There have been some noticeable differences between Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0, but what really can we expect to see tomorrow?
PETALING JAYA: Are you going for the much-hyped Bersih 3.0 sit-in rally at Dataran Merdeka, or would you rather spend your Saturday afternoon at home?
Whatever the case is, here’s a list of things to look out for tomorrow: The crowd The Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9 last year drew a big crowd of protesters, and a small army of policemen.
Media reports put it at between 10,000 and 15,000 protesters. The police counted 5,000 to 6,000, while Bersih claimed to have hit the 50,000 mark.
This time, Bersih 3.0 announced a target of 500,000 people, which analysts have described as “ambitious and unrealistic”.
However, the organisers told FMT that Dataran Merdeka can only accommodate up to 70,000 (sitting) and 100,000 (standing).
Bersih 3.0 co-chairperson S Ambiga told FMT yesterday that about 100,000 are expected to turn out for the rally. Her steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah said today: “Maybe even more.”
Ambiga also said said Himpunan Hijau 3.0, which would march from KLCC, would have another 20,000 people at least.
However, it is learnt that police estimate the crowd at around 20,000 to 25,000.
So it is possible that fewer than half a million will turn out though many, according to the idealistic Bersih, will be there “in spirit”.
There are also those who say this time, there seems to be an apparent lack of “yellow fever” or enthusiasm (though many would still argue that the force is still strong).
Perhaps the government’s change of attitude toward the rally has also changed the scenario somewhat.
Last year, in the build-up to Bersih 2.0, the situation was tense: there were numerous reports of government threats and warnings, of weapons found, of people clad in yellow T-shirt arrested. Even the King himself stepped in at one stage.
So, would we see a sea of yellow, green and blue this year? We would only know in the aftermath of the ‘mathematics’ might tell us.
Last year, police arrested 1,667 people or so, including a small number of women and minors. Ambiga, along with several opposition leaders, were also hunted down and detained.
Asked what would happen tomorrow, Kuala Lumpur police chief DCP Mohmad Salleh told FMT: “No comment, no comment, no comment” (though he held a press conference today saying protesters can rally outside of the Dataran site).
Keeping mum has been the standard police line on the Bersih 3.0 rally, which is a huge contrast to the Bersih 2.0 protest.
Last year, the police held press conferences on a daily basis; updated its Facebook page on the number of police reports lodged against Bersih 2.0 (more than 2,000); and even posted video interviews mainly condemning the event.
This year, the silence was deafening – a new strategy of “look and see”. This, it is believed, was a directive from the top.
Last year, police launched a pre-emptive strike, arrestingthose selling Bersih T-shirts as well as Parti Sosialis Malaysia members who were dubbed the “heroic EO6”. On July 9, special “arrest squads” moved in and police were filmed using excessive force against those hauled up. One policeman even admitted to FMT after that it was wrong to beat and kick protesters.
What about this Saturday (tomorrow)?
Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail has warned that DBKL can take action against protesters. He also told FMT that DBKL officers can arrest if they wanted to, though it is unclear whether it is a “citizen’s arrest”.
Ahmad Fuad said DBKL could use at least four different laws – the Local Government Act 1976; the Local Government (Dataran Merdeka) (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) By-Laws 1992; Street, Drainage, and Building Act 1974; and even the Penal Code if anyone obstructs the officers from carrying out their duties.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also said yesterday that police would take “necessary measures” to stop the rally should “stubborn” organisers proceed with their plans at Dataran Merdeka.
What would the police do?
The men-in-blue now have the power under the new Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 to use “reasonable force” to disperse protesters.
However, “reasonable force” is very subjective, according to criminal lawyer Joshua Sambanthan, who said it is something that be “easily abused”.
Another criminal lawyer noted: “Whatever it is, I am sure the government is going to spin it, and whatever is being done, the organisers will be blamed. That’s just typical [of the government].”
However, police sources say that police will try not to use excessive force this time around. “The instruction is to use minimal force.”
