Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Children Of My Country

I was at the 2007 Bersih rally and again yesterday at Bersih 2.0

Four years ago, my blog post "The Country Of My Children" sounded moot and hopeless. What Malaysia will my children grow old in? But 4 months after Bersih 1.0 BN lost its two thirds majority in Parliament.

In yesterday's Bersih 2.0 rally my children were with me in the thick of things; tear gas, tension, aches and all. They too demand a better tomorrow and what is more important there were thousands of other Malaysian youths their age participating - numbers that I did not see in 2007. All older participants I spoke to in 2007 and indeed yesterday said they were there for their children's future but yesterday, the children were there to represent themselves! The youth are demanding back their nation.

And what else will echo louder among our young voters? The Bersih spirit will be viral among them who virtually live in the Net...literally and figuratively.

One can only imagine how many more would have attended if not for the "shut down" of Kuala Lumpur. The roadblocks, negative reports and incessant warnings and threats from the police did not deter the thousands who swarmed downtown to demand clean and fair elections. By my estimation, the numbers were about the same as 2007. Najib and BN continue to "shiok sendiri" like old snoozeball before him and believe their own spin. It is superfluous to quote Utusan but the NSTP and The Star reported as follows:

No winner in this madness
The demonstrators being dispersed in front of  Menara Maybank in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The demonstrators being dispersed in front of Menara Maybank in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The New Straits Times 10th July 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: Rally organisers claimed the street demonstration yesterday was a success. Police, too, said their operation to curb the riots was a success. Which meant that the only loser was the man on the street. This is left to be seen.

Weddings, other celebrations and events were called off as many were afraid to leave their homes, roadblocks caused traffic chaos on several major roads, businesses were shut and taxi drivers complained they could not earn enough to pay their daily rental.
The promises by rally organisers that their march would be peaceful and that it would not affect the public adversely were not kept. The only aggressors were the police

For about four hours from noon yesterday, there were flash points at various spots in the city when supporters of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), Umno Youth's "Patriots" and hundreds of policemen squared up to each other. The two groups did no meet

Conspicuously missing were Malay rights group, Perkasa, and Pertubuhan Seni Silat Lincah Malaysia, which in the run-up to yesterday's rally, had threatened violence to stop the Bersih march.
But even without the two groups, the city endured four hours of madness. Caused by the police blockades

Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, who police said numbered "about 5,000 to 6,000", but they were defiant. They mocked the authorities and were spoiling for a fight from the beginning. 5000 to 6000 police personnel to about 40,000 marchers would be more accurate to say. See the thousands of photos and hundreds of videos online and judge for yourself.  

When the authorities moved in, they moved on, causing the disturbance to spread from Masjid Negara to Dataran Merdeka, KL Sentral, Lebuh Pasar Besar, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Pudu, Masjid Jamek, Jalan Sultan, Jalan Tun Perak and Kampung Baru. There was no necessity for the authorities to move in because the marchers were moving on!

All these were captured by the foreign media, precisely what the rally organisers wanted, but at what cost to the nation and its people. 

In previous weeks, tensions escalated as various parties took sides. A multitude of reasons and justifications were given, but every individual or group which threw itself into the fray eventually fell into one of two camps -- pro-Bersih or anti-Bersih.

Accusations were thrown, abuses hurled. The language of the discourse, whether in the media or in the coffee shops, turned more divisive by the day. 

Arrests were made, weapons confiscated, counter-rallies organised. More than three thousand police reports and counter-reports were filed.

The Bersih 2.0 campaign, which had begun with such noble intentions and in such high hopes, was threatening to collapse upon itself. Even among its supporters, there were calls towards creating a local version of the Arab Spring and Tahrir Square, evoking a state of lawlessness and chaos far removed from the democratic ideal it was protecting.

For those old enough to remember, the spectre of May 13, 1969 loomed like a dark cloud over the noise of the squabbling parties. The causes were different then but this is how it had begun -- anger drowning out the voices of reason, discontent washing over the city's streets.
May 13? The protesters today are multi-racial and representative of the country's demographic.

It took the intervention of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to cool hot heads last Sunday, which allowed both sides to return tentatively back towards the road to civil dialogue.

