The Bersih march: A brilliant success

Din Merican
Nov 12, 07

At 4pm on Nov 10, thousands of Malaysians converged at Istana Negara to express their concerns over the conduct of elections in Malaysia to our beloved king.

Leading a coalition of opposition party leaders and some 60 civil society organisations, de facto PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP head Lim Kit Siang successfully delivered a memorandum of concern to the king’s private secretary.
My fellow Malaysians, mission accomplished! But the battle continues.
The numbers here matter. The media has reported up to 40,000 were amassed outside the palace. That is close to the truth, but it fails to account for the tens of thousands gathered simultaneously at Masjid Negara, Masjid Jamek, the Central Market, Dayabumi and Sogo.
I would estimate the total number of participants closer to 100,000. Factor the thousands stuck in roadblocks, those would be participants sent home by aggressive police and check points, or dissuaded by the campaign of disinformation launched by the government and the numbers grow even larger.
Not since the days of reformasi has Kuala Lumpur seen such a massive outpouring of popular support for an issue which, at its heart, reflects a profound disenchantment with the incompetent and corrupt practices of the current government.
In 1998 the Malaysian people denounced the unceremonious removal from office and unjust conviction and incarceration of the Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
But reformasi represented more than just outrage over the injustice heaped upon one man. That same injustice that Anwar bore in solitary confinement for six years was inflicted on all Malaysian people of good conscience who suffer from the affects of a corrupt Umno kleptocracy, cronyism and nepotism, and a judiciary beholden to the powers that be.
Outcry of dissatisfaction
Today the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration faces the same outcry of dissatisfaction.
Bersih’s rallying cry was for electoral reform. No more gerrymandered districts. No more phantom voters. Equal access to the media and a cleaning of the electoral role.
But my sense is that electoral fraud was the tip of the iceberg. Why did 100,000 people risk police brutality and the arrogant threats of Umno leaders including the Prime Minister himself?
Perhaps it also had something to do with the crisis in our judiciary? Almost two months after Anwar released the video tape VK Lingam recording, and a few days after Ahmed Fairuz’s involvement was conclusively established the government continues to mishandle the investigation into misconduct. VK Lingam remains silent and Tun Ahmed Fairuz, now retired, has yet to publicly defend his reputation.
What about the massive corruption that has leaked billions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money to the families and friends of ministers and cabinet members? What about the rise in crime and the increase in cost of living?
What about the decrepit state of our national universities? We look across our borders and see nations with whom we were once peers, like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan far ahead of us in terms of national income and FDI inflows and we are enraged.
The ruling coalition has established its vice-grip on business and politics through a combination of fear-tactics, unfair laws, intimidation and good old-fashioned vote rigging.
They thought the people had submitted and so the prime minister could make statement like the one he uttered on Friday night with impunity. How dare the people challenge his authority, the prime minister bragged and barked.
But he miscalculated on two key facts. One is the courage and resolve of Malaysians. It has always been there but has been dormant for a few years. He also underestimated the organisation and the strength of the opposition.
National heroes
So I say to the prime minister, how dare we? How dare he? How dare he allow the police to shoot innocent civilians with chemical agents and arrest citizens at Masjid Jamek for exercising their democratic right to peaceful assembly.
We have had enough. Give us one free and fair election and we will clean house.
I extend my deep and sincere appreciation to the organisers and the volunteers who should be heralded as national heroes for their diligent work in making this event a reality.
I must also thank the majority of the officers and men of the Royal Malaysian Police and the battle ready Federal Reserve Units. They were generally helpful and patient as they truly showed that they were well disciplined and sympathetic to the Bersih movement.
Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan and his colleagues who threatened a show of force could take a few lessons from their underlings who understand the proper way to treat their fellow brothers and sisters.
On Sunday we rest and we reflect but our repose should not lull us into a false sense of security. The pendulum is swinging in our direction and we must double and triple our efforts. Our opponents are confused. Their tactics are failing and the edifice upon which they have built their golden palaces is falling apart, first brick-by-brick, but now in large chunks.
The thunder and rain were an appropriate backdrop for the Nov 10 event. Thunder – the unitary voice of diverse Malaysians coming together in the nation’s capital to call for one simple thing – change before calamity, change for dignity.
The rain as we all know symbolises rebirth, purity, and a cleansing. That is precisely what Malaysia needs. A rebirth that will connect us once again to the core principles of justice, freedom and equity envisioned by our founding fathers, and a clearing away of the rot which has crippled our nation.