Pundits: Bersih forces Najib to rethink polls date
Political pundits also urged the prime minister to place serious electoral reforms into place before making his next move.
PETALING JAYA: Political observers believe that the massive turnout for Bersih 3.0 will force the Barisan Nasional-led government to rethink the general election date and its preparedness to go to the polls.
Saturday’s rally saw 80,000 Malaysians across the racial divide converged in the heart of the city centre to support a call for clean and fair elections. The crowd surpassed the previous Bersih 2.0 rally last year.
Yesterday, group chief editor of The Star, Wong Chun Wai, predicted in his weekly column that the election date would be bumped from the speculated June to the first week of September. He also said that if Bersih 3.0 was meant to peak before the polls, then Saturday’s rally was premature.
Independent political observer, Khoo Kay Peng, meanwhile, noted that even without Bersih 3.0, the government would have to call an election within the stipulated time frame.
But, he added, Bersih 3.0 had certainly provided a good indication to the government of urban voter sentiment over various governance issues like the Lynas rare earth plant in Gebeng.
According to Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh, the Himpunan Hijau 3.0 group who had marched alongside Bersih 3.0 had rallied 30,000 people to its cause.
“There is not enough time for the BN government to provide a closure to all these issues before the elections,” Khoo said. “I guess it will have to fix a date based on its preparedness.”
Forced to take a step back
According to former journalist and author of the best-selling “No More Bullshit Please, We Are Malaysians”, Kee Thuan Chye, any government faced with the huge number of protesters both nationwide and internationally cannot help but take a step back to reconsider its next move.
He pointed out that Bersih 3.0 had asked that electoral reforms, including the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee, be instituted before the next election.
“If the government does not respond positively and calls for an election soon, then it must be confident of winning perhaps by whatever means possible,” Kee stated. “BN can still recover from Bersih 3.0 by postponing elections until the demands for reforms are met.”
“If BN ignores this and wins the next election, it will be accused of an unfair victory whether or not it is true. And (Prime Minister) Najib (Tun Razak), will be villified whether or not he deserves it.”
Ong Kian Ming of Monash University, on the other hand, still held on to the speculation that Najib would call for elections in June to avoid losing the momentum built up from his various intiatives.
This, he said, was compounded by the fact that there was no guarantee that Najib could come up with any solutions to Bersih’s demands.
“Given these factors, it makes sense for him to try to do damage control as a result of Bersih 3.0 rather than shift the election date,” Ong stated.
Khoo added that there was little BN could do to turn the situation to their advantage as access to technology and the Internet could easily provide a more balanced information on these incidents.
According to him, the only thing that the Najib administration could do was to implement serious reforms and not those that had been recently rushed through Parliament.
“He has to bring real reforms to the table and show enough political will to implement them to win back confidence for his fading reformist credentials,” Khoo said.
Boost for Pakatan
Both he and Ong also agreed that Bersih 3.0 had undoubtedly boosted the opposition’s position.
Ong pointed out that the large turnout would allow Pakatan Rakyat to campaign on a momentum and message of change.
But he cautioned that it was still left to be seen whether fanning this sentiment could translate into votes in many of the marginal seats – Johor, Sabah and Sarawak – which Pakatan needed to win in order to reach Putrajaya.
“Pakatan has, as usual, been very quick and clever to piggyback on all civil society initiatives like Bersih and anti-Lynas,” Khoo said.
“Hence, those who are unhappy with BN might shift their support. And so Pakatan has become a big beneficiary of Bersih 3.0 without having to work very hard to prove themselves as capable alternatives to BN.”