The Battle Has Just Begun

By Masterwordsmith

As I drove to Caring Society Complex, a light drizzle began – almost as if the heavens were silently weeping for the six civilians, Choo Chon Kai, Sarat Babu, Sarasvathy Muthu, Sukumaran A/L Munisamy, A. Letchumanan, and Dr. Jeyakumar Devaraj (MP for Sungei Siput) who were arrested under the Emergency Ordinance on July 2nd. It has been 27 tormentous days and nights not just for them, but also for their loved ones and loyal supporters.

By the time I arrived, the darkness of the night was reminiscent of the solitary confinement cells. Did they know night from day? Or how long they had been there? Deep within, I knew that this candlelight vigil and forum “BERSIH 2.0 Crack-Down: “EO Another ISA” Forum”* would be different from the rest because of the impact of the BERSIH 2.0 rally.

Shortly after 8p.m. the crowd from the function room gathered under the porch, lit their candles and made their way silently and solemnly to the gate. Wordlessly and without any leader, we gathered there. With hands raised high, the flickering flames of our candles refused to be snuffed out by the gentle breeze or the falling raindrops aptly symbolizing the cry in our hearts for their release and for electoral reform in our nation.

Led by Seok Hwa of Suaram, cries of “Hidup Rakyat” and “Bebaskan EO6” filled the night as the crowd grew in size. A few members from the crowd stepped forward to speak up for those in detention and also about the issue at hand – the repressive legislation enforced even though there is absolutely no emergency situation.

After the vigil came to an end, the crowd walked back to the function room animatedly, spirits revived and hearts entwined. Filled to the brim, some had to stand at the back and others in the corridors in a feverish fervour for truth and details about the background and facts of the six civilians and events related to Bersih 2.0.

Nora Murad, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM), introduced the first speaker of the evening, Dato’ Dr Toh Kin Woon, a civil society activist and Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee Member. In his trademark crisp and articulate voice with a faint British accent, Dato’ Dr. Toh stated firmly that whilst the events leading to the arrest of the EO6 and Bersih 2.0 rally brought out the worst of the elite in the government and institutions, it also showed up the best of the rakyat .

He emphasized that all BERSIH 2.0 wants is fair elections. People are frustrated that despite a barrage of calls for electoral reforms, these have largely been unheeded. The time has come for the rakyat to galvanize support for a clean and just electoral system. Until and unless we have this outcome, we will not have a full-functioning democracy and there can be no chance of a full-blown two-party coalition in this country.

The moment the announcement of the Bersih Rally was made, the worst of the state was displayed. Steering Committee 2.0 Chairman Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan was demonized, scolded and condemned by the mass media friendly to the ruling elite – mobilized for purposes of attempting to victimize the people involved, in particular – the PSM.

Dato’ Dr. Toh reminded the audience that no weapons were found during the arrest and yet EO6 were accused of wagging war against the King and for propagating communism even on though July 31, 1960, the Malayan Government had declared the end of the State of Emergency. And this is also in spite of the fact that our country has close ties with China.

Consequently, what we have seen would be the worst features of the state as seen in how chemical-laced water was fired at the crowd. Undeniably, the State and the public institutions concerned have certainly degenerated to a very worrisome state till people have lost confidence in the police and the judiciary whose professionalism and political partisanship are continuously being questioned.

Had the authorities given their approval from the onset, the walk would have been a non-event. Had our PM reacted by saying that he also wants clean and fair elections and sat down and talked with the BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee, things would have turned out differently. Had the Coalition received the permit to hold the rally at Stadium Merdeka, the international media would not have had a field day reporting on it negatively. The reaction from the authorities has been nothing short of combative arrogance in the use of force and power to crush dissent. Had they not been so threatening, the crowd might not have been so big to want reason and rationality from the leaders to talk sense to the people.

He went on to explain that the PSM was targeted simply because they have been taking a very consistent stand against the government on many issues including GST, elimination of poverty, social equality etc. It was a simple decision to nip the problem in the bud lest cronies be threatened so they had to be belligerent in their stand and treatment of the group.

July 9th brought out the best in Malaysians and the best in Malaysia because thousands overcame the fear factor despite fears being generated and yet, they came and they dared to defy, to be brave enough to unite, to stand up to fight an oppressive government.

From this experience, it is clear that civil society has an important role in engendering change and progress in our country.  BERSIH 2.0 has shown us how a multi-front coalition of 60+ legally registered NGOs can draw the attention of authorities to be a force to be reckoned. For sure, civil society can help create more democratic space for public dissent.