The counter-rallies were called off. Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga agreed to the offer made by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that the rally be held in a stadium.

But that was shortlived. Anywhere but KL, police said, concerned about public safety and security.

As negotiations fell through, Bersih's aims fell by the wayside. What had begun as a call for electoral reform had turned into an all-out campaign against the system of government.

What was clear was that Berish's intentions were hijacked by the opposition coalition as shown in a photograph taken at a press conference at KL Hilton at the height of the rally yesterday.

Ambiga was seated together with parliamentary opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang.

What had begun as a call for strengthening democracy became a battle cry for civil disobedience and yesterday, what the authorities feared most, happened.
   This is all the usual spiel

People got hurt and almost 1,600 were arrested, including 16 children. Caused by whom?

Most appalling was the number of parents who brought their children to the rally, despite the knowledge that events could turn ugly.

They wanted their children to witness "democracy in action". What disturbed many was that many of the children had barely mastered the art of walking, much less the nuances of democracy.

It is too easy to forget when we see a picture of a bloodied and bruised protester splashed on the front pages of the papers, that the person is someone's son, someone's sister, someone's mother, or someone's husband.

So in the end, who won?
Who won? Obviously, we know who lost...

Read more: No winner in this madness

The following from Najib in the Star is even more classic. Shiok sendiri or more spiel?

The Sunday Star 10th July 2011

Najib: Let illegal rally be a lesson to the people

KUALA TERENGGANU: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is grateful that the illegal rally did not cause serious harm to people and property.

The Prime Minister also said he was glad that the majority of Malaysians, especially those living in Klang Valley, did not take part in it.

“I hope the incident today (yesterday) will serve as a lesson for everyone that street demonstration not only brings hardship to the people, it could also lead to possessions being destroyed,” he said after presenting prizes to the winners of the Bakti sports competition here yesterday.

Najib also said the so-called demand by Bersih protesters for a clean and fair election was merely to serve their ulterior motive.

“Had the event turned serious, they would fully exploit it by giving an impression that Malaysia had no political stability with instances of police brutality.

Bersih supporters shaking hands with policemen after the rally in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

 “Bersih supporters even changed their slogan to reformasi during the illegal rally, which is not at all related to their initial demand,” he said.

“It is proof that this illegal rally is politically-motivated and the demands for electoral reform are just an excuse for them to organise such rallies.”
The Government, he stressed, was always open to any discussion including a clean and fair election, as it had always practised such a system.
“If there are other issues, the rally organisers can discuss with the Election Commission and the Government.
“But illegal rallies and street demonstrations are out of the question,” he said.

If everyone were to go to the street to express their views, then chaos would reign, he added.

“What will happen to our country if there are daily street demonstrations?”

He said the Government had always wanted the rakyat to choose a government through a fair process.

Najib also quashed talk that the rally was a success, saying that the number of people who turned up was small compared with the organiser's initial estimates.

“However, we know there are certain media outlets, not the mainstream media, which love to exaggerate the event.

“If it was 5,000, they would say there were 10,000 or 20,000.

On the arrests of several key leaders including Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, Najib said it was up to the police to take action on them whether they were pro or against the government.

Malaysiakini reports differently:

Fortress KL: How did Bersih 2.0 slip past?

Roadblocks, negative reports and incessant warnings from the authorities did not stop thousands from swarming downtown Kuala Lumpur to demand clean and fair elections.

The busy junction in front of the Puduraya bus terminal became the focal point of yesterday's protest as crowds snowballed from 500 in nearby Petaling Street at 12.40pm to a whopping 10,000 just half an hour later.

And while the protesters faced off with the police at Jalan Pudu, just round the corner, mere metres away an estimated thousand more were turned away from the original planned gathering point Stadium Merdeka, which was barricaded by police with barbed wire.

But with so many obstacles in place and the entire city practically locked down with roadblocks and closure of key LRT stations, how did the protesters give the police the slip and organised themselves?

The answer, perhaps, is still a mystery to Bersih 2.0 and possibly even the police who had placed much of its strength at key rally points in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Pasar Seni, Masjid Jamek and Masjid Negara, leaving Petaling Street relatively unguarded.

