Awakening of the Malaysian Diaspora

This report was prepared by the Steering Committee of Global BERSIH 2.0

Starting from spontaneous expressions of patriotism at a few international locations where Malaysians were residents in fairly significant numbers, the desire to show support for the Bersih 2.0 ‘Walk for Electoral Reform’ in Kuala Lumpur sprouted into a worldwide event that spanned most of the major time zones. New Zealand started the day rolling followed by rallies happening in several Australian, Asian and European cities. The ripple then spread across the Atlantic Ocean, to cities in North America, ending the historical day at the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Portland and San Francisco. Indeed the sun did not quite set on Bersih 2.0.

The sun decidedly shone down it’s warm yellow rays on Bersih 2.0 participants everywhere, especially in places with chilly winds. But quite the contrary, if not ironic, back in in Kuala Lumpur, as rally participants were doused with stinging tear-gas and chemical-laced water, the skies opened up, washing everything clean! This occasion proved to be a new paradigm for Malaysians, especially the youth. They were experiencing Unity in Diversity, a concept few imagined was possible. Optimists estimate that some 50,000 Malaysians had gathered together without regard to ethnic origin or religious leaning. This was a Malaysia dreams were made of.

Elsewhere in the world, the outpouring of patriotism was just as impressive. Malaysians were united as one, in foreign lands. In places where Malaysians had existing committees and who met up regularly, organising a rally was pretty straightforward. But in some cities, rookies who had never even attended a rally before stepped up and asked how they could organise one. The results were most gratifying, as the numbers below show.

City (attendance): Wellington (10), Auckland (35), Christchurch (15), Brisbane (100), Sydney (500), Canberra (40), Hobart (30), Melbourne (1000), Adelaide (150), Osaka (14), Seoul (35), Suzhou (20), Taipei (300), Shenzen (20), Hong Kong (80), Perth (120), Singapore Online(63), Singapore Picnic (200), Dubai (40), Cairo (100), Istanbul (2),Stockholm (10), Graz, Austria (2), Zurich (42), Geneva (12), Paris (30), London (450), Glasgow (30), Belfast (25), Dublin (60), Cork (14), Limerick (11), New York City (130), Ottawa (11), Washington DC (50), Chicago (35), Los Angeles (85), Portland, OR (14), San Francisco (120)

Total attendance for all 38 locations = 4003 participants. The cities are sequenced according to longitude.

Apart from these heart-warming numbers of participants in these locations, there were unconfirmed reports in the social network site, Facebook, of people in other locations such as Cambodia, Jerusalem, Frankfurt… also standing up to be counted. But in the absence of verifiable sources, we have to leave those claims open. The organisers in Singapore, aware of the restrictions on public gatherings posed by the Singapore authorities, quite cleverly decided to do an online show of their love for Malaysia and their support for the Bersih 2.0 campaign. However, there were some folks who decided to gather informally for a picnic at a popular park. We have reported the numbers of both these gatherings. Sympathy rallies were also held in Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta but we have not included those attendance numbers.

The Steering Committee of GLOBAL BERSIH 2.0 would like to thank all participants for the tremendous support extended towards the call for Free and Fair Elections and Real Democracy in Malaysia. Through your actions, that some may deem indirect or small, you have provided irrefutable proof that Diaspora Malaysians still hold Malaysia dearly in your hearts and would return if you could. You have staked your claim to having a part to play in what happens at home.

Despite the excessive use of force encountered by the Bersih 2.0, Walkers in Kuala Lumpur, all the locations elsewhere proved that peaceful demonstrations are a part and parcel of the democratic process and can be managed effectively with minimal impact on non-participants. This is testimony to the maturity of Malaysians in their ability to participate fully in a vibrant democracy. Authorities should take cognizance of this and allow the political evolution of Malaysia to proceed naturally.

The myriad of global locations displayed banners and posters, with participants wearing YELLOW – t-shirts, scarves, ribbons. In some locations loud hailers were used to address the crowd while in other more cosy locations, participants took turns to read and discuss the 8 demands. A Samad Said’s almost-banned poem was read, memoranda and posters were signed, catchy phrases were chanted and the Negaraku was sung with fervour. Many locations also called for the immediate release of the 6 detained under Emergency Ordinance without legal recourse. In every location, the local authorities were most helpful, some even suggesting more impactful vantage points to gather at. Sadly, at almost every location, representatives of Malaysian authorities took photos and videos and tried to record the names of participants.

Carnival atmosphere aside, the most significant impact of Global Bersih 2.0 is the realisation that has dawned upon many Diaspora Malaysians that you are not alone in your love of and concern for your mother country. You met and interacted, many for the first time, with others like yourselves living relatively near to where you live. This has sparked the desire on the part of many to remain in contact with each other and continue to come together for activities that can help improve your nation.

The Steering Committee of GLOBAL BERSIH 2.0 proposes to extend the ongoing domestic activities of Bersih 2.0 by promoting the following activities internationally. The first three of these will be carried out by those interested participating locations while the next three will be coordinated by the Steering Committee.

  1. Yellow Saturday movements – gathering in any public places, dressed in yellow or carrying out any activities involving the colour yellow;
  2. Public events to explain the 8 points and broaden understanding of what Bersih 2.0 seeks to accomplish;
  3. Photo exhibitions and video shows, again to broaden general understanding of the realities at home;
  4. Lobbying with sympathetic NGOs and friendly governments to seek the release of the 6 persons still detained  under the Emergency Ordinance;
  5. An international petition pushing for the first 4 demands of Bersih 2.0 to be implemented within 3 months and for full disclosure on any amendments made to the electoral process; and
  6. Promotion of the MyOverseasVote campaign to enable Malaysians to register and vote from wherever they happen to be resident.

Global Bersih 2.0 is a turning point in the relationship of Diaspora Malaysians with your mother country. Many of you showed that you were willing to cast aside your fears and contribute towards making our land the better country it can be. Those committed, let us bring our skills and resources to bear to help rebuild our nation and fulfil the promise of potential it showed when it was first born 54 years ago. Let us work together to make Malaysia the great model nation it was meant to be.

About Greg Lopez

Greg Lopez is a research fellow at Murdoch University's School of Management and Governance, and New Mandala’s Malaysia and Singapore section editor.