Is Bersih the death knell of tyranny?


By N H Chan

The picture on the front page of the Sunday Star, 10 July 2011 spoke louder than words. It showed the huge crowd of peaceful but bold Bersih supporters flying in the face of the cowardly might of the police who were decked out in full riot paraphernalia.

They must be daunted by the sea of placid, mostly young, people facing them. Those in the front rows were seated on the road and those at the back were standing. All were unarmed and none were menacing the police.

They were all peaceful demonstrators who were trying to put across to the imbeciles in power the people’s right to peaceful assembly and to show that they were united in their call for a clean and incorrupt general election.

The BN regime may say anything they like but the fact that the common people could come out in large numbers in silent protest only goes to show that the regime has lost its credibility. The regime and its underlings the police behaved as expected of tyrants – typical of all bullies they were afraid of their own shadow – they saw the ghosts of the insurgency of Chin Peng and the CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) being revived; see the Sun of Friday, July 8, 2011 where the former Perak chief police officer and Special Branch commander Yuen Yet Leng gave his thoughts to Maria J. Das in an interview. He said:

If you are going to sport a picture of Chin Peng on your t-shirt, you are only asking for trouble. How do you expect the police not to take action?

I agree with what the Special Branch had done. This problem has been thrown in the police’s lap and involves national security and public order.

The CPM has the same ideology as … Mao Zedong who believed that the highest form of struggle is an armed struggle, and not a political struggle.

He must be joking! I am astounded by the man’s naivety. I think he is still living in the past which is a pity for one of our country’s heroes (but then I also have the same problem, I could remember the past vividly but I could not remember what I said or promised yesterday).

He was the CPO Perak when I was a Judicial Commissioner in Ipoh back then in 1970. He was one policeman I have admired for his dedication to make Ipoh safe from criminals. He brought down the crime rate in Ipoh. I remember the occasion when he told me that at a police road block at Simpang Pulai which is on the outskirts of Ipoh, the police had arrested the occupants of a car when they found weapons for committing armed robbery hidden in its boot. On interrogation they admitted they were en route to Penang because it was perilous for them to commit the crime in Ipoh as there was a fierce Chinese judge there.

To be fair I must also point out that Mr Yuen was supportive of the reason for the people’s negative perception of the police. For example:

Das: … many people question why the police seem to act against only certain parties, while others who make seditious comments and threats get away. Won’t the public equate this with police persecution?

Yes and no. The police usually back the effort of the incumbent government of the day so long as it acts by the rule of law, but they need to be more courageous to act when supporters of the government go too far. When they are hesitant, they are bound to be accused of being unfair. Being balanced will earn the police some respect.

He also said:

there is nothing wrong with Bersih 2’s demands and the incumbent government must hear the genuine worries of the people. They need to pry things apart and deal with people who are sincere with their concerns. Then legitimate complaints can be looked into.  … the timing is such that there appears to be a united front against the government, and this frightens them.

Returning to the hullabaloo of the police on the involvement of national security and public order, don’t they know, as all of us already know, that communism as an ideology had collapsed with the fall of the Berlin wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union?

There is no more threat from any idea of communist expansionism from Chinese communists as China has turn to capitalism and has prospered as the world’s second largest economy next to America. It is true that China is still being governed by an oligarchic regime.

One must be a member of the communist party to form the government because it is the ruling party as China is a one party totalitarian state, just as Malaysia has also become an oligarchy with the Umno led Barisan Nasional remaining in power for some 54 years. To say that this country is a democracy is laughable. Democracy has become an anachronism in Malaysia.

As in China the ruling BN coalition will not tolerate dissent in any form as the Bersih episode on 9 July 2011 had graphically exposed to us common folk that the police have used excessive physical force to quell the rally of peaceful protestors who were only asking for the reformation of the electoral system to a fairer and incorrupt one – so that when the crowd was heard to have shouted “reformasi” it did not mean that they were for the opposition party PKR.

We have read about police brutality against peaceful demonstrators from eyewitnesses account in loyarburok and in Malaysiakini and we also see them in graphic detail as the incidents of the use of excessive force by the police on the hapless protestors were recorded live on mobile phones by those who were there for all the world to see on Youtube.

