KUALA LUMPUR, 30 April – The time has come for the political and NGO factions in the country to move on from the aftermath of Bersih 3.0 and face the real issues surrounding the forthcoming 13th general election.
Bersih 3.0 can be seen as a win-win situation for both the opposition grouping under Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and the ruling BN government. The BN government headed by prime minister Najib Tun Razak for the first time displayed its true resolve in allowing a peaceful assembly in line with the latest statutory reforms it has introduced in the country. The government even offered four alternatives to Bersih organisers to hold their peaceful sit in protest.
The only contention of the BN government was that it cannot allow the peaceful protest to be held at the chosen venue, Dataran Merdeka, because of security reasons and the refusal by the owners Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur. However, the Bersih organisers refused to budge from their stand although they could have easily accepted the alternative venues which were much larger and equally centrally located such as Stadium Merdeka.
Even in western nations where protests and peaceful gatherings are the norm of the day, the police usually will have the final say on the location of such protests and the street venues for rallies, taking into consideration factors such as security measures and inconvenience to public.
Until the end, the government never said ‘NO’ to the Bersih sit in and never banned bersih movement as in previous occasions. They only said that the sit in protest cannot be held in Dataran Merdeka. This is a far cry from previous BN administrations when such rallies and assemblies were banned right from the beginning.
Such liberal moves by the BN government have displayed its resolve and will in seeing political and democratic changes in the country and shows the people that the BN government is prepared to listen to the voices of public and is prepared to amend its ways accordingly.
Opposition’s attempt to derail Najib’s reforms
It is clear that right from beginning Bersih 3.0 was hijacked by opposition parties and the Bersih organisers headed by Datuk Ambiga Seenivasan were clearly exploited by the opposition leaders. Needless to say Bersih 3.0 could not have gathered such a large number people without the backing of the opposition parties.
In this context, it is clear that Bersih 3.0 is another attempt by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat to derail the reforms plans put in place by prime minister Najib Tun Razak, fearing that it could spoil their chances to capture Putrajaya.
Najib has systematically introduced or amended various laws to pave way for democratic reforms and for the people to have more freedoms. This change of approach by the BN government is clearly winning praises from the people and the opposition expects this dramatic change of approach by the BN government to win more votes for BN.
Therefore, Bersih 3.0 comes in at a time to reduce the impact of Najib’s reforms and to tarnish the image of BN government and to show that there is no freedom of assembly as in fact promised.
However, the opposition has fallen into its own trap, looking at the violent incidents that took place during Bersih rally which were clearly in violation of our laws. The incidents have shown the country that the true intention of the rally was to cause problems by provoking the police so that the organizers could next ride on issues such as police high handedness and brutality.
The people who gathered were not sitting down to protest but in fact were only interested in breaking the police barriers to enter into Dataran Merdeka. The crowd could have easily sat down at the spots where they gathered to show their intention of the assembly but they did not do this.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyideen Yassin has also accused Ambiga Seenivasan for stoking tensions and provoking such untoward incidents and has warned that Ambiga should be held responsible for what happened. Ambiga now seems to have been trapped into opposition’s game plan and political ploy.
At the same time the mammoth Bersih 3.0 rally, estimated to have attracted between 50,000 to 100,000 people has also shown that the opposition is not to be underestimated and still has the strength and support to amass such a huge gathering despite court orders and the police cordoning of roads leading to Dataran Merdeka.
Two messages have been clearly conveyed by the participants of Bersih 3.0. First is their unhappiness about the electoral reforms and the role of the election commission. Second is the Lynas Plant issue, to which there were many opposing placards and banners. Showing such displeasure to a project in a rally called primarily in support of electoral reforms is something the government should take note of and react.
The time has come for the government to seriously review the Lynas issue and make the necessary decisions however difficult it may be. If not, Lynas could crystallize into a major set-back for the government and the issue may over-shadow other convincing reforms the BN government is embarking upon.
Bersih 3.0 could not have succeeded without the support from the opposition parties within Pakatan. Therefore, Bersih 3.0 has also displayed the might of opposition and that it is still intact and enjoys the support of a sizable population.
Therefore, it is an eye-opener for the BN government not to take things for granted. The BN government should seriously consider expediting electoral reforms to meet the aspirations and expectations of the people, failing which the unhappiness of the people towards electoral reforms would be translated into votes against BN candidates in the forthcoming GE – 13.