Petaling Street catalyst

Having conducted mass arrests at pre-announced gathering points in Masjid Negara, the old railway station nearby, Sogo and Masjid Jamek, the police somehow left Petaling Street alone where the protest grew.

Small clusters had gathered at the Chinatown market as early as 11am when suddenly, applause broke and the group started marching.

As the group crossed Jalan Tan Cheng Lock and further down to Jalan Petaling, it grew from 500 to 1,000, believed to include another few hundreds that were chased out from Masjid Negara, Pasar Seni and Dayabumi building.

As they moved down Jalan Petaling, the group, by chance, was bolstered by PAS supporters who had escaped arrest in the area around Masjid Jamek and Masjid India.

Within 15 minutes, the march had snowballed to about 4,000 people, clogging up the entire stretch of Jalan Sultan, about 750m away from Stadium Merdeka.

By then, the procession had taken a rather carnival-like atmosphere, with urbanites carrying flowers and Malaysian flags, singing songs and chanting “Bersihkan Piliharaya” (Clean up the election).

Young, multiracial crowd

Notably, the crowd was made up of many Malaysians in their 20s who were first-time demonstrators.

Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent research house Merdeka Centre, dubbed this group as the Facebook generation.

“Other than the usual opposition supporters, I noticed a lot of newcomers this rally. This may signify that Bersih 2.0 has managed to spark something through Facebook to galvanise this kind of support,” said Ibrahim, who had also walked yesterday.

While several marshalls were spotted, the crowd mostly moved organically, strangely stopping at corner of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Tun HS Lee when they could have marched all the way up to the stadium to confront the riot police defending the historical landmark.

Herd mentality somehow led the crowd of 4,000 to Jalan Tun Perak, where about 1,000 from Masjid Jamek who had gathered in front of the Maybank tower, near the recently renovated Puduraya bus station.

It was then that the first real leader of the demonstration emerged in the form of PAS election director and former Bersih steering committee member Dr Hatta Ramli, who ominously announced on loudspeaker, “If you have a yellow shirt, this is the time to put it on.”

A diverse group, one common cause

Moments later, the first barrage of tear gas began raining in and pandemonium broke lose.

Tens of thousands of people started running towards Puduraya while those on the hill slope by the Maybank building climbed gates to get as far away from the stinging gas as possible, crowding a fountain to wash their faces.

The tear gas split the group into two, one which regrouped at Jalan Pudu where a protracted stand-off with the police took place, while the remainder joined a smaller crowd from Kuala Lumpur Selangor Assembly Hall which had earlier marched to Stadium Merdeka.

In the end, this Bersih 2.0 group led by national laureateA Samad Saidmanaged to get only several hundred meters away from the Istana before they were stopped, failing thus to hand over their the movement's petition to the Agong.

But despite being foiled from its original plan, Bersih 2.0 had succeeded in getting ordinary Malaysians from all walks of life - from the trendies to the skull-cap wearing conservatives - to come together for a common cause.

And unlike other protests before, it was a multiracial crowd that at 4pm, when unexpectedly informed that police would allow them to march to Jalan Sultan, it was met by rounds of “thank you” and the crowd broke into an impromptu rendition of the national anthem.

Police brutality

In comparison, Malaysiakini reporter Ahmad Fadzly Esa reported that only 20 Perkasa members were spotted for their “stroll” in Taman Titiwangsa lakes, when they had initially promised about 15,000 for a counter-rally. The group had called it off after failing to secure a police permit.

Meanwhile, a counter rally by Umno Youth in Bukit Bintang attracted 500 'patriots', slightly over a third of the 1,400 people arrested yesterday.

On the same note, police brutality remains a concern as heavy-handed measures were employed to disperse what was a peaceful march until the water cannons and tear gas were deployed.

Bleeding protestors were carted off by police personnel, while a man spotted on the ground with a fracture and his wrists bound in police-issued plastic handcuffs.

He had boot marks on his pants and claimed that several police personnel had pinned him to the ground and kicked his leg.

The police brutality will remain fresh in the minds of many over the coming weeks and would likely undermine many of the government's transformation policies which are gradually being rolled out

Some photos and video (Courtesy of Yeak Nai Siew)

1 comment:

Sam said...

Thumbs up to Cheah Family and many passionate young participants out there! You guys rock!