AT ONE time in Malaysia, especially during the earlier part of Tun Mahathir premiership, people were afraid of the government. Dark stories of sufferings in detention haunted the people, and to us then, being arrested under the ISA was a fearful, dreadful thing.
But now, we young people like Atama Katama saying he is prepaid to be arrested under the ISA if need be, for the sake of his struggle for free and elections in his beloved country.
On being released after her arrest on July 9, Ambiga Sreenevasan, Bersih’s President, stated what was already obvious to everyone: “Malaysians are no longer scared of government intimidation.”
This reminds me of what, Thomas Jefferson, one of the drafters of the US Declaration of Independence, said: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Gladly, we are clearly heading for that liberty, because it is obvious the government is now on the defensive, clearly intimidated and threatened by the force of the people’s desire for clean and free elections in the country. This was made amply clear during the Bersih rally on July 9.
Despite weeks of threats and intimidation from the government, laced with rude remarks to make Bersih look like an evil organization, supposedly having a destructive agenda, the people came in droves. The whole city was locked down, but 50,000 people managed to pass through and participate in the rally in high spirit.
What should a government do when the people are no longer afraid to be arrested, even to suffer for a good and noble cause? Isn’t is a sign that the end is in sight for the BN?
The BN leaders downplayed the impact of the day by saying the planned rally didn’t get the support of the people “because only about 10,000 people turned up instead of the planned 100,000.” But if the police and FRU didn’t lock down the city, and allowed a free rally, there would have been 200,000 or even more. The fact is 50,000 turned up in spite of the police blockades.
The loud verbal attacks by the Prime Minister against the rally organizers in an arranged and BN-sponsored gathering on 6,000 at the Putra World Trade Centre the following day, sounded hollow and futile, a reaction which was too little too late.
The irony of the speech was that it tried to insult the rally participants and those who wished they participated, but it only achieved to galvanize their support for Bersih instead of demoralizing or cowering them into submission.
The PM sounded so illogical in his reasoning, and by the sound and the fury of his speech it was obvious he was doing it all just to try a psychological victory over the previous day’s rally. It was also obvious he was scared, and feeling highly threatened by Bersih. BN had succeeded in making enemies with the rally participants, and created a strong body of anti-BN Malaysians – a reversal of the 1Malaysia objectives.
The BN is now in a very serious quandary. What will it do now? Should it clean up the election process? And isn’t that what the government of a free and democratic country supposed to be doing? But then won’t that be an exercise in self-destruction? Then again, if it doesn’t clean up the obviously dirty election process, how will it justify itself to the people?
The BN must also be struggling with the hard question of what to do with Bersih 3.0 – the third rally which Bersih is threatening to hold if the government doesn’t do anything to meet its 8-point demand. And we can bet, this time the rally will be at least three times bigger than the one on July 9, even with the brutal suppression of the police and FRU. There are already Bersih rallies all over the world, and more will come.
The other dilemma giving BN a throbbing headache is whether to suppress or just allow Bersih’s next huge rally. If it is allowed, the number of demonstrators will be so huge it will create history and an international embarrassment for the BN regime. If it is suppressed even harder than before, the police brutality, which will be exposed by international news media and the internet, will lower Malaysia to the barbaric level ofthe Middle East regimes.
So the BN is now caught in the middle, between the choice of becoming civilized or uncivilised. It knows that cruel suppression will fail, and will tarnish the nation’s image, and it will definitely lead to a quicker downfall of the BN. The best choice would be for it to listen to the people, to do the right thing, which is to comply and fulfill Bersih's 8-point demand. This is because the people are asking why is the BN so reluctant to do the right thing, and why is a clean electoral process so frightening to the BN?