Malaysia: Bersih democracy movement to re-take the streets

Melbourne solidarity rally with Malaysia's Bersih 2.0 protest, July 9, 2011. Photo: Sean Seymour-Jones

The Coalition of Free and Fair Elections (known as Bersih — which means “clean” in Malay) called for a mass sit in on April 28. It did so due to suspicions that the country’s Barisan Nasional (BN) government was about to call a general election before addressing widespread electoral irregularities. The irregularities were confirmed by a review forced on the government by the previous Bersih 2.0 mass rally on July 9 last year.

The government banned the Bersih 2.0 protest. It set up roadblocks around the capital, Kuala Lumpur, carried out pre-emptive arrests of activists and tried to ban the wearing of yellow clothes, the colour used by the movement.

Yet about 50,000 people defied the riot squad, tear gas attacks and 1600 arrests and took to the streets.

It became the “Malaysian Spring”. Stories, photos and amateur video footage of great bravery and perseverance of the “rakyat”, the ordinary people of Malaysia, went viral.

One image that was etched in the hearts of millions of Malaysian democracy activists was that of tear-gassed 65-year-old retired teacher Annie Ooi Siew Lan — later popularly dubbed “Auntie Bersih” — walking away from riot police line, wearing her “banned” yellow T-shirt and clutching a water bottle and a small bunch of flowers.

Bersih 3.0 organisers hope to at least double the number of protesters. More than 53 Bersih solidarity actions are planned in 18 other countries.

The movement has made three demands:

1. The election commission must resign, as it has failed its responsibility and has lost the confidence of the public.

2. The electoral process must be cleaned before the [next] general elections.

3. International observers must be invited to monitor the general elections.

If these conditions are not met, the movement fears the BN government will rig the election.

Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj told Green Left Weekly: “More than 50% of the urban population, maybe as high as 70% in certain areas, supports the opposition Pakatan Rakyat front.

“Many of these supporters are deeply suspicious of the BN. They feel that the BN regularly cheats in the elections, and that this time they are packing the electoral roll with foreign workers. Information recently received by the electoral commission seems to indicate that there is hanky-panky going on.

“Let me give some examples. The parliamentary seat of Kota Raja has had a huge increase of voters — an increase of 32% over the number on the roll in March 2008. The overall increase for the country as a whole is about 10%, and the neighbouring parliamentary constituency of Klang had an increase of about 13%.

“Similarly, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah’s seat of Lembah Pantai witnessed an increase in voters of 26% since March 2008 while the neighbouring seat of Siputeh only experienced a 5% increase.

“The rumour mills are working overtime. People allege that thousands of foreign workers have been given identification papers and that they have been asked to vote for the ruling coalition. Something like this did actually occur in the state of Sabah, so it is not a totally outlandish suspicion.”

Jeyakumar said there “is a perception that massive cheating is going to take place.

“Then we have the open warning by the prime minister that the ruling coalition will hold on to power whatever happens. He now says that it was just rhetoric to motivate his party members, but people are worried that he would hang on to power by extra-parliamentary means.

“The BN has gone on an open vote-buying spree. Five hundred Malaysian Ringgit [about A$160] has been given out as cash handouts to around 70% of Malaysian families. One hundred Ringgit has been given to all schoolchildren. This is significant because around 35% of Malaysian families earn a monthly income below 2000 Ringgit.

“All this is unprecedented, and underlines the fact that the ruling coalition feels itself under threat. Meanwhile, BN politicians and their proxies are trying to stir up ethnic-religious anxieties.

“So people feel that we need to mobilise peoples’ power to make sure that the peoples’ will as expressed by the polls is respected.”

Jeyakumar noted the BN government’s “marked departure from their aggressive authoritarian stance over Bersih 2.0. The government is playing it cautiously now.”

