Why Is The Government So Afraid Of Bersih?

Posted on August 26, 2015



As we count the days to Bersih 4, the 4th installment of mega rallies organised by the Coalition for Free & Fair Elections (or more commonly called Bersih 2.0 or just Bersih), we are seeing the same stance and gameplan by the authorities. Ridicule it as lacking support, label it as an opposition tool, accuse it as an attempt to topple the Government, deny it the chosen venues, spin it as “kotor” or dirty, use opinion writers to divide the public, blackout news from Bersih and ultimately on the day itself, attack the protesters and turn a peaceful rally, ugly.

Why the need for such responses to a coalition that is made up of non-politicians who have no ambitions for power and are mostly volunteer “do-gooders”? It receives its funding from the Malaysian public by having fundraising events annually. Bersih runs on a skeletal staff of three for its Secretariat and work out of a shared, small and old office in Petaling Jaya.

The leadership comprises of people elected by and from the 90 endorsing NGOs and they serve without pay for a term of two years. They are social & rights activists, lawyers, academicians, a surgeon, writers and corporate people. There are young and old, male and female from all walks of life. How are they a threat to a Government that has full control of all agencies that are responsible to maintain law and order? All they want with any of their rallies is to have a peaceful, non-violent protest in a public space for 2 hours previously, but now for 34 hours.

What harm can unarmed Malaysians do? There is a Malay saying, “Seperti anjing menyalak bukit, bukit takkan runtuh”, that is, “Like a dog barking at a hill, the hill won’t fall.”

Well, let me tell you why I think the Government is so afraid of Bersih.

Bersih exposes what is kotor (dirty). For decades, the majority of Malaysians have happily handed over the running of the country to the politicians or more precisely to the Barisan Nasional coalition to form super-majority governments and got on with our daily lives of earning a living and looking after our families. We even accepted that corruption was part and parcel of politics and our everyday lives. It has become our culture. We give bribes and they take bribes, no big deal.

But the trouble with the corrupt in power is that they want to stay in power, forever if possible. That is where they started to get “creative” with our votes, manipulating the election boundaries, the size of constituencies, amending laws to ensure that they would have an unfair advantage over the opposition. What that means is that our right to choose the politicians and the government we want has been taken away. That is “kotor”.

That is where Bersih with its message of free and fair elections is such a threat to the powers that be. Bersih is like a huge torchlight shining into the shadowy darkness of electoral manipulations and weaknesses. The size of each rally and the awakening of ordinary citizens to electoral frauds is a reflection of its success in exposing this darkness. Bersih rallies are like huge torchlights, the bigger the crowd, the brighter the light.

Many who are awakened have in turn awakened others and when they realise that the incumbent government is not giving in to Bersih’s demands, they will cast their votes accordingly at the next General Election.

That is why Bersih is such a threat. It threatens the Barisan Nasional’s grip on power by exposing their dirty manipulations of the electoral process. But with the five demands of Bersih 4, it has upped the ante by exposing not only flawed electoral system but also poor governance, oppressive laws, threats to our parliamentary democracy, corruption, abuse of powers and how it is affecting the economic well-being of our country.  

Bersih’s call for institutional reforms is now being echoed by lawmakers and is contributing to the open discourse about why it is not enough to change the Prime Minister to avoid future 1MDBs but we must reform the whole political system. That is where the bite is.  Parliament is where change can come and that is why the Government is afraid of Bersih.

Bersih is a movement by the people and for the people. It is not manned by lawmakers but by law-abiding citizens. It aims not for power for itself but the return of power to the people. Lies and spins have been made against it but it remains committed to the truth. It seeks to engage, educate and empower all citizens and not just glorify a few. It accepts all contributions from volunteers, whether they are professionally done or not, whether they are big or small because Bersih believes in the people’s ability to do what is necessary and right and to rise to the occasion when needed.

Be afraid of Bersih because the people are awakening. When enough dogs bark, even the mountain will shake. Be at Bersih 4, be counted.

*Published on my weekly column at The Malaysian Insider