BERSIH 2.0 overcomes the police state

Malaysians and their supporters gathered in capital cities around the world today in Bersih 2.0 Global solidarity walks as the Opposition leader in their home country lay injured after a violent government crackdown on a peaceful Kuala Lumpur call for electoral reform.

An estimated 50,000 Malaysians took to the streets of KL in defiance of a government ban and even as Bersih 2.0 leaders were arrested.

Helicopters hovered over the capital amid heavy rains and Federal Reserve Unit troops blocked KL’s main arterial roads, but Malaysians proved unstoppable in their determination to stare down a belligerent government that had disallowed and demonised a public gathering for free and fair elections.

They staged an advance-retreat-advance street strategy against a massive police and riot squad presence, sustaining tear-gas and water-cannons attacks, overcoming roadblocks and the cancellation of all public transport across Malaysia’s richest urban centre.

Tear-gas canisters were also fired into Tung Shin Hospital in Jalan Pudu, KL, as riot squads targeted marchers who kept trying to avoid the roadblocks.

Developments in the violent state crackdown on the peaceful Bersih 2.0 rally were relayed to crowds across the world via Twitter, Facebook, mobile phones and wi-fi driven laptops and iPads.

PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar told New Mandala, “Malaysia is effectively a police state,” speaking after the riot squad attack that left her father, Anwar Ibrahim, injured.

Australian state capital cities were among the first worldwide to answer the clarion call to support the second Bersih rally in KL; the first was held in 2007.

More than 750 Malaysians and their supporters in Victorian capital Melbourne were the first Down Under to hold their Bersih 2.0 rally. By day’s end, Sydney, Canberra Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane saw politicians, union officials, Singaporeans and friendly NGO representatives add their voices to the widely embraced KL call to return democratic integrity to Malaysia’s electoral system.

Malaysian anti-Lynas campaigners from Kuantan on Malaysia’s east coast joined the Town Hall rally in Sydney’s Town Square, which saw nearly two hours of speeches, personal stories, skits and music on a wintry but sunny mid-afternoon.

As Australians joined hands with Malaysians, the Bersih 2.0 Global roll call drew in Geneva, London, Cork (Ireland), Paris, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Jakarta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC.

Bersih 2.0 leaders said at least 50,000 people took to KL byways, alleys and lanes, many pouring out of hotels they had booked into days ahead to avoid having to manoeuvre past blocks on arterial roads.

National laureate A. Samad Said, arrested mid-week and later released, said at Merdeka Stadium that their rally was a “great success”.

“I have never seen all the races in Malaysia so united for one cause before,” Samad said.

Anwar Ibrahim was hurt in the head when tear-gas canisters were apparently fired directly at him.

Daughter Izzah said her father had “sustained head injuries, receiving urgent medical attention”.

“The FRU had fired tear gas canisters directly at him, and I fear for the worse,” Izzah said soon after the attack.

“YB Khalid Samad underwent six stitches at the back of his head after being hit by a tear-gas canister. They were all in the tunnel at KL Sentral in Brickfields.

“It was a blatant show of brute force by the police, under orders of the Minister for Home Affairs and the PM.

“Malaysia is effectively a police state.”

“All my sisters, my mum, my husband were with me – concerned citizens who will continue the fight alongside so many courageous others to ensure we realise a truly fair, clean and transparent election system.”

Another Bersih 2.0 walker who survived the attacks said: “I am enraged. We must vote out UMNO-anchored Barisan Nasional.

“They are liars and cheats. There is nothing honourable about them.

“From here on, no supporter of BN is a friend.”

In fact, madness had already begun stalking Malaysia when police days before began arresting people for wearing yellow T-shirts.

Arrested this afternoon in KL were Bersih 2.0 chair Ambiga Sreeneevasan, chief of women’s rights group Empower, Maria Chin Abdullah, PAS president Haji Hadi Awang, Nurul Iman Anwar, sister to Izzah, and an unknown number of Opposition leaders, who were among more than 1,400 Malaysians detained by police at time of writing.

