Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bersih 2.0 - who's the real loser?

Most activists have viewed the latest developments concerning the Bersih rally in a positive light, claiming that the Barisan Government had backed down by allowing the rally to be held in a stadium instead of on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

On Sunday, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin had issued a statement that street demonstrations bring more bad than good to the country although the original intention is good. "Instead, we should focus on our main objective to develop this country, and not create problems that will cause the country to lag behind," the King said.

At the same time, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Bersih could hold its rally in a stadium - and the Bersih rally organisers later accepted the offer after a meeting with the King.

Najib had said: “Go on assemble in the stadium and yell until you're hoarse. Do it. It's okay, it's not a problem."

While many activists claim the Government had backed down and made itself look ridiculous by 'recognising' and 'legitimising' Bersih so soon after having banned it by offering it the chance to hold a rally in a stadium, I view it differently.

I shall take a contrarian view on the matter. 

The victor, in fact, is the Barisan Nasional government and it is Bersih who was forced to back down. And the Pakatan Rakyat leaders, who had previously loudly expressed their all-out support for the rally, seem to have suddenly lost their voices.

Bersih was, from my point of view, out-manoeuvred by Barisan.

The King made a statement advising against holding the rally which put Bersih in a spot - if Bersih had gone on to hold the rally on the streets on July 9, it would have been seen as an insult to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and this matters a lot to the Malays. PKR and PAS would then find it hard to explain why they insulted the King to their Malay supporters.

Then Najib offered an alternative venue - a stadium. Activists have interpreted this as a sign of the government backing down.

But I interpret it as a master stroke by Najib. Read his statement again - “Go on assemble in the stadium and yell until you're hoarse. Do it. It's okay, it's not a problem."

He's telling the activists to "yell until you're's not a problem". In other words, activists can shout and scream till they are hoarse (or until the cows come home) and it's not a problem (because it is not effective at all).

By holding the rally in a stadium, the 'CNN effect' is gone. Photographers, videographers and TV cameramen from local and foreign news agencies had already been planning where to be stationed along the streets of Kuala Lumpur for the best angles.

TV audiences love footages of street battles, of tear gas canisters being fired and protesters picking up the smoking canisters and throwing them back at the riot police. People love the blood and gore. They love the scenes of riot police charging at protestors with their shields and batons. They love the scenes of riot police kicking protesters lying on the streets. If there are women and children injured, the shock value is even higher.

Water cannons being fired, protesters fighting for clean and free elections, the roads of the capital city all jammed up, hundreds of thousands of people dressed in yellow fighting for democracy and freedom - all these make for good TV coverage.

People shouting till they are hoarse in a stadium? Well, the regional TV stations may air a few seconds of it. TV stations in countries further away from Malaysia would not even bother to air such footages. After all, where's the drama?

And that indeed encapsulates the entire Bersih 2.0 rally issue - where's the drama?

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