Post July 9, 2011 BERSIH: Towards a new equilibrium — Chandra Muzaffar
July 13, 2011
Compared to street demonstrations elsewhere, including in long established democracies, July 9 was relatively free of violence.
Credit for this should go to both the protesters and the police who exercised a great deal of restraint. It is equally commendable that all those arrested were released within hours.
Having said that, I would concur with some major dailies that concluded that there was no winner in the July 9 episode. The protesters failed to advance the cause of electoral reform which was drowned in the din of an unabashedly partisan demonstration.
The goal of creating a huge popular momentum that would carry Pakatan Rakyat to the gates of Putrajaya — which was the real reason for the protest — was not realised either partly because the turnout was only a fraction of the 300,000 that the Bersih organisers had hoped for.
The government’s image has also been tarnished within a segment of the Malaysian middle and upper classes and in the foreign media because of its eternal aversion to mass gatherings initiated by the political opposition which is after all the norm in any democracy.
While there were no winners, there was a clear loser — the tens of thousands of mainly Kuala Lumpur folk whose incomes and earnings were badly affected by July 9. This, more than anything else, should compel all of us to reflect seriously on street demonstrations, the politics that surround them and the future of democracy in our country.
It is simplistic to establish a one-to-one equation between street demonstrations and the freedom of assembly. Freedom of assembly as a civil liberty expresses itself in many ways. Of its many manifestations, it is perhaps street demonstrations that often impinge upon the rights of others. It is a mode of political protest that sometimes affects adversely a basic human right — the right to livelihood. This is why as a form of political action it should only be employed when every other avenue available in a democratic society has failed.
Bersih had not exhausted all the other legitimate channels of redress. It could have continued the dialogue it began in December last year with the Election Commission after the Sarawak State Election of April 2011, especially since the EC insists that its doors are always open.
There was no attempt to amend the Election Act through the parliamentary process. After all, the Pakatan Rakyat is well represented in the Dewan Rakyat. Even when the Bersih delegation had an audience with His Majesty the Yang Di Pertuan Agong a few days before 9 July, it did not present its much publicized 8 demands on electoral reform to the King. Its feeble excuse was that the memorandum was not ready!
Electoral reform, it is only too obvious, was just a smokescreen for a street demonstration that would set the stage — as some of us had predicted — for allegations of police brutality and state suppression of dissent that are now being widely disseminated through certain media channels that represent interests and goals that are closely linked to the global hegemonic power structure.
These allegations in turn are now being legitimised by bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council which is of course integral to that power structure. The ultimate objective is to propel to power the hegemon’s candidate for the Prime Ministership which again is intertwined with its larger geopolitical agenda in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Malaysian government which has comprehensive video and other documentary evidence of the train of events on July 9 has refuted allegations of police misconduct. If there is incontrovertible proof, it has promised to take immediate and effective action against the wrongdoer.
But it must do more than that. It must ask itself why in spite of a whole gamut of drastic preemptive measures aimed at foiling the demonstration — from the arrests of more than a 100 persons; the confiscation of Bersih paraphernalia; the banning of yellow Bersih T-shirts; the raiding of the Bersih secretariat; and declaring Bersih illegal — 10,000 to 12,000 people still gathered to express their dissent?
Isn’t it possible that some of the measures themselves had provoked the people’s anger and steeled their determination to protest? Aren’t these measures a reflection of a state-centred notion of security that not only undermines human dignity but is also at variance with popular aspirations for freedom everywhere?
This was clearly mirrored in the arrest of activists under a draconian Emergency Ordinance which appears to link them to alleged communist activities — an allegation which is utterly incredulous, given the prevalent political scenario. These activists, including a Member of Parliament, Dr. Jayakumar Devaraj, should be released immediately. It would demonstrate that the State is prepared to reappraise its somewhat antiquated notion of security.
In a sense, the Minister of Home Affairs, Dato Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, had begun to subject to scrutiny many of the laws that reinforce this approach to security last year through a series of candid dialogues with civil society groups. Some of us felt that certain laws like the emergency laws, the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Sedition Act should be repealed and other laws such as the Police Act and the Publications Act substantially amended to reflect a new equilibrium between dignity and security.
An example of that new equilibrium would be institutionalising public assemblies in stadiums as a right. The elimination of detention without trial while ensuring that acts which threaten public order are nipped in the bud would be another example. The abrogation of the annual licensing requirement for newspapers would be a third example.
The new media, the public demand for greater accountability and transparency and rising youth power the world over make it imperative that we move towards a new equilibrium without delay. There is another reason why we cannot afford to procrastinate. Manipulating the genuine urge for freedom among the masses in other lands expressed through demonstrations has become the last hurrah of a declining global power.
* Dr Chandra Muzaffar is Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia and the author of Hegemony Justice and Peace.
LKS: I will wear yellow every Saturday until PSM6 under EO are released, ban on Bersih lifted, BN xanthophobia ended and eight Bersih 2.0 demands for electoral reforms implemented
Media Statement by DAP Parliamentary Leader and MP for Ipoh Timor Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 13th July 2011:
I will wear yellow every Saturday until PSM6 under EO are released, ban on Bersih lifted, BN xanthophobia ended and eight Bersih 2.0 demands for electoral reforms implemented
Beginning this weekend, I will wear yellow every Saturday until:
(1) the PSM6 namely Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, PSM deputy chairperson M Saraswathy, central committee members Choo Chon Kai and M Sukumaran, Sungai Siput branch secretary A Letchumanan, and Youth leader Sarat Babu detained under Emergency Ordinance are released;
(2) The ban on Bersih lifted;
(3) Barisan Nasional government’s xanthophobia (fear of yellow) ended; and
(4) The eight Bersih 2.0 demands for electoral reforms implemented. The eight Bersih 2.0 demands are:
- Clean electoral roll;
- Reform postal ballot;
- Use indelible ink;
- Minimum 21-day campaign period;
- Free and fair media access;
- Strengthen public institutions;
- Stop corruption;
- End dirty politics.
