The Bersih 4 That Never Was

Posted on September 14, 2015


At the stroke of midnight on the 30th of August, 2015, when the countdown to Merdeka Day had ended, the Negaraku was sung and shouts of ‘Merdeka’ rang throughout the areas around the Dataran Merdeka, the crowd dispersed quietly without much fanfare, thus ending the largest and longest protest ever in our nation’s history peacefully.

Like the rest of the participants, as I started making my way home, I came across a group of fellow protesters still standing around a road junction. I greeted them and wished them a goodnight and goodbye expecting a friendly response. Instead I was told off and questioned as to why they couldn’t hang around if they wanted to. They then proceeded to tell me, angrily to my face, that they were not happy! They had not come for a carnival but for a protest and that Bersih should have pushed to stay on until Najib resigned.

I was dumbstruck and had to muster every ounce of self-control I had to express that “If you want to stay, you go ahead and stay.” Then I walked away.


It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that there were some who saw Bersih 4 as an opportunity to be a ‘Tahrir Square moment’ to bring about the overthrowing of the Najib’s administration. They knew from past events that any protest called by Bersih was likely to draw massive support and, with the numbers, we could be a catalyst to hasten the downfall of Najib and even the Barisan Nasional government.

We heard the proponents of such a notion during the build-up to Bersih 4 and continue to hear them after the rally had ended. They are not happy that the organiser had chosen to have a peaceful protest and were “soft” with the authorities by giving in to their demands that the protesters remain outside the Dataran Merdeka’s sacred turf and not set up tents around the area. To them, these “occupy-until-the-government-falls” group, Bersih has “sold out”.

The anger and frustration against Najib Razak is shared not only by the people who turned up for Bersih 4 but by a majority of Malaysians over the 1MDB scandal, the discovery of the RM2.6 billion “donation” into his personal account, his dismantling of the Taskforce investigating this affair and the stifling of any dissent of anyone, including those within his own party.

But people express their anger differently. Some just need to let off “steam” by hammering away at their keyboards, while others came to Bersih 4 dressed in yellow. However, some others feel that more must be done, including to do whatever it takes to bring down the government.P_20150829_181412

These ‘others’ have no qualms about provoking the police by breaching the barricades set up around Dataran Merdeka. The organiser and their security team had to deal with a couple of such attempts during the 34 hours protest. These ‘others’ would have no qualms should innocent participants get hurt or lose their lives in the ensuing retaliation by the police. To them, the ends justify the means.

In fact, for the more extreme of this group, it is necessary that lives must be sacrificed in order to bring about a regime change. They envisage themselves as the true heroes of the revolution, the Che Guevera of this struggle.

The problem with this image is that Che was willing to die for and did die for his cause. These “revolutionaries” are keyboard warriors, occasional activists or just big talkers. They criticize and stir up emotions but when it comes to actually organizing anything meaningful for their cause, nothing much. The most disturbing thing about these “superheroes” is their willingness to throw others under the tank, figuratively-speaking, or to have others ‘self-immolate’ rather than do the noble act themselves.

Have they missed the point of our struggle? We want to provide a better condition for justice, harmony and compassion for our people because of our love for our country. Surely that means we love the people that make up this country. How can we then, in our struggle, put these same people at risk of harm or even death?

Make no mistake about it. Any struggle for a noble cause against an entrenched regime requires great self-sacrifice. The key word is “self”. The organiser of Bersih 4 made that sacrifice by taking the lead to call on Najib Razak to step down and for the entire system to be reformed. They risked their own freedom with threats made even to their lives over the years.

And when it comes to organizing a mass rally like Bersih 4, the safety and security of Malaysians are paramount because it is for them and their children’s future that we are fighting for. It would be against the law and totally dishonest if Bersih had intended a bloody revolution but lured the people out to the street on the pretext of a peaceful assembly.

No. Bersih has always championed the rights of all Malaysians to assemble peacefully without arms. For Bersih 4, the organisers invested logistically and planned, to the best of their abilities, to have a peaceful assembly and they achieved it.

If the “revolutionaries” among us want a different kind of Bersih, they can go ahead and organise it themselves but don’t ride on the coat-tails of Bersih.

As for Bersih and the vast majority of those who turned up for Bersih 4, we will celebrate the fact that Malaysians overcame their fears and showed their discipline, on the eve of Merdeka, to have the most successful, peaceful demonstration in Malaysia.

Indeed, may it be the eve of true independence for our country.  

This article was published in my weekly column at The Malaysian Insider

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