KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — Despite the rumours and threats of a police crackdown after Putrajaya persisted in banning its signature yellow T-shirts and branding it illegal, the two-day rally by electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 ended at the stroke of midnight last night with little incident.
The 34-hour rally that kicked off at 2pm Saturday which drew tens of thousands of government dissenters into the capital city’s streets demanding the prime minister’s resignation, was a mammoth demonstration of civil disobedience, possibly the biggest of all the assemblies in the Bersih series.
Bersih 4 was allowed to run its course—in Kuala Lumpur at least, though those held simultaneously in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu ended prematurely—but was still laced with missteps and will continue to fuel debates that the rally will not change Malaysia’s electoral system nor its parliamentary practices.
However, here are the three takeaways from the Bersih 4 rally:
1. The people’s anger burns slow and deep
The rally went in with five goals: clean elections; clean government; right to dissent; strengthening parliamentary democracy and saving the economy.
However it was evident that those sentiments were overshadowed by their desire for a new national leadership.
Many Malaysians on the street whom Malay Mail Online spoke with all shared a common thread in their stories: of their daily struggle to earn enough to feed their family.
It didn’t matter what social class they were boxed under, they felt boxed in with the ever increasing costs of living that sharpened with the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in April and the slide of the ringgit into a 17-year-low that has thrown the country’s currency past the RM3.80 peg to the US dollar in 1998.
Juxtaposed against this was the recent news of the RM2.6 billion donation received personally by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak from a Middle Eastern nation in the lead-up to Election 2013, which had many asking why it had not trickled down to the rakyat.
The people’s discontent was also fuelled by their perception of the government’s missteps in handling 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, proclaimed to be a state-owned investment company that would be the engine to drive the country’s economy forward, but which is seen to be saddled with a growing pile of debts amounting to billions.
As such, they said that their dissatisfaction will linger on well beyond the demonstration so long as the economy is weak and clear signs of democratic changes are not seen.
The rally provided them an avenue to vent that rage. Many protesters believed the time has come for Najib to step down, but did not say how they planned to make it happen, despite opposition MPs mooting the idea of initiating a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.
2. History is an effective teacher for both demonstrator and police
Following Bersih 3 in 2012, a Bersih demonstration became synonymous with tear gas and water cannons.
So much so that preparation for a police crackdown became the top concern for most potential demonstrators for Bersih 4, with many in attendance equipping themselves with N95 grade respirators.
But the stand the police had taken this time around was much less intimidating, which barricades restricting access into Dataran Merdeka and the preparation areas where today’s National Day parade will be carried out as opposed to the previous rally which had riot police teams and water cannons at the ready and visible before the demonstration had even begun.
Organisers of the rally had this time around even set up their own limits for demonstrators with banners thanking participants for not crossing the self-imposed line.
With the reportedly 2,000 volunteers mobilised by Bersih 2.0, PKR’s Youth wing and PAS splinter group Harapan Baru’s (HB) newly formed volunteer unit, Arif, this makeshift crowd control measure still managed to be efficient in keeping the peace.
A constant line of communication between representatives of the organisers and the police going back and forth between their own barriers, resulted in the rally ending with no major scuffles breaking out, with only a handful of provocateurs throwing firecrackers being hauled up.
And even that was managed by the organiser’s own volunteers.
While rebel rousers were disappointed that they did not get the chance to fight the proverbial “man”, pharmacies had the last laugh with the spike in sales of face masks.
3. RM 2.4 million helps make a rally
The support that the Bersih 4 rally received was tremendous. In a matter of couple of weeks, the organisers managed to raise RM2.4 million in total from donations and the selling of merchandise.
However, the organisers of the rally were smart to put the money to good use. Apart from setting up a makeshift stage on a 3-tonne lorry complete with sound system and lighting, Bersih 2.0 also planned an array of events which helped fill up the 34-hour period of the rally.
There were various mini-stages set up around the heart of Kuala Lumpur as well as the mobilisation of security detail to help keep the rally in check, which definitely cost a good amount of money.
The security personnel were furnished with walkie-talkies and bibs. The politicians and civil society leaders including Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah had professional bodyguards trailing them everywhere.
The crowd that came for the two day rally was also provided with free water and food by the truckloads for all three meals.
More than that, overall Bersih proved that in this day and age with enough funds even an “illegal” street rally can be made into a well-oiled machinery that works.