Friday, July 8, 2011

Bersih is govt’s secret fear

Stephanie Sta Maria | July 8, 2011

Political observers predict that the government's biggest fears will be realised with the Bersih rally tomorrow.

PETALING JAYA: The government’s crackdown on the Bersih 2.0 rally has gone down in the country’s history as its harshest yet and earned international recognition as a campaign of intimidation.

The government has trotted out its intention to preserve national security as justification for the arrests of Bersih supporters, criminalising the coalition and the flurry of roadblocks that incurred a city’s wrath.

Yet word on the street is that this concern for national security is a mere smokescreen to mask a secret fear that July 9 could potentially culminate in a staggering success.

And that would force the ruling government to face an ugly fact – a yellow tsunami may just drown it in the the 13th general election.

Professor James Chin of Monash University has no doubts about this. He noted that the government blamed Hindraf and the first Bersih rally for causing its stumble in 2008 and is now fearful that Bersih 2.0 will be a repeat of history.

He also believed that similarly to previous demonstrations, this rally would see a higher turnout of Indians and Malays compared to Chinese.

“The government has come down harder on PAS than on DAP because it expects the Chinese to stay away from the rally,” he said. “If you notice, the DAP leadership has issued statements but has not called on its party members to participate in the rally.”

“Yet there will be more Chinese participation tomorrow than in to the 2007 rally because there are more Chinese NGOs today. The other Chinese numbers will come from PAS’ supporter’s club and PKR.”

Worried over massive turnout

Former journalist and author of “March 8: Time for Real Change”, Kee Thuan Chye, agreed that the government is “very worried” about a massive turnout and warned that it would do all it can to prevent such a scenario.

“Roadblocks are already in force,” he said. “I expect a lot of arrests and bag searches on that day. It will literally be hazardous to wear yellow.”

Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, meanwhile, pointed out that demonstrations were no longer a new phenomenon in Malaysia. The question, he said, was the difference between rallies on international and domestic issues.

“When 3,000 people showed up for the anti-Israel rally there was no talk of a threat to national security because everyone was on one side,” he explained. “With domestic issues there are always extremists on both ends with each side determined to promote its political agenda.”

“Also the Bersih issue is an old one. Certain personalities want improvement in order to win bigger in the next general election so they can return to the limelight. This could also be a concern to the government.”

Shamsul, too, echoed Chin’s prediction that the Chinese would steer clear of the rally, saying added that this is a fact that has been proven time and time again.

“About 90% of participation at rallies consist of Malays and Indians,” he said. “One can see that even during university rallies. I don’t know whether they are genetically more inclined to demonstrations or if they just have a lot of time on their hands.”

“But there is a certain sensibility among the Chinese. Many of them are businessmen and are reluctant to disrupt their business just to gather on the streets in a rally that may or may not have an impact.”

Wider momentum

While Bersih’s original objective of calling for free and fair elections won it a large group of supporters, public outrage over the government’s heavy-handedness has driven more people in Bersih’s direction.

Ordinary Malaysians who initially planned to support Bersih in spirit have declared that they too will walk for democracy tomorrow.

“The other objective that people will be rallying for is the right to peaceful assembly,” Kee said. “And this why why Bersih has all the time insisted on not applying for a permit.”

Chin agreed that the crackdown on Bersih has generated a wider momentum on the ground but said that it would not necessarily translate into a bigger crowd on that day.

“The real impact of Bersih will be seen at the ballot boxes,” he said. “The people who are angry with the government’s reaction to Bersih will talk about it at the coffeeshops and vote against BN in the next general election.”

“Those who take to the streets tomorrow will be those who had already planned to do so a long time back. The anti-Umno sentiment is very real but it will be expressed at the polls and not on the street.”

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