So how many people were in Kuala Lumpur for Bersih 4?

An aerial view of the crowd gathered at the Bersih 4 rally in Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
An aerial view of the crowd gathered at the Bersih 4 rally in Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — There is no doubt that last weekend’s Bersih 4 rally was the biggest street demonstration this year, especially in the gathering in Malaysia’s national capital.

But with conflicting figures cited by the organisers — claiming 500,000 — and the police — only 50,000 — can we really know how many people took part in Kuala Lumpur’s show of civil disobedience that lasted 34 hours, starting from 2pm Saturday till midnight Sunday?

Based on aerial shots of the rally downtown, independent social media research firm Politweet estimates the turnout to be between 80,000 and 100,000.

“The total attendance for Bersih 4 in Kuala Lumpur is estimated to have been between 79,919 — 108,125 people. It peaked on August 29th between 45,892 — 62,089 people,” it said in its latest study made available to Malay Mail Online this week.

In its analysis of the two-day rally, Politweet also described the estimated figure running into the tens of thousands in Kuala Lumpur as a “historical achievement”.

The research firm said it would not be “physically possible” to squeeze in between 80,000 to 200,000 people within the occupied rally space shown in photographs posted online.

Politweet explained it had gone through photos and videos showing the Bersih 4 crowd size, with comparisons against gridded maps to estimate the crowd density.

It estimated the crowd density by estimating the number of people that can fit into a square grid, giving an example of 67 persons per 25 square feet of space.

The firm showed the core rally area as starting near Dataran Merdeka and passing through Jalan Tun Perak before ending slightly beyond Menara Maybank.

According to Politweet, it used satellite images to measure this core area spanning 367,487 square feet, which it said was not completely packed with rally participants at any point in time.

“By using this area as a starting point and adjusting for sparse areas; other areas nearby; buildings occupied by protestors; large obstacles and crowd density we can estimate the size of the crowd within 4 periods,” it said.

It broke down the Bersih 4 rally into four time periods, where the lowest estimate for the bulk of the protestors on the first day is at 45,892 people, first night at 9,837, second day at 14,782 and final night at 23,511.

Adding up the total minimum crowd sizes for all four periods led to an estimated 94,022 figure — between 79,919 and 108,125 when adjusted by allowing for a 15 per cent margin of error going both ways.

It offered an optional method of using the average peak figures for the first day (53,991) and second night (28,654) to calculate a total of 82,645, with the same margin of error adjustment pointing to 70,248 and 95,042 protesters.

Crowd turnover was factored in as an issue, but Politweet said there were no reports of large numbers of people coming and leaving at the same time, while also saying it was likely that some of the protestors in one period would continue on in the next period.

Politweet said it appears that there were more new-comers on the second day, as the crowd composition changed from the first day’s Chinese-majority into a more mixed composition.

Politweet noted that the bulk of Facebook users (52.46 per cent) and Twitter users (54.1 per cent) in Malaysia who had written about or shown interest in the Bersih 4 rally were in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

“Based on Facebook statistics in our previous analysis and tweets during the rally, Bersih attracts more interest from users in KL and Selangor compared to other states.

“Interest from users in East Malaysia remains low,” it said, having also noted that almost half of the Malaysian population using the two social media platforms are based in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

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