Round 3: Government versus People


In the end it was an exercise in futility. A return match is looming: the government versus the people. All the discussions about cleaning up the electoral roll were wisps of smoke that disappeared under a cloud of distrust and resentment. The final report was bulldozed through in Parliament without even a squeak of a debate. In an unkind cut, the Speaker chose to ignore the legitimate voice of the elected representatives. It was unparliamentary behaviour. It lends credence to the strong belief that the Speaker acted on the orders of his political masters.

The realisation has dawned that the only way to bring the recalcitrant government to its senses is to fire up again a mass movement. When people march on the streets or sit down, the message cannot go unnoticed. The heat generated is enough to cause sweat to break out on the faces of strongmen and sent them reeling in fear. In many countries the hated governments were sent tumbling down on the strength of street protests. Malaysia too had witnessed a surge of popular protests but harsh crackdown had snuffed out the light of hope. The emboldened rulers continued to grow more imperious with the passage of time.

The return bout is set to take place in a popular, historic arena. It was here, more than 50 years ago, that the clock struck for independence, bringing the curtain down on colonial rule. Today, another historic event is in the making as thousands will gather on the same spot to shout their lungs out for freedom: freedom from corruption, freedom from dirty politics, freedom from deceit. It is a sad commentary on the country that the cry for liberty – and justice – is still deafeningly ringing half a century later.

Bersih 2.0 was a powerful wake-up call to the establishment that had long paid little heed to the loud murmurrings of discontent. Brute force was used to crush the “uprising” but it failed to suppress the spirit. In what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture, the government bowed down to the will of the people. It duly set up a committee to look into the demands of the electoral watchdog and won some plaudits for its apparent sincerity. But when the panel had completed its mission and submitted its recommendations, it became clear that the government is not too keen to go the whole hog.

A sneaking suspicion has crept up that all the recommendations may not see the light of day. Doubts were cast on the sincerity of the Election Commission to implement the reforms before the general election is announced. Arrogrance has flowed back into the bloodstream of the government which is bouyed by its own readings that it is riding high on the popularity ratings. The boorish conduct of the Speaker in refusing to allow the opposition MPs to have the floor has buttressed the conviction that the government is spoiling for a fight. The public response is Bersih 3.0.

The confrontation may turn ugly as one minister in knight armour has sounded a warning that the venue for the gathering is off-limit to the public. He seems to think that a public space is only meant for 1Malaysia flag-waving crowds or public servants marching to patriotic music. He is wrong. A popular public site is where the heartbeat of the country often lies: it is where all the emotion and passion come into play as people bare their anger at the injustice of those who have abused their power. A public square symbolises the determination and courage of the people to stand up to the might of the state. It symbolises people power.