many people who between now and the date of GE13 will change their minds again for whatever reason that might come up. It’s too soon still to tell if the primary impact of the rally yesterday will hold true till the next time voters are asked to visit the polls. A lot of water remains to pass under that bridge, including how both sides react in the aftermath of 9 July.

2. The rally yesterday was illegal. As much as the Opposition say they want the rule of law to prevail, it seems rather convenient that when the rule of law goes against them, they choose to ignore it, then cry foul when the authorities enforce it. No, you can’t have it both ways, i’m afraid. Clause 2 of Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution says that Parliament (through the passing of law) has the right to regulate the freedom of assembly. One law that does exist as a result of Clause 2 is the law that requires permits for assembly. The rally yesterday did not have a permit, and is therefore illegal. By breaking the law to reform the law, it does create an oxymoronic situation of sorts that a clear-thinking person will take pause to consider. 

And in case anyone asks, laws requiring permits for assembly are not unique to Malaysia. New York City, London and just about any major city in the world has the same. It’s about maintaining public order, and safety. Just like their police brothers in KL yesterday, NYC police had to use force to break up an illegal assembly in 2007. See Seoul, South Korea in 2007 when 15,000 riot police were deployed to control 10,000 marchers against free trade.

When Bersih asked for the rickety Stadium Merdeka of 30k capacity to be the venue of their 50-100k rally, what would have been the responsible thing to do? It’s almost as though the request for such a small venue was made in bad faith, calculated to be denied so that Bersih could regain the moral high ground after losing some during the King’s surprise intervention.

No freedom is absolute, that’s a fact often forgotten.

3. Taking into consideration #1 and #2 above, Bersih does not represent the majority and the fact that the rally was illegal, for the Government to agree to the 8 electoral reforms (several of which have absolutely nothing to do with the elections but are more political in nature, some of which the Opposition themselves can’t claim to be free of, see PKR’s recently concluded internal “elections”), would set a dangerous precedent for the future. A slippery slope in the wrong direction. 

The moment any Government allows itself to be blackmailed (“do this or else we take to the streets”), it legitimizes the strategy of the mob. Get the mob onto the streets and the Government will give in. That’s just wrong, no matter how valid the demands. 

Therefore, in retrospect, the Bersih rally was actually counter-productive to the adoption of electoral reforms. By taking to the streets in an illegal demonstration, it virtually guaranteed that the Government needs to take a hard stand against the demands made. Wrap your mind around that.


4 thoughts on “How Bersih torpedoed the cause of electoral reforms

  1. Hi, I am a silent reader of your blog.
    Many of your articles are thought provoking, I have to admint. They deepen my thoughts on certain issues.
    Still they don’t satisfy my need for an answer to all the problems that we are facing now.
    You are demanding things to be in order or proper or lawful. Yeah, in a idealistic context, this rule applies.
    But for our nation who has been run by the same government for 50 years++, you just can’t expect everything to be 100% proper. The rakyat has reached a limit after being a good follower for 50 years++.
    You cannot expect rakyat to be the ‘good guy’ and have to do things in 100% proper way to achieve their objectives when our so called leaders of rakyat are involved in corruption and abuse of power and doing many things not the proper way just to achieve their own personal interest.
    This I don’t agree.
    With this kind of situation, your way of making our country a better place is a bit too idealistic.
    When my adversary is a polite person, I will deal with him politely. When my adversary is a person who doesn’t follow the rules, then I don’t have the obligation to follow the rules too. Some people need this kind of treatment to have them taste their own medicine.
    You can’t expect someone who has been so used with its devillish way to suddenly change 100% when he met with an angel. Our country’s future is too risky to bet on someone like this.
    That’s just my 2 cents without any filters. If anything that’s wrong, please correct me.


  2. Dear John,
    I’d just like to correct, if I may, one small part of your comment. Please stop using rakyat to represent this small part of the people. “The rakyat has reached a limit after being a good follower for 50 years++.” I am a rakyat too, and so are a good percentage others who do not agree with the ways of these few. So please stop talking in our behalf. Please, use ‘we’ instead of ‘rakyat’.


  3. Aizuddin,
    Agree with you that 50k may not be the majority but it’s a start for us (who want electoral reforms) to show the ruling govt that they cannot and should not intimidate the rakyat through their heavy-handed tactics.
    Rallies require permits but Bersih was never given the opportunity to apply for one since it was declared illegal by our over-zealous Home Minister.
    If we have an avenue to voice out our opinions and thoughts in the proper way, I am sure we would. I do not feel that we are in any way, holding the ruling govt hostage to any of the demands since the 8 demands are directed to the EC, which is supposed to be independent of the govt.
    The rally itself was non-violent. Even when the FRU shot tear gas canisters into the crowd and sprayed chemical-laced water. Contrary to the govt’s propoganda, property was not destroyed, chaos did not ensue and the crowd managed to organise itself througout the attacks.
    The question remains as to why did the ruling govt not support the 8 demands for free and fair elections? You say that some of the demands are political in nature but I beg to differ. How can the call to stop corruption and dirty politics be harmful or supportive of any political party? How can the call to clean up the electoral roll be political?
    True, that the Opposition parties did hijack the Bersih cause for their own agenda, but the fact remains that the 50k ppl who attended the rally and the many more (my assumption here based on my experience with my friends) who supported silently from their homes and cyberspace, do want to have free-er and fair-er elections so that our votes count.
    At the end of the day, what the rally has shown me and many of us, is that Malaysians are awesome when united and should always continue being awesome.


  4. The purpose of the rally was to submit the memorandum to Yang DiPertuan Agong on clean election, which could have been passed when Ambiga had the meeting. Let’s not be too naive, ideally, there are no such things as organized, clean and safe rally. Especially when it was expected 100K of supporters to come and join.
    We definitely can’t expect the rakyat to be the ‘good guy’ or rather ‘smart’, that is so true. It doesn’t take a leader to know that, even a fool will know. That should explain why “Reformation”, “Hidup Rakyat”, “Allahuakbar” were shouted all the way. Bersih’s leader knew too well how the rakyat, or let me rephrase, their supporters will behave. They are the real opportunist.
    It was also said that the rally is a non-partisan, but let’s not be naive again, the war cry was hugely made by the opposition parties, namely DAP, PKR and PAS.
    In the name of peace, Bersih 2.0 definitely did not achieve their objective. Oh, maybe they did, to use Bersih’s supporters to make Malaysia looks like a 3rd world country.


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