Yet in the Star, Monday 18 July 2011, the deputy prime minister Muhyiddin said that what had emerged through the alternative media and YouTube were scenes that seem to show the police had acted in a cruel manner.

“What was not shown were prior scenes where the police were provoked and taunted”, he said.

Obviously the deputy prime minister has never heard of the well known proverb, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me’. In any case, a policeman should be patient and tolerant when conducting crowd control.

They should try to defuse the anger instead of being short tempered and responding with unequal force. However, I think the negative public perception of the police in this respect will be difficult to erase.

In any case, one notices the glaring difference in the integrity of the government in the UK and ours. In the hacking scandal involving the News of the World and the London police we do not see the prime minister or the home minister or any minister coming out to defend the police. Instead they were embarrassed and concerned so much so that an emergency session of parliament was called. Even Britain’s police chief had to resign.

On the other hand, in Malaysia, we have the deputy prime minister Muhyiddin coming out in defence of the police when in fact he should be concerned and should suggest an investigation into the heavy handed conduct of the police in handling the crowd. In this country we throw integrity to the wind! Even our police chief did not resign – the fact that in some areas the police had responded and reacted with unequal force should have made him responsible as a commander.

The police have justified their hash crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators of Bersih for the reason of national security and public order. But as I have explained above any prospect of a revival of a communist insurgency in this country is a myth. To say that the CPM has the same ideology as Mao Zedong (whose idealogy should have died with him) who believed that the highest form of struggle is an armed struggle and, therefore, there is every danger of an armed insurrection being revived in this country is an unjustifiable assumption in this day and age.

Only imbeciles could have imagined that! That is why I say these people are afraid of their own shadow. If you are afraid of your own shadow then you must be a coward. You are also a coward, if not a madman, if you donned your suit of armour like Don Quixote who battled imaginary dragons in the form of windmills or riot gear ready to do battle with unarmed and peaceful street protestors to quell a whimsical or imaginary insurrection in the farcical interest of national security and public order.

To be fair, it is reported in the Star, Wednesday 13 July 2011 under the headline No plans to hold another Bersih that the Bar Council has said something nice about some policemen:

The Bar Council thanked Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar for allowing the council’s monitoring teams to observe the rally and for acknowledging the council’s impartiality in conducting the observation exercise.

“Many of our monitors noted a significant number of police officers were polite towards the leaders of the public rallies, participants and the monitoring team,” council president Lim Chee Wee said …

However, the council said unnecessary physical force was used in some instances.

I suppose not all policemen are the bad guys. There are some decent ones still around. Just as there are some decent Umno guys around like the chief of Umno Youth Khairy Jamaluddin who has shown magnanimity to Ambiga. When we leave matters to the younger generation we do not find animosity and recrimination. They are prepared to talk and discuss on how the country’s electoral system could be reformed. Bravo and I salute them.

Next, there is this pithy assessment from the Star, Thursday 14 July 2011 by Baradan Kuppusamy:

Awakening the young voters

The Bersih 2.0 rally was a success by some measure because Pakatan Rakyat supporters braved police restrictions, roadblocks and barbed wire to gather in the city centre calling on the Government to institute electoral reform.

There eight-point demand included issues that the opposition had been campaigning on for many years, like a clean electoral roll, reforming postal voting and a minimum of 21 days campaigning.

These are fundamentals of a basic election system in a democratic society and few citizens would find these objectionable.

Saturday’s rally, therefore, had an unprecedented impact on society at large and on the election system

While Saturday’s rally was smaller in size compared to Bersih’s first rally in November 2007, the effects were the same – the awakening of young people to political action to rally for a basic right in defiance of the police.

The rally proved its point that a large number of Malaysians can gather, despite police action, and march peacefully.

The message of Bersih is unequivocal, the people, especially the young people, of this country have been awakened and are no longer afraid of being intimidated by a bullying police force and they will take political action to rally for their basic rights in defiance of the police who they know are the minions of the avaricious people who are greedy for power. For after all, the awakened young people are only exercising their universal right of assembly that has been endorsed by the United Nations as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

For after all the Bersih demands are not outrageous nor are they extravagant or unusual – most are matters that the opposition has been canvassing in Parliament perennially. As the writer of the above article has said, “These are fundamentals of a basic election system in a democratic society and few citizens would find these objectionable”.

