Friday, July 8, 2011


The BERSIH 2.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur, scheduled for tomorrow could have represented a welcome change in Malaysian democracy. The organization, now banned, has some very legitimate criticisms of the Malaysian electoral process, which, if acknowledged, could reduce some of the endless mud-slinging by defeated politicians and focus more attention on more pressing issues.

BERSIH's demands are not confined to elections either. They include several demands to implement the very foundations of a modern, open democracy that Malaysia lacks, either completely or to a worrying degree. Among these are demands to strengthen public institutions, stopping corruption and stopping dirty politics.
The ideas offered by BERSIH, by and large, are what is needed to make Malaysian politics cleaner, more mature and more substantive.

These last three demands are probably the most important, mainly because putting them in place largely clears up the whole vote-fraud she-bang. In addition, they also ensure that other aspects of Malaysian political life, like the courts and media remain impartial. This impartiality is important to ensure that people who could shake up Malaysian politics are not discriminated against, and also so idealistic youth are not discouraged from entering politics.

Even if none of BERSIH's demands are heeded by the Electoral Commission, the rally would still be a welcome exercise in free speech, and freedom of expression. It would show that there are people whose brains are not stultified by the constant lack of depth of Malaysian politics. And it raises uncomfortable questions that must be addressed sooner rather than later, instead of simply sweeping them under the carpet and maintaining a false image of a united, peaceful and progressive society.

Unfortunately, it is this lack of depth that causes Malaysian's politicians to think rally = chaos. And also to believe BERSIH is Communist, when opportunistic groups (unaffiliated with BERSIH) simply distributed pamphlets in support of the MCP.
Idiots like Ibrahim Ali, Pasir Mas MP, are the ones who have jeopardised Malaysia's democracy by threatening confrontations in response to legitimate exercises of free speech.

Rallies are peaceful things, if controlled by the police and kept violence free. What's made this one potentially chaotic is the threat by pro-government rowdies (like UMNO Youth and Perkasa) to have counter rallies and confrontations. And this lot, being uneducated and uncouth, are the violent ones. But the government lacks the brains to distinguish this and has used them as part of the excuse to ban BERSIH.

The government response has also jeopardized Najib Tun Razak's efforts to paint his government as open, liberal and moderate. Equally bone-headed has been the suggestion to BERSIH to mass in a stadium, knowing full-well no municipal government will allow a rally by a banned group in any of it's stadiums.
Najib Razak's efforts to win back the electorate with moderate politics coupled with economic transformation has foundered thanks to his administration's poor response to BERSIH.

The government should recognize it is to it's advantage to heed BERSIH's demands. If not, the target's it has set itself under the GTP and ETP become very much harder to achieve, especially the ones regarding foreign investment. And it will find itself booted out of office at the next election, Najib's popularity notwithstanding.

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