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Monday, April 30, 2012

A big crowd — and big problems



The blame game over the Bersih rally is still going on but among political circles, there is a sense that some sort of tipping point has occurred after Saturday's violent clashes.
IN terms of numbers, Datuk S. Ambiga won big. No one could remember ever seeing such a mammoth crowd demonstrating in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Size matters in politics and the crowd variously cited at between 50,000 to 250,000 had Pakatan Rakyat politicians floating on Cloud Nine and sent chills through the spine of Barisan Nasional leaders.
But days after the Bersih 3.0 protest, the perception is that Ambiga may have also lost big because of the way the protest got out of control and turned violent. It was a nightmare come true and left a bad taste in the mouth of many people for “peaceful protests”. The blame game is still raging, with opposing sides pointing fingers at each other for what happened.
According to Prof James Chin of Monash University Sunway Campus, Saturday was bad for both sides.
Act of violence: A fallen police out-rider being set upon by a protester at Saturday’s Bersih 3.0 demonstration in Kuala Lumpur.
Ambiga's black eye, no thanks to the behaviour of those who turned the event into a melee, gave the impression that Bersih and its Pakatan Rakyat partners are prepared to risk it all to attain power.
“Check the international reporting that day - the key words were rioting, mob, violence. The core message of Bersih was lost,” said Chin.
As for the ruling coalition, said Chin, its black eye is that when there is rioting, it does not matter who starts it, the finger is always pointed at the law enforcers since they are responsible for maintaining law and order.
Ambiga had earlier hinted there could be Bersih 4.0 but she will have trouble convincing Malaysians that she can guarantee a peaceful rally after this.
Besides, she must know that there are many people - more than those who took to the streets on Saturday - who are very angry with her for what has happened. For these people, Malaysia is not Egypt, Najib is not Mubarak, the country is a parliamentary democracy and they do not appreciate scenes of anarchy playing out on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Scenes of yellow-shirted protesters going for the police and the police going for the protesters are still playing out on YouTube. Ambiga has been trying to explain what went wrong, to apportion the blame and basically to do damage control.
She has, however, stopped short of blaming PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and several other PKR leaders for firing up the crowd to break down the barriers and enter Dataran Merdeka despite a court injunction surrounding the area.
There was a great deal of euphoria among the organisers when they declared a turnout of 250,000 people. It was people power on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
But post-Bersih 3.0 has been quite different from post-Bersih 2.0. When people marched in Bersih 2.0, they were marching in the name of clean and fair elections. It was a worthy cause and there was a great deal of sympathy for them even among those who stayed at home.
Since then, the Prime Minister has replaced the ISA with the Peaceful Assembly Act and a Parliamentary Select Committee has recommended sweeping electoral reforms and its report has been tabled in Parliament.
The Government agreed to all but one of the eight demands made by Bersih.
But as some have pointed out, Bersih has since “shifted the goal posts” and imposed new demands and conditions, including the resignation of the current Election Commission leadership. These conditions were the basis for Saturday's show of force.
A few days before the demonstration, many of the allegations about electoral discrepancies made by Bersih advocates were explained by Umno Youth leader and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin at a public debate with Ambiga. Both speakers were very well-prepared with their case but Khairy came out on top because he had really done his homework. but Ambiga and her group were not there to be persuaded or convinced. They were set on another street protest and nothing that Khairy said or argued was going to change her mind.
It was quite apparent that Ambiga had made up her mind that the EC could not be trusted and the group demanded nothing less than the resignation of the EC chairman and its other officials.
It is unclear how the impasse between Bersih and the Government will play out from now till the general election.
The perception is that Bersih's objectives of clean and fair elections have extended to regime change. Or at least, that is what the political parties, which have lent their numbers and resources to the movement, are after.
But among political circles, there is a sense that some sort of tipping point has occurred after Saturday's clashes.
The protest has hurt the ruling coalition, especially internationally, but back home, the impression that the Opposition is trying to force its way to Putrajaya via street politics is not going to sit well on the middle-ground voters and they are the ones who will decide the next general election. - Star

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