Lee Min Keong
Jul 11, 11
Despite weeks of threats and intimidation over the Bersih 2.0 rally and a massive operation to lock down Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, my wife and I joined tens of thousands of Malaysians from all walks of life to give the government a simple message – give us free and fair elections, true democracy and a better future for our children.
Walking down traffic-free downtown Kuala Lumpur near Petaling Street at about noon, I see people representing a cross-section of Malaysian society congregating, patiently waiting for the Bersih rally to start.
I bumped into several friends along the way – a CEO of a trading company, a senior insurance agency manager and the head of a company secretarial services firm. They told me it was the first time they were joining any form of public protest or demonstration.
I wondered why they, like me, were willing to temporarily leave the comfort of our upper middle-class existence and participate in an event which has been declared illegal by the government.
To risk getting caught up in the crossfire of tear-gas launchers, water cannons, baton charges by the FRU and the indignity of arrest in public was something quite unthinkable not too long ago.
However, they all expressed the same sentiments – dismay and disbelief at the government’s irrational and heavy-handed response against a coalition with a perfectly noble objective. Isn’t having free and fair elections the legitimate right of the people?
Are we now living in a dictatorship that we no longer have the right to wear T-shirts, shoes and drive cars of a particular colour? they asked. In short, they were now willing to take the risk, and perhaps pay a price, to reclaim the rights of Malaysians which have been steadily eroded over the years.
One key lesson from the Bersih 2.0 rally is that many Malaysians are no longer afraid and cowed by an authoritarian government.
I can see that when young adults, college students, professionals, housewives and even retirees of all races are willing to stand up to police strong-arm tactics, choking clouds of tear gas, bursts of chemically-laced water, and even arrest.
Close to 1,700 people were arrested, according to police. It must be a new Malaysian record for Prime Minister Najib Razak. Even during the dark days of Operation Lallang under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, only about a couple hundred people were detained.
It’s BN’s turn to fear
Thomas Jefferson, one of the drafters of the US Declaration of Independence, said: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
For the BN government, that must be an extremely troubling realisation. When ordinary Malaysians are liberated from their fear of a government which unleashes the full force of state power to stamp out legitimate cries for true democracy, then it is the BN’s turn to fear.
How else do you explain the paranoia of the PM, his ministers and police and their demonisation of Bersih 2.0 and its supporters in the run-up to the rally.
Perhaps the BN government knows this is the beginning of the end for them. That may well explain why government leaders are terrified of a people’s movement demanding clean and fair elections. They probably know that if elections are held on a level-playing field without manipulation and fraud, they will be swept out of Putrajaya by a tidal wave.
The second key lesson of July 9 is that the race-baiting by Perkasa and its ilk, and incendiary reporting by Utusan Malaysia, appears to have fallen on deaf ears, at least for the people in the Klang Valley.
On the streets of KL’s Chinatown, I saw Malays, Chinese, Indians and East Malaysians mingling, walking side-by-side, peacefully and united in their quest for a better Malaysia – a more democratic, equitable and harmonious nation.
Seeing that gave me a renewed sense of belief that there is indeed hope for our beloved country. The Bersih movement appears to be gathering momentum, and has already achieved something more monumental than Najib’s hollow 1Malaysia slogan ever will.
LEE MIN KEONG is a veteran writer and editor who has eschewed working for the Malaysian mainstream media.