But it was learnt that the same operating procedures will be used: the arrested persons will be brought to the Police Training Centre (Pulapol) on Jalan Semarak or to Jinjang.
One police source said: “Police are taking a step back and won’t do anything unless the crowd gets out of hand. Maybe it would be like the last time – we arrested them, gave them dinner and released them.”
So should a protester expect to be arrested tomorrow?
Going by last year’s record, it would be a “yes”. But expect police to be more restrained. Ambiga has simply this advice: “Be prepared.” Anti-riot FRU + tear gas + water cannons? Will the normal anti-riot gear – the shield-toting FRUs, red water cannon trucks, and tear gas rifles – be used?
While Ambiga doubts that the government and police will be “stupid enough” to risk negative publicity again, her colleague Andrew Khoo says that nothing can be discounted.
One police source said that the police are “prepared for the worst” and would naturally have the trucks and anti-riot personnel on stand-by though, perhaps, out of sight.
Last year, the police had a lot of explaining to do when tear gas and chemically-laced water were allegedly fired into the compound of a maternity hospital. Some tear gas canisters were also allegedly fired at opposition leaders.
You can bet that, this time around, if the police use tear gas, they would be careful not to lauch them blindly.
A police source, who attended a briefing this morning, confirmed that the use of water cannon trucks has been “banned”. Another source says that at least 2,000 personnel have been deployed and more have been brought in from other states. “We’re prepared for the worst, but we hope for the best.”
So it is most likely that police will try their best to play nice.
Seeing that this would be a test case for the Peaceful Assembly Act, and its controversial definition on “street protests”, it will be interesting to see how the police will react tomorrow. Blockages, roadblocks
DBKL has declared “ground zero” (Dataran Merdeka) off-limits for 48 hours starting 6am today. The court has also issued an order barring the public, including Bersih 3.0 leaders, from entering the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka tomorrow until May 1. The order includes sealing off the roads leading to the iconic landmark and its surrounding areas.
Last year, roadblocks were mounted even before the rally started. Police said the move was to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the city (which appeared to have been justified when explosives and knives were found leading up to the Bersih 2.0 rally.
A court order was also issued the last time, barring 91 targeted individuals from entering the city. Police also reportedly carried out random checks to look out for any Bersih 2.0 paraphernalia as Bersih 2.0 had been declared “illegal”.
The entire city was locked down. On the morning of July 9, the city looked like a “ghost town”.
Tomorrow, expect roadblocks and jams as police would try their level best to minimise traffic flowing into the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka.
So far, DBKL says that it will try to only block roads leading to the historical site, and not lock down the whole city like it did last year.
The authorities have also yet to officially announce the list of roads that they will block.
Jams are expected and the authorities have advised everybody, not only protesters, to stay as far away from Dataran Merdeka as possible.
The people Last year, Umno Youth members calling themselves “Patriots” also entered the fray in support of the Election Commission. Perkasa also announced it would hold its own rally but cancelled it at the eleventh hour when it could not book a stadium. Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali announced that his members would take a stroll at Titiwangsa instead.
However, this time, Umno Youth has announced that it will not take part in the rally, while Perkasa said that it will have a gathering on Sunday.
But the main focus tomorrow will be on the people who actually turn up.
Expect to see some interesting characters, like Aunty Bersih, or just colourful and creative artistic individuals who may be inspiring or downright weird.
Expect also that some groups may act as agent provocateurs and start a fight, though this was not reported or seen during Bersih 2.0
So how different is Bersih 3.0?
Said Khoo, a Bersih 3.0 steering committee member:
“The response from the government smacks of an intention to confuse the people. It is reminiscent of its approach last year. Different people tell you different things. It is just sleight of hand.
“The Home Minister says the government is not threatened by Bersih 3.0, but then it is trying hard to move the rally out of the city centre.
“The government says that Dataran Merdeka is operated by DBKL, but the Federal Territories come under the federal government. It is disappointing. It shows that the government has not really learnt from the past. It is simply pretending and trying to give you the impression that things are different. But a tiger cannot change its stripes.”