Yet the Bersih movement and those who support them are being suppressed by those people who are clinging on to power and their minions the police force. Decent and normally law abiding citizens are suppressed just for voicing out their grouses for electoral reforms. The answer is plain for all to see. When we, the people, see our elected representatives failed us in Parliament; when our grouses or grievances have fallen on deaf ears in Parliament where the majority is the errant BN coalition which has been clinging on to power for more than half a century; when all else failed in the legislative process, the common people of this country have no other choice but to resort to political action of their own and the only avenue that is available which can carry their massage across most effectively is to rally for their cause even to the extent of open defiance of police action against them.

Strange as it may seem, the powers that be seemed to have missed the point. The point is that the Bersih movement does not belong to or support the opposition or any political party. It is an apolitical movement. But it supports democracy which is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. When a government does not listen to the people’s grouses and does not take action on them then it is not a government for the people. And a government which is not for the people is not a democratic government, it is a dictatorship.

The message of Bersih, which is in fact the people’s message, is loud and clear – we, the people of this country, do not want a dictatorship! Since we do not want a dictatorship, at the next general election we will vote the dictators out of office and replace them with a new coalition even to the extent of voting in the opposition. And if the new order were to fail the people too, then we will replace them at another election. And finally if any of our political parties were still to fail us again then, as a last resort, we may have to vote only for individuals who are for the people and who are incorruptible. There must be plenty of suitable candidates to choose from for our representation in Parliament from the Bersih movement itself. Like Ambiga I do not have the stomach for politics in this country. There are much braver souls around.

Having said all that, one may still ask, what is the point then for a street demonstration albeit a peaceful one? The point is to bring out the people’s dissatisfaction and their grouse for a clean and incorrupt government. The multitude’s belief is that the only way to attain their goal is for a clean and incorrupt forthcoming general election. And when that had fallen on deaf ears the only avenue left for the people to voice their discontent is to rally in an orderly and peaceful demonstration like the Bersih walk to Stadium Merdeka although they never made it there as they were blocked by the police.

Now that you know what is at stake, my dear readers, you can go straight to to read about how the police have used excessive force on the peaceful demonstrators. In particular, do read this article “Ambushed like Animals, I Had to Walk-Crawl”. Here is an excerpt:

There was no sense of danger because the police had so far let us go ahead. Sure, we all knew that eventually they would arrest the BERSIH and political leaders but we had no clue of how inhumane it was going to be.

When we found ourselves manoeuvred into the tunnel, we started running as fast as we could.

Even if we had never imagined that we would be tear-gassed in the tunnel, there was that imminent danger.

I was in the middle of the crowd when I reached the end of the tunnel, relieved to be out of the ominous place. But by then, there was screaming because the FRU had started shooting tear gas straight towards at us. I saw it with my own eyes, the FRU was aiming directly at the people, and not over our heads.

The message was clear to me: to hurt and maim as many as possible, even though these were peaceful demonstrators, many of whom are respected political leaders of our country. It was only after that I had heard that Anwar Ibrahim and his bodyguard were badly hurt for being shot at, along with another PAS politician who was in front of the crowd.

After reading this you should also read the other articles about the Bersih rally in loyarburok.

After you have read all those articles in loyarburok, do you want to support Bersih? We should not be afraid of threats and coercion anymore. Bersih is not a society or association or club. There is no subscription or membership. You don’t have to join it. It is a movement and whenever there is an outcry by the people we can show our support for the movement by voting out the incumbent government of the day at the next election.

We have the power of the people. You don’t have to be loyal to any political party. Always be ready to tell those in government that they are our servants who should serve the people.

We, the people, have put them there and we the people can remove them in the next election. Any government must be for the people. It is not to be a government for those in authority or in power. That kind of attitude among those who governed us will no longer be tolerated by the people who had put them there in the first place. Shortly stated, we do not want a dictatorship at all. It is democracy that the people want and that means the government must always be for the people.

A government for the people does not incarcerate its citizens without a trial or on trump up charges or use draconian laws to terrorize and overawe its citizens or to stifle dissent. A government for the people are not intolerant of the people’s grouses. A government for the people does not shoot tear gas cylinders directly at peaceful demonstrators nor would it use physical force on them — they should not copy the violent methods used by the dictators of the Middle East on their own people. I could go on and on. But I think you have got the picture.