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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bersih rallies will stay muted without political backing, says analyst


Bersih’s rally outside Parliament on Tuesday only drew a crowd of about 100 participants.

PETALING JAYA: With Bersih’s rally on Tuesday only drawing a sparse crowd of about 100, a political analyst expects future demonstrations by the movement to remain a muted affair unless backed by a major political party.

James Chin of the University of Tasmania said Bersih’s past success in pulling crowds of up to 50,000 in downtown Kuala Lumpur were largely down to support from PAS, a party renowned for its ability to mobilise its grassroots.

“Bersih is trying to find its relevance because it hasn’t been able to hold a big rally without PAS, so a lot of people have lost interest. Unless they can organise a huge rally, they will lose credibility quickly.

James Chin.

“If you want a big rally, you need at least one of the major political parties to bring out their members, plus all the key NGOs to support you across the board. Then you can bring big numbers,” he told FMT.

Chin also said the choice of when to hold a rally is crucial, and that rallies must be called only when a major issue sweeps the nation.

“Right now, there isn’t any (major issue) other than the rising cost of living, which is existent throughout the year, making it difficult to generate support.

“(It’s also) bad timing in the sense that people are not interested in a lot of the issues Bersih raises anymore,” he said, adding that yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) demonstration outside Parliament was “rather last-minute”, giving Bersih insufficient time to rally support.

Maria Chin.

However, former Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah, who took part in the rally, was not discouraged, saying she believed it was a good turnout considering it was held on a weekday.

She said most of the rally-goers were young Malaysians, reflecting their generation’s desire for Putrajaya to implement reforms urgently.

“If you are expecting thousands to attend like previously, I don’t think that’s realistic. Previously there was a build-up. Perhaps now is the start, and if there are no reforms more may turn up.

“Having newer participants is good enough. It may be smaller in number but it’s showing leadership (on the part of the youth),” said the former Petaling Jaya MP.

Bersih has held protests since 2007 to shine a light on alleged electoral malpractices and to push for fair elections. It also held rallies in 2015 and 2016 over the 1MDB scandal.

The iconic Bersih 2.0 rally in 2011 saw an estimated 50,000 people gather in downtown Kuala Lumpur, with more than 1,000 arrested.

Oh Ei Sun.

However, Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said Bersih would be hard-pressed to hold another major crowd-pulling rally without a major corruption controversy or the government turning repressive.

“The so-called lack of reform is perhaps not as exigent in many people’s minds as public money being emptied out pre-2018,” he said, referring to the 1MDB scandal.

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Pawi predicted a division within Bersih regarding the holding of rallies against the unity government, saying some understood Pakatan Harapan’s predicament which can be traced to the power-sharing arrangement the coalition has with Barisan Nasional, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah.

Awang Azman Pawi.

He said the reforms Bersih are demanding would take time to formulate and implement, and that Putrajaya is presently saddled with more pressing issues.

Awang Azman said reforms have been slow as they require the commitment of all components in the unity government.

“I think Bersih needs to focus on how to effect cooperation within the unity government to ensure reforms can be done,” said Awang Azman.

He said Bersih risks being perceived as having lost its sting and becoming irrelevant if it is unable to attract big crowds in the future. - FMT

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