Global Bersih

David Teoh, a Malaysian working in Australia, helped organise a very successful global component to the Bersih 2.0 action last July. He played a direct role in organising actions in Australia, the biggest of which drew about 1000 Malaysians and their supporters in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

This year, Teoh told GLW that he expects even bigger global Bersih mobilisations.

“We had Malaysians in 38 cities supporting Bersih 2.0,” he said. “This time around, we have banded together to increase the number of global locations and to get the message out there to Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike in support of Bersih 3.0.

“The Global Bersih website will serve as a one-stop centre for all global-related Bersih news.

“Juxtaposed with the police violence against Bersih 2.0 in Kuala Lumpur, the Global Bersih movement proved to be highly embarrassing for the government as Malaysians abroad assembled peacefully under the protection of the police at their respective locations.

“Since Bersih 2.0, the Malaysian government has commendably responded by setting up a parliamentary select committee which has come up with 22 recommendations for electoral reforms, most of which have to be responded to by the Electoral Commission (EC).

“However in that same period, we have witnessed the total inability of the EC to address the fundamental issue of cleansing the electoral roll, which is mired with irregularities.

“At present, the Malaysian government has given the undertaking that they will not crack down on the main Bersih 3.0 sit-down rally to be held in Kuala Lumpur. However, there is some disagreement with the venue chosen, Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur. We will have to wait on how this will play out in the coming days ahead.”

Student protests

Since July 14, students demanding free education and protesting the government’s education loan system have been peacefully occupying Independence Square.

Several tents have been set up, tapping into the symbolism of the global Occupy movement. Student activists say they will stay there to welcome the Bersih 3.0 protesters on April 28.

However in the early hours of the morning of April 19 a group of 50-70 thugs attacked the students’ camp, smashed up their tents and destroyed some of their equipment.

At first, nearby police allowed the attack to proceed. They intervened later only after students demanded they act against this criminal activity.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Perkasa militia group (which the BN government allows to operate as a counterforce to the democratic and progressive movements) has threatened to hold a counter-rally at Independence Square on April 29. However, a similar right-wing counter-protest to Bersih 2.0 drew very small numbers last year.



Bersih 3.0 solidarity actions around Australia

Adelaide

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Victoria Square, Adelaide.

Brisbane

Saturday, 28 April, 1pm, Reddacliff Place, Brisbane.

Canberra

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Parliament House.

Hobart

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Parliament House, Hobart.

Melbourne

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Federation Square, City.

Perth

Saturday, 28 April, 4pm, Outside Malaysian Consulate, gather at Langley Park, City.

Sydney

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Martin Place, City.

* For details of other Bersih 3.0 actions around the world on April 28 see http://www.globalbersih.org/



Comments

Adelaide

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Victoria Square, Adelaide.

Brisbane

Saturday, 28 April, 1pm, Reddacliff Place, Brisbane.

Canberra

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Parliament House.

Hobart

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Parliament House, Hobart.

Melbourne

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Federation Square, City.

Perth

Saturday, 28 April, 4pm, Outside Malaysian Consulate, gather at Langley Park, City.

Sydney

Saturday, 28 April, 2pm, Martin Place, City.

* For details of other Bersih 3.0 actions around the world on April 28 see http://www.globalbersih.org/

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) calls upon all Malaysians to liberate Dataran Merdeka from the clutches of the ruling party UMNO-BN who seems to once again using various means to stop the peaceful assembly calling for clean and fair election first before polling day is announced.

Najib Tun Razak should immediately instruct DBKL to allow the BERSIH rally at Dataran Merdeka if he indeed believes in his own political transformation plans. The Prime Minister must also understand that apart from the one seat BN won, all other seats were won by the Opposition in Federal Territory. This means DBKL itself is being ruled by a Government without any mandate in Kuala Lumpur. It will also mean that all Najib's big reforms are just hollow promises.

The previous two BERSIH rallies had been peaceful except in places where the police clashed and denied people to right to assemble. The May day Coalition have also used the Dataran Merdeka for workers days rallies before. Therefore there is no reasonable reason to stop BERSIH3 from using Dataran Merdeka. In fact the local authorities should assist BERSIH3 in the logistics rather than giving bare denial and unwanted relocations.

