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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quo vadis, Bersih?

Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah (centre) has said that at least 250,000 participants are expected to attend the rally, although not all would be staying overnight in the city. ― File picBersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah (centre) has said that at least 250,000 participants are expected to attend the rally, although not all would be staying overnight in the city. ― File picKUALA LUMPUR, Aug 29 — Bersih 4, as its name so clearly suggests, will be the fourth large-scale rally for free and fair elections in the country.
Why will there be a fourth? Because objectively, the previous three did not result in polls that were any more free or fair than before.
In Election 2013, after what was the largest and arguably most tumultuous such rally to demand greater democracy — Bersih 3.0 — Barisan Nasional (BN) still went on to retain 60 per cent of all parliamentary seats despite registering just 47 per cent of the popular vote.
Today’s rally also comes at a time when the ruling BN administration appears to have regained the temerity to utilise the full breadth and width of its powers, against those it views as seeking to remove the prime minister, coincidentally a new and key demand of Bersih 4.
In the space of a month, senior government officials involved in an investigation into 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) were variously replaced, transferred or investigated, while the taskforce handling the probe was also disbanded before being reconstituted for a different purpose.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also reshuffled his Cabinet, removing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as deputy prime minister and dropping Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal over both men’s open dissent over Putrajaya’s handling of 1MDB.
Reportage and online criticism of 1MDB also prompted the suspension of two business newspapers for three months and the introduction of plans to regulate the Internet and social media that the government once guaranteed would remain free and uncensored.
The Home Ministry has also issued a ban on all things Bersih 4, including its signature yellow T-shirts and all promotional materials. According to the government gazette that came into effect yesterday, even those in possession of these items will not be spared.
Against the backdrop of a Putrajaya hardened against calls for reforms, however, organisers Bersih 2.0 are sanguine that the ambitious effort to hold yet another massive street rally to demand the same changes as before will not be futile.
“If a million people were to be at Dataran Merdeka or close to Dataran Merdeka, the message is there already and that public opinion and voices has to be heard,” Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah told Malay Mail Online.
“Therefore, the parliamentarians will have to take them into consideration because we elected them, so they have to listen to our voices.”
Even before the rally, there are signs of a “massive wave of discontent”; Bersih 2.0 was able to raise RM1.5 million in donations when it had targeted just RM200,000 and the 35,000 T-shirts it printed for the event were sold out in a matter of days.
Chin has said that at least 250,000 participants are expected to attend the rally, although not all would be staying overnight in the city. Previous rallies saw crowds growing from an estimated 10,000 at the first Bersih to roughly 100,000 in the last. Official figures are much lower.
Another factor that could play a role in fuelling the apparent wave is the current economic doldrums weighing over the country. Already struggling to cope with the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Malaysians are now seeing the signs of economic distress hitting the nation.
Resurrecting fears of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the ringgit has plunged against the US dollar and now hovers around 4.20 to the greenback, below even the 3.80 peg introduced then. At the same time, foreign investors are withdrawing, adding to concerns of a capital flight.
“The difference is in the current political and economic crisis we are experiencing, which is more acute than ever before,” Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) director Lim Teck Ghee told Malay Mail Online
“The four demands of [Bersih 4] are a stark reminder that the country's political — and increasingly economic — systems are broken and require deep reforms if the country is to progress.”
Lim also added that while progress towards Bersih 2.0’s demands has been — expectedly — slow, it was better in the long run than anything else achieved via more sudden or revolutionary means.
Another crucial factor that will play a role in determining the success of Bersih 4 and its subsequent momentum is the participation, or lack thereof, from Umno members.
Amid rumours of internal squabbling following Muhyiddin and Shafie’s removal as well as the braying of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad against Najib, a significant Umno presence could indicate the growing discontent against the party president.
“If there are significant numbers of Umno members at Bersih to rally, then Umno leaders will have to respond to it, and they may have to force Najib to leave,” DAP’s Liew Chin Tong said.
Despite the complexities in seeking fair elections and other political reforms, former Bersih 2.0 co-chair Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan believed that the group has done well in raising awareness on the need for both, an awareness that she said will contribute to crowds today that will surpass all previous Bersih rallies.
“This nation needs fixing and Bersih 4 will be sending that message loud and clear,” Ambiga said.
- malaymail

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