After Himpun, BERSIH 3.0?



A tumultous year in Malaysian politics.

Mahathir had already been PM for 6 years by then.

His darker side was soon to unleash itself upon the nation.

April that year, the challenge by Tengku Razaleigh for the top position in UMNO effectively split UMNO into two.

That Mahathir only managed to retain the presidency on a miniscule majority of 43 votes reflects the extent of the split then.

The challenge by Kuli’s supporters in respect of that election outcome in the High Court, the judicial pronouncement that UMNO was illegal, followed by the formation of UMNO Baru by Mahathir and Semangat 46 by Kuli and, bearing in mind that PAS then already had a significant grass root following, the Malay community then, not accounting for the numbers in Sabah and Sarawak, could, politically, be seen as a split into 3 camps.

Semangat 46 and PAS almost immediately found common ground upon which to co-operate.

Mahathir and UMNO found themselves pushed against the wall.

They no longer commanded the support of the majority of the Malays.

As if having to deal with this issue was not enough, Mahathir also had to contend with the High Court and Supreme Court that was flexing their judicial muscles.

Injunction granted by the Supreme Court, on the application of Lim Kit Siang, to restrain UEM from acting on the North South Expressway contract awarded to it.

Injunction granted by the High Court to restrain Asia Rare Earth from dumping radio active waste Bukit Merah.

Worst of all, Mahathir had to endure a seemingly free press, notably, The Star.

In October, that year, a plan was set into action.

Using demands by Chinese educationist group Dong Jiao Zong in respect of non Mandarin-speaking senior assistants being sent out to Chinese school, UMNO youth organised a huge rally in KL.

Led by Najib.

Calling for the blood of Chinese to be spilt.

Stage 2 of the drama : a series of exchanges between MCA’s Lee Kim Sai and UMNO youth, which served to heighten tension.

Stage 3 : Ops Lalang. 106 detained. Opposition leaders and social activists. Diverse enough so that the real targets might be lost in the numbers.

The Star was shut down.

Months later, when The Star resumed publication, it was under a new management and with a permit issued under the amended Printing Press and Publications Act, 1984.

All the other media, too, were now either UMNO-owned or controlled.

The days of reporting without fear or favour were over.

One  more move called for.

Salleh Abas removed and, in his place, Mahathir’s errand boy, Hamid Omar installed as top dog in the judiciary.

And the heightened tensions, albeit contrived, that led up to Ops Lalang, served to remind the average citizen of the tragedy of May 13.

Mahathir, and UMNO, still without the support of the majority of the Malays, but now having cowed the non-Malays into voting for stability rather than change and reforms at every general election, the judiciary rendered impotent, and now able to maintain an unassailable grip on the psyche of the nation through a controlled media, would continue to rule, rob and rape  the nation for another 2 generations.

This, notwithstanding the birth of Reformasi, following the sacking of Anwar in 1997, which further diluted UMNO’s hold on an already much-reduced following in the Malay community.

Fast forward to 2007.

The expose of the VK Lingam video in September.

The lawyers march for justice on 26th September.

Bersih rally on 10th November.

Hindraf rally on 25th November.

For UMNO, the lawyers march was a trifling annoyance.

Bersih, they feared.

It was non-racial. It would see Malaysians from all walks of life come together on a common issue : free and fair elections.

The very thing that UMNO, almost since Malaya gained independence, could not afford.

The Hindraf rally, so UMNO thought, would offer them the best opportunity to react with a rally of their own.

Their media would spin it as a challenge to the special rights of the Malays, and UMNO would orchestrate a rally of its own to galvanise the Malays to unite.

So a decision was made.

Leave the Hindraf leaders at large so that the rally could go on.

Detain them after the rally.

And then hold their on UMNO rally.

On 19th December, in Kampung Baru.

UMNO’s miscalculation then, was in underestimating how the alternative media had further eroded their influence amongst the urban Malays.

If, in 1987, the numbers rallying in Kampung Baru had to be beefed up by bussing in people from the heartlands to add to those from the city, in 2007, Malays dwelling int the city, it was clear, could not be counted on.

They would have to be practically made up of folk bussed into the city.

And paid and fed Pekida and Mat Rempit.

RM70 each with 1 nasi bungkus thrown in.

Finally, a report from special branch put paid to that planned rally in December.

That report had it that in the Hindraf rally, there were people who were bearing diesel and kerosene, ready to self-immolate.

Yes, they were ready to die for a cause they believed in.

UMNO’s planned rally, on the other hand, would comprise mercenaries and rural folk out to take advantage of a chance of an outing to the city, all paid for.