Three days after the disastrous mishandling of the peaceful and legitimate Bersih 2.0 rally calling for free and fair elections, which has given the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razaki’s 1Malaysia administration a national and international black-eye, there are no signs that the powers-that-be have learnt anything at all, as illustrated by the following:
- The refusal to release the PSM6 detained under Emergency Ordinance on trumped-up charge;
- the refusal of the Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussin and the police to admit that while there were exemplary cops on duty on 709, there had been police excesses, violence and brutality during the Bersih 2.0 rally, as in causing the death of Baharuddin Ahmad; the criminal police landrover ramming of PAS Deputy President Mat Sabu on motor-bike; and the wanton and reckless firing of tear gas and water cannons into Tung Shin Hospital and directly at Bersih and Pakatan Rakyat leaders at KL Sentral tunnel;
- the continued harassment and arrests of Malaysians for wearing the yellow Bersih T-shirt.
The irresponsible, irrational and wild charge by Utusan Malaysia today accusing Selangor Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Bersih leaders of treason for allegedly disobeying both the Yang di Pertuan Agong and Selangor Sultan in going ahead with the 709 Bersih 2.0 rally is significant as proof that the powers-that-be are incorritible and cannot learn anything, that they are trapped in a “time warp” and cannot reconnect with the Bersih 1Malaysia generation which came of age on Saturday – comprising Malaysians regardless of race, religion, region, age or gender.
Utusan Malaysia is the voice of the Umno leadership. Is Utusan and the Umno leadership seriously suggesting that the 50,000 Malaysians who braved police threats, mass arrests, tear gas and water cannons to peacefully gather in support of Bersih 2.0 call for free and fair elections, and the millions of Malaysians all over the country and in foreign countries who supported and prayed for the peaceful success of 709, are disloyal and traitors to king and country?
No, it is Utusan and the Umno leadership who are disloyal and traitors to king and country if they are so irresponsible and reckless as to make such wild allegations that tens and hundreds of thousands and even millions of Malaysians are disloyal and traitors for supporting the peaceful 709 Bersih 2.0 rally – as they are trying to turn the majority of Malaysians regardless of race, religion, region, age or gender against the king and country.
Because Utusan and the Utusan Malaysia are in a “time warp”, they can never understand or empathise with the many touching and heart-wrenching Bersih stories in social media testifying to their highest love and loyalty to the country which motivated ordinary Malaysians to act in an extraordinary manner on 709!
From Utusan’s wild, reckless and irrational allegations today, it is clear that the advice of the University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) social anthropologist Professor Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin that the Najib administration should discard its “Cold War” mindset and to modernize its concepts to address internal security and national issues has fallen on deaf ears.
Shamsul had reminded the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition just after 709 that the “enemy” was no longer armed communists battling a jungle war but a civilian movement consisting of politically awakened middle class that is wired to the global community and moved by fully legitimate issues based on the Malaysian Constitution such as free and fair elections; human rights of freedom of assembly and association; integrity, good, clean and incorruptible governance!
A close confidante and strategist of the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, had in fact pronounced the BN’s 709 “War of Intimidation” as having “backfired” as “Malaysians no longer fear the sight of armed security forces, the threat of racial riots and or the Communist bogey.”
He admitted that “It is indeed ironic that the ‘1Malaysia’ slogan of the Prime Minister was reflected more in the ranks of the Bersih 2.0 campaign on 9th July 2011 than in the ranks of political opportunist and upstart Khairy Jamaluddin’s miniscule band of ‘Red Shirts’ provocateurs”.
He said Najib’s highly-paid experts and strategists were expensive failures despite RM billions of expenditure, as their “Blue Ocean Strategy”, the essence of which is to “make the competition irrelevant and creating uncontested market place” has ended up in the 709 “fiasco” where “the Opposition has become more relevant than ever and has captured and occupied more effectively – physically and mentally – both the uncontested and contested ‘political market place’”.
He even wagered his “reputation as the former political secretary to the fourth Prime Minister” that if election is held this year, “the Barisan Nasional will never be able to reclaim the 2/3rd majority in Parliament as well as the four state governments controlled by the Opposition coalition” and that “The Prime Minister will be ousted within six months from date of the election”.
Whether Utusan Malaysia is the foremost practitioner of such Najib “Blue Ocean strategy”, what is clear is that ordinary Malaysians must continue act in extraordinary ways to make their voice heard loud and clear as in the historic 709 Bersih 2.0 rally.
Let the Bersih 1Malaysia generation of all races, religions, regions, age and gender demonstrate their love, loyalty and patriotism for the country every Saturday with a national demonstration countrywide of yellow – which not only signifies their determination and commitment to create a Clean Malaysia in elections, political system and national governance but also love and loyalty to King and the system of constitutional monarchy as yellow is also royal colour.
Lim Kit Siang
Statement of the Egyptian Socialist Party
Siri #HariIniDalamSejarah ini akan menjejaki usaha PSM dalam Perjuangan Membebaskan Tahanan PSM EO6 sehingga hari mereka dibebaskan pada 29 Julai, 2011. Nantikan kiriman kami yang seterusnya.
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