The 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.