Malaysians go global in quest for greater democracy: Bersih 3.0 in 41 cities,14 countries
Global Bersih, the international chapter of the Malaysian movement for free and fair elections, will hold sister rallies in 41 cities in 14 countries around the world on April 28.
"The Malaysian government must understand that the Bersih movement will not cease till meaningful and sustainable democratic and electoral reforms are implemented," Yolanda Augustin, Global Bersih's representative in Britain said in a statement.
A polls pressure group, Bersih held its first rally in 2007 after failing to get Prime Minister Najib Razak's Umno-BN governmemt to clean up the electoral system. The Malaysian balloting process is notorious for shady practices where the Election Commission, police and other authorities have long been accused of conspiring to help the Umno-BN win.
Phantoms voters, citizenship in exchange for votes, duplicated names and an electoral roll that the EC refuses to open up to an independent check have forced Bersih to announce its third rally on April 28.
Within Malaysia, sister rallies will be held in all the states, while in Kuala Lumpur, there is a great sense of anticipation amongst the people who are eager to gather at the Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square to show solidarity, and to express displeasure at the Najib administration.
Indeed, not only has Najib tried to ride roughshod over public demands to reform the electoral process, he has introduced a string of new laws that he and his government insist bring greater human rights and democracy to Malaysia.
However, civil society, opposition leaders and even top international NGOs have slammed the double-talk from Umno-BN, accusing Najib of slipping in controls that ultimately give his government and the police greater powers than ever before.
Corruption, a decades long problem, is now so widespread and tolerated that Najib's Umno party openly defends leaders who have been caught red-handed helping themselves to the national till.
Rising prices, cost of living and runaway property prices are other grouses Malaysians have, and so is the recent slew of bailout deals for crony businessmen linked to Umno BN. In short, Bersih 3.0 or not, ordinary Malaysians are itching for a showdown with their government.
"Driving Bersih 3.0 is the growing people power of Malaysians at home and abroad who are demanding free and fair elections, underwritten by ademocratic, corruption-free and transparent electoral system," said Global Bersih.
“On the 28th of April, 2012, the brave Malaysians at Dataran Merdeka must know they do not stand alone. Malaysians in England, Europe, all of Asia, the US, Canada, the Middle East, everywhere, stand by you in spirit and for the cause under which KL has united us all.
Rallies will also be held in Washington DC, New York, Tokyo, Beijing, Toronto, Paris, London, Seoul, Dubai, Zurich and all of Australia’s capital cities.
Bersih announced its third rally on April 4 after a Parliamentary Select Committee dominated by Umno-BN lawmakers rejected reforms proposed by the Bersih committee, insisting that the proposals it tabled were sufficient to safeguard voters.
Bersih leaders Ambiga Sreenevasan and national laureate A Samad Said have accused Najib of trying to rush through a "cosmetic" parliamentary review so as to hold elections before a proper revamp could be carried out.
Electoral reforms would be a major risk to the Umno-BN's chances in the coming 13th general election, widely expected to held by mid-June. The Umno-BN has ruled Malaysia for 56 years and during its tenure of near absolute power has hammered in gerrymandering operations and constituted rules skewed in its own favor.
In 2011, Bersih held its second rally on July 9, attended by more than 50,000. With the example of the Arab Spring a source of concern and sounding alarm bells for the authoritarian Umno-BN here, Najib quickly launched an all-out crackdown to nip in the bud feelings of dissent and discontent amongst Malaysians.
But despite a violent crackdown that saw more than a thousand arrests, the outlawing of Bersih 2.0 and the banning of wearing of yellow T-shirts, Najib failed to quell the spirit of his own countrymen.
The success of Bersih 2.0 is now forever etched in history of Malaysia as a watershed event. It signals the point where the people's demand for reforms and change turned serious. No longer were Malaysians just griping and grumbling. They wanted real action and they were prepared to act to make sure they got it.
Obviously, the Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has thrown its full support behind Bersih, as electoral reforms would help its chances. But make no mistake, Bersih is very much a civil society and activists-led movement, and makes its own independent decisions.
Indeed, speaking up and taking destiny into their hands seems to bede rigueur with Malaysians, while the example of past generations of being compliant and fearful of rocking the boat is now not only openly scorned but also no longer tolerated.
This was evident in the way the people rejected BN component parties such as MCA, Gerakan and MIC in the 2008 general election where Anwar and Pakatan swept to power in 5 of the country's 13 states. Even Umno, the largest political party in the country, recorded a dismal result.
“Students should not be afraid to show their support for clean and fair elections, as it will make a world of difference to their families back home," David Teoh, Global Bersih’s coordinator in Melbourne
Quality democracy and better government
Indeed, on April 28, another people's movement, the Himpunan Hijau 3.0 protesting the establishment of the Lynas rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang, will also be taking place in Kuala Lumpur. Led by environmentalist fearful of radioactive risks and health hazards due to the Lynas refinery, Himpunan Hijau is another very popular people's movement.
It is worth noting that right now, a students' protest is ongoing at the Dataran Merdeka. University and college students from across the country have set up tents, refusing to budge despite high-handed action from the authorities to break up their demonstration for free higher education.
Initially, the protest was against a students' loans scheme that they claimed was a millstone and left them in debt the moment they started out in their careers. But the BN's lackadaisical response and 'smart-alec' but illogical repartee to the earnest calls for review from the various student bodies and associations have turned the issue into another political time bomb for Najib's government.
And underlying the students' protest is yet another sign of the growing demand for quality democracy and better goverance in the country. Same as in Bersih, Himpunan Hijau and all other uprisings where the people are forced into action by an unresponsive and overly authoritarian government.