Side Views

Will history repeat itself? — Lim Sue Goan

April 25, 2012

APRIL 25 — Will the Bersih 3.0 rally evolve into another bloody conflict like the Bersih 2.0 rally last year?

Organisers of the rally insist that the rally be held at Dataran Merdeka but the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) does not allow it. A deadlock has formed as both refuse to concede.

The Bersih 2.0 rally was a painful experience. PAS member Baharudin Ahmad collapsed when trying to evade police arrest after tear gas and water cannon were fired by the riot police to disperse the crowd. Eventually, Dr Khairul Anuar Zainun, a forensic pathologist at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL), concluded that Baharudin died of a heart attack.

In addition, there are many other controversies, such as the allegation claiming that tear gas and water cannon were fired into the Tung Shin Hospital compound, which has damaged the police’s image; a total of 1,697 rally participants were arrested, excluding those arrested before the rally was held; road blocks resulted in massive traffic jams and causing shop owners to suffer massive losses; as well as the huge expense of RM2,018,850 to allocate 11,046 police officers to maintain law and order.

The social cost to repress the Bersih 2.0 rally was too high. And it was greatly criticised by the people and condemned by Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). The police should have learned a lesson from it and not let the Bersih 3.0 rally follow the same script.

After the curtain dropped for the Bersih 2.0 rally, I believe that the government has internally discussed the police response and eventually, they chose to allow rallies rather than repress them, and this has led to the formation of the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011.

Under the transformation plans, the government decided to repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) and amend outdated laws. The move also reflects Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak determination to deliver his commitment of creating the most transparent government in history. Therefore, police officers should restrain themselves when dealing with the Bersih 3.0 rally and should not set up road blocks, chase or arrest participants to avoid the government’s sincerity at transformation from being questioned.

Using force to suppress peaceful assembly is definitely not feasible. The BN government must show the international community that it is able to properly handle it to prove that the country is gradually moving towards openness and liberalisation.

It is inevitable for all kinds of political actions to occur before a general election, such as the Occupy Dataran protest.

However, a political struggle must be supported by good reasons and high standards, or it can easily go off track, causing people to get sick of it.

For example, about 1,000 supporters of 18 non-governmental organisations rallied at a stadium in Universiti Putra Malaysia Serdang on April 21 to protest against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestite (LGBT) practices. The next day, a former Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) top leader formed the “Tolak Individu Bernama Anwar Ibrahim” or Tibai (Reject Individual Named Anwar Ibrahim), calling on the people to reject alternative coalition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Tibai sounds like a swear word and it has launched personal attacks against Anwar, as well as Bersih 2.0 co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga. It is suspected to have allegedly discriminated against the gay community, too.

If pro-BN activists want to fight back, it would be better to organise an anti-Bersih rally which is supported with factual and reasoning arguments. Raising issues which lack legitimacy is the key factor of their failure in winning support from swing voters.

The government has been hit by a few massive rallies over the past year and what have the ruling and alternative coalitions, as well as their supporters learned? Are they having a better understanding of what is meant by democracy or becoming more confused? I believe that there would be no answer for the question even after the Bersih 3.0 rally. — MySinchew.com

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.