In the last two weeks, two groups the Students and Occupy Dataran have been staying put in Dataran Merdeka. PSM salutes the determination and courage put forward by these groups who have been fighting democratic space in spite of numerous harassments from the authority. These efforts will go in vain unless Malaysian seize the opportunity and make April 28 a referendum from the rakyat who wants a clean democratic system. PSM will mobilize and work with all parties to make this assemble a success.

It will be meaningless to call Dataran Merdeka or Independence square by its name if the square is going to barricaded and enslaved from public using it. Let's us together liberate Dataran Merdeka. Let us join the movement for change !

Released by

S.Arutchelvan
Secretary General
(tel - 019-2537791)

Friends,

Brave Malaysians will again risk their safety, if not their lives, when
they gather in Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities this Saturday, 28
April 2012 for the Bersih 3.0 rally.

They stand for comprehensive reform of an electoral system totally lacking
in transparency, legislatively protected from independent scrutiny and
unable to deliver fair and free elections.

Last year, on 9 July 2011, nearly 50,000 Malaysians who rallied in KL for
the Bersih 2.0 rally endured a violent crackdown that included water-cannon
fire and tear gas, which was even lobbed by police and riot squads into a
public hospital.

For more information on Bersih, visit - http://bersih.org/

Malaysians and friends overseas rally in solidarity

As it was last July 9, Malaysians in Sydney and across the world will rally
in solidarity with the events in Malaysia - on the same day and, where it
is possible, at the same time.

At the time of writing this email, 72 cities in 29 countries had pledged to
rally this Saturday under the auspices of Global Bersih.

For more information on Global Bersih, visit - http://www.globalbersih.org/

Visit and 'Like' - http://www.facebook.com/GlobalBersih3

JOIN US IN SYDNEY
Malaysians and friends and supporters of the cause will gather at Martin
Place, at 2pm on 28 April 2012. Please join us and help us bring more
attention to the dire state of democracy in Malaysia.

Visit and *RSVP* at the Sydney event page on Facebook -
http://www.facebook.com/events/240421162722843/

You will find it easy to participate meaningfully at the Sydney rally if
you visit the Facebook page, so you know what you can do and prepare for
BEFORE you come to Martin Place.

The Facebook page will also carry the latest information on the rally.

Nothing is easy, and KL will be difficult and dangerous this Saturday, but
you can make a difference if you attend the rally in Sydney, and Malaysians
in KL will only feel heartened and inspired, if people all over the world
came out in vast numbers to show their support and share their hope.

Remember - you probably know someone who will risk his or her personal
safety in KL and other Malaysian cities and towns this Saturday.

For your information, Global Bersih recently wrote to all Australian
members of parliament, drawing their attention to events in Malaysia and
pointing out the following:

Legislative reforms introduced and passed by the majority government on 19
April 2012 abolished the requirement for oversight by election candidates
or their agents to independently verify the identity of voters before they
enter polling booths to vote. The requirement that anyone who conceives of,
manufactures and distributes election posters must be registered has been
abolished. Effectively, the reforms allow government, their agents and the
Election Commission of Malaysia full and exclusive freedom to register as
many votes as they choose, determine the election process, conduct the
election campaign and implement the poll without question by candidates or
independent observers.

PLEASE JOIN US IN SYDNEY

2pm Martin Place

28 April 2012

The giant Bersih 3 sit-in for free and fair elections scheduled for 2pm today will be massive. From midnight last night thousands had already gathered at Merdeka Square KL in anticipation a mass convergence today from 6 points for the Bersih 3 rally. PSM leader Arul is leadng one of the convergence marches and environmentalists mobilised against the toxic rare earth refinery being built by Australian company Lynas has organised a green contingent.

Watch a video from the spot on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150978353729115