Less than two hours after the arrests, Opposition coalition member PAS threatened to mobilise one million of its members in a second rally if all detainees from today’s gathering were not released unconditionally within 24 hours. PAS helpfully announced exactly where these one million Muslims would descend – police headquarters at Bukit Aman, KL, and the main station in Jinjang, to the city’s north.

Ambiga was duly released by police (6.30pm, KL time). Speaking as a free Malaysian again, she said Malaysians have shown courage in the face of government intimidation.

The “amazing” turnout was a sign that “we do not want to be bullied anymore”.

“Rough intimidation does not work anymore,” said the Bersih 2.0 chair, effectively declaring a people’s victory in the face of an unconscionable and violent suppression by Najib Razak’s prime ministership of a matter as simple as his fellow citizens’ right to a democratically legitimate election system.

Bersih 2.0 was no more than a widely embraced call in Malaysia for just that, with eight specific reforms that 62 NGOs of varying persuasion and colour had considered needed urgent implementation if Malaysia was to actually be considered a practising democracy.

But a backward-running Putrajaya publicly interpreted a call for free and fair elections as a shout to topple the government. The triumvirate of PM, DPM and Home Minister basically bull-horned to the world that it could not stomach an independently accountable system by which the rakyat would choose their parliamentary representatives.

They were, and are, afraid of losing that much more ground come G13.

And maybe more.

In fact, Najib, Muhyiddin Yassin and Hishammuddin Hussein did not even want to discuss the reform memorandum, and had rebuffed all requests to simply accept the Bersih 2.0 document.

Following a rare intervention by Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, the constitutional monarch, Ambiga walked the talk of the obedient subject and opted for KL’s Stadium Merdeka, instead of a million flowers blooming on the streets.

But Malaysia’s new, less than loyal Trio continued to demonise and antagonise the Bersih 2.0 leader, who maintained a stately but unmoving commitment on behalf of the promise of a new future.

It would be stealing the monsoonal thunder from Bersih 2.0 to say Najib, Muhyiddin and Hishammuddin totally ‘lost it’.

The fact is, even with violence, bullying, threats, roadblocks ringing a capital city and the cancellation of weekend permits for private buses coming into KL and public military exercises where soldiers carried placards saying, ‘Dismiss or we will shoot’ in choice Malaysian tongues and the police deeming 91 eminent Malaysians persona non grata everywhere else in KL except in Merdeka Stadium on a soon to be fateful Saturday 9 July 2011 and what do you expect, helicopter them in?, and sudden emergence of weapons hoards that just must be linked to Bersih 2.0 and look, everyone, they even left bundles of signature-yellow T-shirts right next to the parangs for you to find and riot squad troops playing house in university grounds and elected leaders chorusing that if you want free and fair elections you must want to topple the government, and who are you, anyway, to think you know what you want and you’re going to get it, even after all that, it was Bersih 2.0 that had won.

The people chose to exercise their right to speak. They were not the violent ones.

Forty-two years since Malaysia’s ruling coalition first brought the country to the brink, Najib & Co again dared the unthinkable.

But Bersih 2.0 did not blink.

Back in Melbourne, Australia’s Bersih 2.0 co-ordinator, David Teoh, already looking at tomorrow, said the chapter would offer to the High Commission in Canberra all the volunteers necessary to help formalise, administer and oversee a postal vote system for those wanting to have their say in G13.

On 9 July, 2011, Malaysia’s Bersih 2.0 won for the people the right to speak, and put an end to the idea that more than a half-century of suppression of that fundamental tenet of democracy would be allowed to go on indefinitely.

As every finality has its own new beginning, Malaysia, all of 54, has arrived at its future.

IN BRISBANE, Mary O’Donovan wrote: A crowd of about 100 people gathered by 11am, dressed in different hues of yellow.

With a background of a banner emblazoned with the words Bersih 2.0 and the eight reform demands, the day began with a welcome speech that was followed by a period of silence for our friends and loved ones in KL today.

Many speakers took to the microphone, including Ng Sze Han, and amid laughter at his requiring sunglasses so he couldn’t be recognised, he spoke at length of the changes required, and many reiterated his stance.

