Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bersih 2.0: Malaysians not meek anymore

The Bersih 2.0 rally that took place in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday has shown glaringly that Malaysians are no longer afraid to express themselves.

Despite the police setting up checkpoints, locking down the city centre, accusing Bersih supporters of reviving Communism, arresting Bersih supporters even before the rally, banning the leaders of Bersih and Pakatan Rakyat from entering the city centre and even shutting the main bus terminals, tens of thousands of Malaysians - of all races - somehow or other made their way to the centre of Kuala Lumpur to fight for clean and fair elections.

Tear gas and water cannons were fired at the protestors in several spots and there were lots of 'CNN moments' for the TV audiences in Malaysia and overseas. Simultaneous Bersih demonstrations were held in other cities in the world.

Though the Barisan Nasional government downplayed the protest by insisting that only 6,000 (I do not know why the police like this number as it is often used after large demonstrations) people turned up, the photographs all over Facebook, blogs, online news sites and the videos on YouTube reveal that tens of thousands turned up and that the official figure is pure fiction.

The Barisan Nasional government and police must realise that Malaysians are not stupid anymore - they no longer believe the so-called 'facts' and 'figures' that are published in the mainstream media.

Insisting only 6,000 turned up while the photos and videos show otherwise would only serve to turn Malaysians more cynical and make them view the mainstream media as the funnies.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his underlings must now take note with great seriousness that tens of thousands of Malaysians showed that they are not afraid anymore to fight for what they think is right, they are not afraid anymore of high-handed police methods, they are not afraid of the tear gas and water cannons, they are not afraid of fighting against repression.

And though some newspaper reports had it that it was a very Malay protest, there were lots of Chinese among the protestors. There were lots of Indians too. Indeed it was a 1Malaysia kind of demonstration.

The Barisan government must now find out why normally-meek Malaysians have become brazenly defiant, why they are willing to fight for ideals and why they are willing to be arrested or punished for exercising their Constitutional and democratic rights.

The world has changed. Malaysians have changed, but their government seems to be stuck in the old ways of doing things.

Instead of constructive engagement, the government has resorted to the old high-handed ways of suppression, of using water cannons to clear the way for the leaders to steamroll their way of doing things over Malaysians and to stuff their decisions down the throats of Malaysians.

But Bersih 2.0 has shown that Malaysians are able to spit out what the government has tried to stuff down their throats and opt for something more palatable.

If Najib continues to live in denial, I fear he may be making the same mistake that the Badawi administration made. The former Prime Minister did not engage with or tried to solve the issues concerning the Malaysian Indians after the Hindraf protests and did not bother to change things after the first Bersih rally and did badly in the general election of March 2008.

Will history repeat itself? Will Najib lead Barisan Nasional to worse results in the next general election?

There is still time for Najib to change things, but he must first acknowledge that there are many Malaysians (not just 6,000) who are unhappy with the Barisan government and its policies (and not just the way elections are held) and he must then take the bull by its horns and find amicable solutions to the various issues.

Otherwise, the increasing cynicism and discontent - and rising boldness - of Malaysians of all races will surely affect the results of the next general election.

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