Large turn-out at Bersih gatherings in Sabah, Sarawak
Sabah and Sarawak, unused to such gatherings, saw an unprecedented number of people joining the Bersih 3.0 rally for clean and fair elections.
KOTA KINABALU: About 1,500 people from all walks of life converged at the historic Padang Merdeka in the city today, only to be turned away by hundreds of policemen barricading the field.
They, however, managed to conduct their Bersih 3.0 sit-in – for free and fair elections – around the field which on normal days is open to the public either for sport or recreation.
Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK) officers were quick to thwart Sabah Bersih 3.0 plans to hold its peaceful sit-in protest against electoral fraud which the state has seen more than its fair share of since the 1990s when the Unmo-led Barisan Nasional coalition came to power.
However, DBKK’s hastily organised anti-crime programme was poorly attended with almost all the stalls set up on the field empty.
Only scores of DBKK staff were present in the stalls. Nevertheless, they used their loud speaker system to disrupt the speeches of some Bersih leaders who were using a hailer.
Among those present were Bersih 3.0 Sabah chairman, singer Atama, whose real name is Andrew Ambrose, State Reform Party (STAR) Sabah chairman, Jeffrey Kitingan, state DAP chairman, Jimmy Wong and PKR leaders.
Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) Yong Teck Lee, who sent 200 members from the party’s youth wing, also appeared briefly.
Police put the number of Bersih demonstrators at about 800 to 1,000.
However, opposition leaders claimed there could be easily more than 2,000 who turned up.
There were no untoward incidents, no arrests were made and the crowd started to disperse. Sudden cleanup at monument
Meanwhile, a small group of 20 activists who gathered at the now famous Peter Mojuntin Monument in Donggongon, Penampang, some 12km from here, were prevented from holding their sit-in protest at the site.
But unperturbed, they went on to stage their sit-in at a cafe next to the monument.
In a bit of a comedic operation, workers of the Penampang District Council and some policemen carried out a clean-up at the monument from 11am till 4pm without stopping, the first time the authority has done so in years, according to locals.
They were seen scrubbing the floor areas and the lower part of the bronze statue of the revered leader of the Kadazandusuns.
The workers also made sure the area was wet at all times so that it was unsuitable for a sit-in protest.
Among the activists present there were chairman of CigMa or Common Interest Group Malaysia, Daniel John Jambun, representative of Mafrel and Transparency International, Jerry Ombou, Penampang representative Bernard Solibun and lawyer Peter Marajin.
Meanwhile, in the east coat town of Tawau, scores of residents came out in a show of solidarity for Bersih 3.0 as well as to protest the approval for an Australian company to process rare earth in the country.
About 100 young and elderly folk gathered at the Union Tea House here between 1pm and 3pm and chatted over cups of tea and coffee before posing for a group photo.
They were joined by Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) Tawau MP Chua Soon Bui, DAP woman chairman Cristina Yeo and MCA Tawau Youth chairman Marco Yap .
Plainclothes police personnel kept the group under watch but did not interfere.
Yap, the only BN member there, said he received support when he posted on his Facebook that he will come to the gathering to back Himpunan Hijau.
“Tawau politicians showed maturity, pushing aside politics when fighting for a good cause,” he said.
Chua said the protest had nothing to do with politics, but rather was a bid to show that people are not happy with the Election Commission and the government’s indecisiveness over the Lynas rare earth plant project.
“With the gatherings in Malaysia and around the world, it is the people’s hope that the message will get across to the government that transparency and accountability must be taken seriously.”
New experience in Sarawak
PAS also held its own gathering but it was more like a picnic by the seaside, with several members wearing the Bersih’s yellow T-shirts.
In SARAWAK, the Bersih sit-in went on without any major incidents. It was apparently the first such experience for Sarawakians who have only read, watched and heard of street protests.
Organisers in Kuching and Miri said they were happy with the support shown by Sarawakians for Bersih’s nationwide sit-down demanding clean and free polls.
In Kuching, some 1,500 people gathered at the Old Courthouse area near the Kuching Waterfront. The Waterfront was cleaned by Kuching City Hall, making it inconvenient for any “sit-down” activity.
Nonetheless, the crowd proceeded to the Old Courthouse and joining them were DAP elected representatives Chong Chieng Jen (Kota Sentosa), Violet Yong (Pending), Chiew Chu Sing (Kidurung) and PKR assemblymen Baru Bian and See Chee How. Also present were several NGOs championing native and environmental issues.
Meanwhile, Miri saw a 1,400-strong crowd gather in front of the Resident’s Office while in Sibu some 600 supporters made a beeline to the Central Market.
According to Sibu Bersih’s Dominic Sii, the sit-down protest was a “new” experience for Sibu residents.
He said the gathering saw a large turnout from the local Iban and Malay communities.
“We have never protested like this. It is a new experience for us. We were surprised and encouraged to see the participation of a large group of Ibans and Malays.
“Everyone was cooperative. We sat down until 4pm and then dispersed,” he told FMT.
Also present were DAP’s two assemblymen David Wong (Palawan) and Yap Hoy Leong (Tutong).