If only they had chosen another site …



THE rally demanding electoral reforms in the centre of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday was supposed to be a peaceful sit-in. Instead, the crowd turned unruly, a picture that shamed other Malaysians who watched in horror as the events unfolding.

As part of a team of journalists assigned to cover the rally, I was excited, but this soon turned to anxiety as I watched the crowd getting bigger and the voices of dissent growing louder.

As I followed a group which marched from Masjid Negara to Dataran Merdeka shortly after 2pm, the situation was calm. Police were everywhere, but they were unobtrusive and kept their distance.

Yes, security was tight, but that was only to be expected with such a big crowd. I must say I was relieved to see the men in blue who did not prevent the crowd from doing what they wanted most … to let their voices be heard. The mood was lively, people were laughing, alternately chanting “Bersih” and “Reformasi”, and carrying banners of the same.

I remember thinking to myself, it would be different this time. After Bersih 2.0, people were more matured and knew what they were doing.

I was even more convinced when Bersih co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga, after finishing her short speech at Jalan Tun Perak at 2.45pm, ordered the crowd to disperse.

I believe she was satisfied with the rally’s outcome and that they had made their point that day.

She had also kept her promise to heed the court’s order that no protest was allowed to take place at the square that day and that they would only gather as near as possible. I was so wrong.

“Bersurai! Bersurai! Bersurai!” she urged.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose. I saw the crowd surging towards the entrance of Dataran Merdeka and I heard shouts that a group of people had broken through the barricade.

As I pushed my way forward through the jostling crowd, I saw police had already started firing water cannon at the demonstrators. They fought back and some even threw stuff at the police.

From where I was standing, I saw police were trying their best to control the crowd, but I could sense their desperation. And then tear gas was fired. The rest is history.

Now, reading the posts on Facebook and blogs which condemned the police action, I beg to differ,

There would not have been chaos if Ambiga’s instruction for the crowd to disperse had been heeded.

In retrospect, it appeared to me that some of those who came did not come as supporters, but to instigate the crowd to provoke the police.

The organisers should have seen this coming, after Bersih, Bersih 2.0 and now, Bersih 3.0.

It was a shock to many of us journalists to see the violence that afternoon. A broadcast journalist came out of the chaos with a bandaged head and a blood-soaked T-shirt.

He claimed the crowd attacked him when they caught him recording a scene where a group of them was allegedly beating up a policeman in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

The blogs regaled reports of police brutality, but what about mob violence? The police were just doing their duty. And they did it admirably. I witnessed at least five incidents on Saturday where police were civil to the crowd and helped those who were hurt and escorted them to safety.

They did not even flinch when a woman in yellow spat at one of them when they asked her to move back from the barricaded area. Instead, the policeman wiped the spittle off his breast pocket and nodded at her.

Saturday’s Bersih was not something unexpected, but it could have been avoided if only the organisers had in the first place chosen to hold the gathering elsewhere. If only …