Today’s final showdown between Bersih and Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Md Yunos’ red-shirts was expected to be a chaotic affair, with many expecting the two sides to clash
But in the battle of red versus yellow, it was the men in blue that had unexpectedly came out victorious, successfully keeping the two sides apart and maintaining public order.
While the decision behind yesterday’s preemptive arrest - mostly on Bersih-aligned leaders - is morally questionable, it was a strategic move that dulled the momentum of both rallies.
This is especially evident with the red-shirts, whose plans to hound Bersih throughout the protest, including in Bangsar and Masjid Negara, fell apart with Jamal’s arrest.
The police also dealt another blow to both sides when their “road diversions” turned out to be full-blown barricades which made it extremely difficult for either side to move.
The Bersih crowd in Bangsar and Masjid Negara were stuck for hours due to the blockades, while the red-shirts sere effectively boxed in at Padang Merbok for a long while.
There were isolated incidents of intimidation and harassment, but overall the men in blue succeeded in keeping the peace.
But this was not just a one-off moment for the force.
In Selangor, apart from a few incidents, the police had mostly succeeded in keeping the red-shirts off Bersih’s backs during their convoys for the past seven weeks.
During those convoys, the police constantly waylaid the red-shirts to let the Bersih convoys move.
The cops had also shown restraint when dealing with protests over the past two years, mostly opting for preemptive and post-rally arrests instead of tear-gas and water cannons.
This was a marked shift from the heavy-handed response during first three Bersih rallies and the Reformasi protests.
So while the police are far from perfect, the men in blue’s recent performance in dealing with the reds and yellows shows that improvements are being made in the force.
Meanwhile the consolation price for today’s rally went to Bersih, who despite losing many leaders still managed to whip up a 40,000 strong crowd of all races to send a message to Putrajaya.
However the political fatigue and among the public was quite evident as this turnout was the poorest in Bersih’s history, tempering the potential strength of its message.
As for the loser of the day, that would be the red-shirts.
Jamal had bragged about having 300,000 supporters but unfortunately the red-shirts didn’t live up to the hype.
Only about 4,000 actually turned up to send a relatively hollow message that they just didn’t like Bersih.
They also continue to court negative press due to the rowdiness of some members, compared to the mostly peaceful Bersih crowd.- Mkini