Fauwaz Abdul Aziz (mkini)
Nov 10, 07
Despite attempts to spook the public from participating in the Bersih rally, 40,000 people turned up today in the largest show of force since the reformasi protests a decade ago.
The crowd – initially in the thousands – arrived unexpectedly early at 3:20pm outside the gates of Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur. This was because they were unable to congregate in Dataran Merdeka as originally planned given that the venue was sealed off by the police.
Bersih – a coalition of five opposition parties and 67 non-government organisations – had a 5pm appointment with a representative of the King to hand over a memorandum pressing for electoral reforms.
By 3:30pm, the crowd outside the palace had reached about 40,000 – there were people packing the six-lane Jalan Istana highway and the line was more than a kilometre long.
Most had arrived from the direction of Masjid Negara and Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman led by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy, Nasharuddin Mat Isa.
The situation became tense when the protesters came face-to-face with a wall of more than 100 Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) members along the Jalan Istana highway. Behind them were two trucks with water cannons aimed at the crowd.
Hundreds of other security personnel in police and riot uniform – some armed with automatic rifles – stood battle-ready outside the palace.
Visibly agitated by the yellow sea of humanity, senior police officers urged PKR secretary-general Khalid Ibrahim, his PAS counterpart, Kamaruddin Jaffar, and PKR vice-president R Sivarasa to hasten the submission of the memorandum.
5pm the deadline
Brickfields district police chief Sulaiman Junaidi repeatedly warned Bersih leaders that they would forcibly disperse the crowd as chants of ‘Hidup Rakyat!’ (Long live the people) reverberated in the air outside the palace gates.
“The memorandum is not with us,” Kamaruddin told reporters. “It is with the convoy carrying (PKR de facto leader) Anwar Ibrahim, PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Abdul Hadi’s aide Syed Azman Syed Nawawi.”
“Just five minutes. They are stuck in traffic,” Khalid pleaded with the cops as two police helicopters hovered above.
A few minutes later, shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) were heard as Anwar arrived.
He was riding pillion on a 500cc superbike after the car he was in got stuck in traffic. He joined DAP leaders Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng in front of Istana Negara.
After a brief exchange of words, the 10-member Bersih delegation handed the memorandum through the grill of the palace gates to a representative of the King.
Reporters, however, were kept from entering the area to witness the handing over of the memorandum to the King’s representative.
In addition to calling for changes in the electoral system, the memorandum also conveyed the coalition’s concerns over the problem of corruption, the crisis in the judiciary and the erosion of public confidence in the police force to the King, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin.
Ugly confrontation avoided
“This is a historic occasion,” Nasharuddin later told Malaysiakini.
Meanwhile, Kit Siang described the event as “a success. “It sends a clear message to the government,” he said, referring to the need for electoral reform.
When the delegation emerged from the palace gates, more shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and ‘Daulat Tuanku!’ (Long live the King) were heard.
It was 4pm, and the organisers immediately urged the crowd to disperse.
Relief was clearly written on the faces of Bersih leaders and the police for they have both avoided the potential of an ugly confrontation. But the rally ended too early for thousands more who were still marching from downtown Kuala Lumpur to Istana Negara.
Organisers hail banned rally a success
Fauwaz Abdul Aziz (mkini)