By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday April 28 had caught the imagination of many, including those from abroad. The authorities had underestimated the rakyat’s will to make their demand for a free and fair election known. In the aftermath of this mammoth gathering, where an estimated 250,000 protesters converged on Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur and the fracas that ensued, the message is now clear – change is not the preserve of the privileged class.
Depending on which side one is inclined, demonising the protesters and the Police comes easy. However, the brutality demonstrated by the Police towards those who were caught in the maelstrom was totally uncalled for.
The icing on the cake was the revelation that both the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Election Commission were UMNO members a few days before the rally. How could the Commission exercise fairness when the head honchos are registered members of a contesting political party? It runs contrary to the principles of impartiality. Till today the duo has been unable to explain their position vis-à-vis the revelation. It leaves many in a quandary, especially those in the corridors of power.
Prominent Indian journalist, Mobashar Jawab Akhbar, who was a member of a team of international observers invited to oversee Bersih 3.0, had some stinging remarks for the Police. He opined that the crowd, which had been building overnight, could be violent if they wanted to. But it was peaceful to the very end. “I do believe that provocation was perhaps done to create images that will play well in the official media.” He was right. To this very day the protesters were the culprits. The Police, as of this time of reporting, are still on the lookout for 141 Bersih protestors and had issued an ultimatum for them to surrender before Wednesday, May 16.
The essence of democracy, according to Mobasher, is the freedom from fear, which is “non-negotiable”. “Democracy does not function when people do not have (the) right to assembly,” he said. And judging from events unfolding on Saturday, April 28, the rakyat have finally overcome fear.
The rally, which was held simultaneously in over 85 cities across the globe, shows the extent of its popularity. In Ipoh over 5,000 people held a peaceful gathering at Polo Ground. It was something unexpected and unprecedented for a city known for its passivity.
The memorable event was organised by a group of people representing Ipoh’s civil society led by prominent lawyer Augustine Anthony. Augustine who had roped in 48 non-governmental organisations had impressed upon them to do the needful. They sought the approval of the Police and Ipoh City Council who is the custodian of the iconic Polo Ground. A request for the use of the park was duly approved by the council on April 27.
“This could be the first in the annals of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011, which was promulgated on April 23, 2012,” said Augustine. He proudly held up the letter from MBI. “History has been created,” he said, “I may have to auction this document to the highest bidder and donate the proceeds to Bersih.”
The Ipoh rally was peaceful and orderly to the very end. Ipohites who gathered that day came in several shades – the old, the not so old and the young. They were of all races. A significant number were youths who will be voting for the first time come GE 13. The crowd build-up was gradual. It reached its maximum at around 2.30 p.m. Augustine was in his element, rousing the crowd’s fervour with Bersih’s eight demands.
There were attempts by political parties to ride the crest of discontentment by a show of defiance. The most obvious being the waving of party flags and taunting in the background. The intensity of Augustine’s aura, however, nullified their efforts. “I was determined to make the rally peaceful and apolitical,” he later said. While opponents of Bersih had dubbed the KL demonstration kotor, the Ipoh version was bersih. The organisers, true to form, cleaned up the mess before leaving.
When there were clear signs that the sky was going to open up, the crowd began to disperse. By 4.00 p.m. Polo Ground was back to what it was before. The only people left were those who were slow to escape the deluge that followed. One oldie remarked teasingly, “Ini hujan rahmat (the rain is a blessing)”.