We sang Negaraku with pride and the solidarity was apparent among us. We called out, What do we want? A fair and free election! When do we want it? NOW! As fliers were handed out, a few spoke to the passing crowd, informing them of the situation in Malaysia.

Although not among our friends and family in KL, we did all that we could, on a cold and blustery morning, in the heart of Brisbane, to support Bersih 2.0.

IN PERTH, Soon Yee Yap wrote: What a turn out it was, considering the grey skies and cold breeze. The really eager turned up by 1pm, well before we were due to start.

Must have been close to 300 in a racially-balanced crowd, packed like sardines on the 4m-wide verge in front of the Malaysian Consulate at Adelaide Terrace. Those who wanted more personal space went across the road.

At least a dozen blues – in yellow vests! – were on hand to assist with crowd control, and they were joined by plain-clothes AFP from the Dignitaries Section.

Suspect SB personnel were mingling with the crowd, as  we sang, Negaraku. Many spoke of their surprise at the turnout, in spite of the oppression, threats and lies. But it was an event that the people wanted.

IN LONDON: More than 500 Malaysians from across Britain travelled to London to take part in a solidarity march today, speaking out for clean and fair elections. As 50,000 Malaysians faced tear gas and police brutality in Kuala Lumpur, the London Bersih 2.0 faction enjoyed full police co-operation with the peaceful demonstration.

The initial group of peaceful protesters – a well mannered cross section of our nation, young and old alike – started out in front of the Malaysian High Commission as early as 10 am, although the protest was not timed to start till noon, wielding placards with slogans such as, ‘Shame on you Malaysian Government‘, ‘Free and Fair Elections’ and ‘Release our leaders now!’

Crowd-chanting swelled with shouts of ‘Bersih! Bersih! Bersih!’ when a memorandum echoing the Bersih 2.0 electoral-reform demands was put through the letter box of the commission.

The high-spirited crowd with yellow Bersih T-shirts, balloon hats and Malaysian flags then marched past famous London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and St James Park, enroute to Trafalgar Square, long the vibrant hub of free speech and assembly in London, including during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, anti-ISA protests during Operasi Lalang and the clampdown on reformasi.

The protesters stopped briefly at the Malaysian Tourism Office before the group came to a halt outside the National Gallery, where songs were sung and poems read before 100 yellow balloons were released.

Shouts of ‘Kuning, Kuning, Najib Pening’ came at the climax of the march as participants blew soap bubbles in their clean-up call. The solidarity march ended with a solemn rendition of Negaraku.

Najib Tun Razak is due in London this coming week.

IN GENEVA: Bersih 2.0 drew 12 people who met under the huge chair in front of the United Nations offices. Each person stated why they were there and what it meant to us. All were aghast at what happened in KL.

A Swiss national who joined the group said she was reminded of what she had seen in South Africa in the apartheid years.

Bob Marley’s Get up! Stand Up! was followed by Negaraku.

A letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was handed to the UN security guards, who accepted it and promised to hand it to the Sec-Gen’s office.

Rally organisers Malaysian Association of Geneva also called for a Q&A session with Malaysia’s ambassador to Switzerland. At press-time, they were still waiting for an official response.

IN PARIS: The setting was the Trocadero platform with the Eiffel Tower as background. About 30 Malaysians and friends came out to support the cause. We collected over 60 signatures from people of different parts of the world and, of course, Malaysians.  Several hundred bi-lingual (French and English) flyers were also distributed.

The rally kicked-off with a passionate rendition of Negaraku, and the rest of the afternoon was spent talking to people about the situation in Malaysia. Many came forward to write words of encouragement on our giant banner.

Parisian police were very cordial and professional, and came to check to make sure everything went smoothly.

We ended the day with another heartfelt rendition of Negaraku, and everyone left with hopes in their hearts for change back home.

Pictures of the global events are available here and pictures of the rally in Kuala Lumpur are available here. Also a video of BERSIH 2.0 worldwide.

New Mandala – Malaysia section will be following this story closely as we believe that the possibility of  a smooth transfer of power in Malaysia is now moving further away.

About William de Cruz, Guest Contributor