By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
What amazed me was the spontaneity of it all. We were well aware that a rally was in the offing. Bersih 4 would be held simultaneously in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching on August 29 beginning at 2.30pm. The 34-hour rally, the largest the country had ever witnessed, was to send a clear message to the powers-that-be that Malaysians had had enough of their scandals, frauds, gerrymandering and anything to do with the country’s five-yearly elections.
Thirteen general elections had gone by and problems relating to the credibility and accountability of the ruling coalition and the emasculated Election Commission did not seem to abate but had become more acute instead. So there was a need for a timely “Clean-up” or “Bersih” in Bahasa Malaysia.
The fundamental objective of Bersih was to campaign for a free and fair election. Reforming the electoral system tops the organisers’ agenda. The first Bersih rally took place on November 11, 2007 followed by another on July 9, 2011 and another on April 28, 2012. The fourth on August 29 came about following demands for answers over Prime Minister Najib’s still unresolved RM2.6 billion “donation”.
Corruption is not only endemic but is entrenched in our society. Along with falling oil prices and a weakening Chinese economy, the impact on the ringgit is staggering. The Malaysian currency has devalued by almost 13 per cent in just over a year. The ringgit is currently traded at RM4.33 to a US dollar and RM3.05 to a Singapore dollar. There doesn’t seem to be any reprieve in sight as yet.
The government, for reasons of expedience, has blamed the Democratic Action Party (DAP) for the success of Bersih 4. DAP’s involvement, to my mind, was minimal to non-existent. I say this with much conviction as Ipoh’s edition of Bersih 4 took place spontaneously.
Words of a gathering at Polo Ground made its rounds on social media and by word of mouth. My Facebook messages from friends requested for concerned Ipohites to “join fellow citizens at Polo Ground on the morning of Sunday, August 30 for a walk around the park. Time: 8am to 9am.” It was a show of solidarity for Maria Chin Abdullah’s Bersih 4.0 taking place in Kuala Lumpur at that material moment.
So we went not expecting much to happen. The Police must have got wind of it and a few, in their customary blue fatigues, were seen ambling on the road in front of the park. They did nothing to stop the deluge of people dressed in yellow Bersih 4 T-shirts, which were declared unlawful by the Home Minister the previous day.
The crowd swelled from a score to a couple of thousands in minutes. I estimated over 2,000 turned up at the gathering of like-minded Ipohites who shared a common dislike – abhorrence of corruption and electoral frauds.
Many were unsure what to do although some had come prepared with yellow balloons, horns and vuvuzelas. The colour, the pomp and the camaraderie added a touch of festivity to the atmosphere. At around 8.45am they began to walk, almost spontaneously and without anyone at the lead, winding their way along the footpath four-abreast and chanting “Bersih, Bersih, Bersih” as they moved on. It was a sea of yellow and a sight to behold.
After few rounds around the park they congregated at the hard standing where the weekly aerobic had just completed. I had thought some fiery political speeches would follow but there was none. Horns and vuvuzelas blared and while balloons swayed in the wind, a remote-controlled drone hovered above the crowd. Most thought it was the Police spying on them. But it turned out to be a model-plane enthusiast having his Sunday fun.
The Ipoh Sunday Bersih rally may not be comparable to Maria’s colossal turn-out of disenchanted Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur but it is evidently clear that Ipohites are as equally concerned as others.