KUCHING - The high-profile Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur for free and fair elections has been a real eye-opener for the other states in the country, especially for Sarawakians who are still upset by the huge electoral fraud in recent state polls.
The way Bersih supporters stood off against a hostile police force, the participation of 80 Sarawakians led by PKR Sarawak chief Baru Bian plus the DAP's Stutong breakfast gathering have become talking points amongst the people here.
According to Baru, a spark has been lit and it can only add to the societal transformation already taking place in the still largely conservative state. He urged long-time Chief Minister Taib Mahmud to take note of the new politics pervading Malaysia and the rest of the world.
"I am glad to be back in Kuching. But I am also glad I was there at Bersih 2.0. I am very proud of the thousands who came. I am proud I had a taste of teargas," Baru told Malaysia Chronicle.
"This is the new politics where the people are the bosses and it would be wise if our CM takes serious note of the trend and listen to the people."
In KL on Saturday, Baru and Batu Lintang's See Chee How manned the Sarawak 'contingent'. The state's flag was displayed to show solidarity for free and fair elections. By Sarawak's conservative standards, this is a demonstrative and daring move but the culture is changing, albeit slowly.
According to See, the involvement of Sarawakians in the Bersih 2.0 campaign will certainly raise the political awareness of the Sarawakian public in general and the various electorates in particular.
More than of the Sarawakian team in KL were young professionals working in the semenanjung or peninusula.
“This is of significance as the state opposition parties are working hard to lobby the Sarawakian electorates in West Malaysia to return and cast their votes in Sarawak,” See told Malaysia Chronicle.
Forced to the streets
It is therefore not surprising when See revealed that there was a dialogue of Sarawakians in West Malaysians with Sarawak PKR leaders on the eve of the Bersih rally. Their discussion focused on the 8 eletoral demands of Bersih.
"We want electoral reforms in postal balloting to ensure that all Sarawakians working and residing outside Sarawak are able to vote in GE13 and thereafter, to decide on the destiny of Sarawak. To rally is an expression of our constitutional rights,” See added.
PKR vice president of the Women's wing, Voon Shiak Ni, agreed that Sarawakians tended to be reserved and less courageous in speaking their minds or showing it when it comes to confrontation with the authority.
She said change must come in other forms as the government is not listening to the people through discussion, dialogue, memorandum or pleas. There is no option but to rally, she insisted.
“We don’t encourage violence but we will go for peaceful gathering or walk. The call for a demand for a fair and clean election has not been heard at all by the government and that was the last resort to get them to listen. Hopefully that will knock some sense into the government,’ Voon told Malaysia Chronicle.
Voon believes that her participation will encourage more Sarawakians to speak up louder and to not fear taking action such as peaceful assembly when there was no response from the government if all other democratic means fail.
Voon said the KL walk humbled her. People who did not know each other but walking together for the same cause gave them a sense of purpose and love for humanity.
“When we were tear-gassed, people next to us shoved rock salt into our hands. At one stage, I panicked when I could not breathe as more tear gas was fired into our direction. I hid in a parking lot with one of my friends because we were all separated. A Malay man whom I do not know was also hiding with us. He asked me if I am alright and gave his drinking water, what little he had left, to me," said Voon.
"I was so touched and proud that the BN government which is not listening to us has brought us all together in spirit and love and we will continue to fight our cause. The suffering of the tear gas which seems like a spoonful of wasabi shoved down my throat, the stinging water sprayed at us are all worth it.”
All it takes is just a spark
In Kuching, 19 Sarawakians, mostly PKR activists and a DAP member were arrested for having breakfast in Bintulu and Miri just because two of them wore Bersih t-shirts. The 19 include state assemblyman for Krian, Ali Biju, who has since been released.
A week ago, PKR Youth Zulhaidah Suboh, a candidate in Lambir in the last state election, was arrested and remanded for wearing a Bersih t-shirt while returning from Kuala Lumpur. She was charged under the Societies Act 1966 for possession of two t-shirts with the word Bersih. Zulhaidah has been released on RM4, 000 bail with one surety after pleading not guilty.
On Saturday, doing their part for fair and just elections, over 50 DAP assemblymen and members donned yellow Ubah t-shirts to have breakfast in a Stutong coffee shop with the day's crowd. A bigger group of police numbering over 100 sat in the adjacent shop, watching the DAP members cutting an Ubah cake and mingling with the people.
When the DAP later split into four teams to proceed with their voters registration, they were all trailed closely by the policemen, until they called it a day in the early afternoon. There had been a directive to arrest the 12 DAP assemblymen if they donned the yellow Bersih t-shirt but Chong and team escaped because they wore the yellow Ubah tee-shirts instead.
Contacted by Malaysia Chronicle on Sunday, Chong said he was disappointed with the attitude of the police in swarming around them and video them from all angles as they did their voters registration and walk about in a shopping mall.
“I am extremely disappointed that the police force has lost their sense of their core duty but turning into a department to be used by UMNO. When there was a crime committed, it was so common to hear police talking of not having enough manpower but when it comes to us, they can deploy over a 100 to trail after us,” Chong complained.
In whatever angle one would like to see the Sarawak situation, it will take time to change the mindset of a still very conservative society. But Bersih 2.0 will make an undeniable impact. People have heard of it even in the villages. They know it is related to something 'big' happening in the semenanjung.
And all it really needs is just a spark, a wave of consciousness that social justice can only come about if the people make it happen. And this is what Bersih is likely to mean to most Sarawakians - reclaiming their lives and rights from an overly dominant state government that has ruled them for too many decades.
- Malaysia Chronicle