Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

BERSIH Rally: A Waste of Our Taxes

Written by johnleemk on 8:06:23 pm Nov 10, 2007.
Categories: ,

Yesterday, the Malaysian police cracked down on rallies totalling 40,000 or 50,000 people, gathered in Kuala Lumpur. The purpose of these rallies? To call for electoral reform. Their instigator? BERSIH, an umbrella organisation comprising five political parties and as many as 60 non-governmental organisations.

Of course, the rally was not as clean as some tried to make it sound. All of these five parties are opposition parties, and some international media outlets have rightly called the gathering an "opposition rally".

But these are small things — they can be excused. The rally had a great goal — electoral reform. I don't think the aspects of reform some have chosen to emphasise are the most important; cheating is prevalent in our elections, but they have not had a really significant impact on their outcome.

Even if everyone played by the rules, the rules are strongly biased towards the party in power. Opposition candidates have no chance to inform the voters, and this is an affront not just to opposition politicians, but the people of Malaysia, who are treated as if they have no right to know the state of affairs in our country, or how they can be bettered.

Likewise, the extremely short period for campaigning gives the government a huge advantage — it knows when to prepare, and so can never be caught off-guard. Unless the opposition has inside information about when an election will be called, they will be caught flat-footed, with no chance to recover, and no chance to campaign.

The most perfidious and sometimes perhaps most obvious travesty of democracy, of course, has to be how electoral constituencies are so blatantly gerrymandered. The way these constituencies are divided up makes no sense; why should my member of Parliament represent 100,000 people, while Putrajaya's represents only less than 10,000? This distortion basically ensures that some constituencies have a louder voice than others in Parliament, and makes the democratic process all but meaningless.

I think that the issues BERSIH has chosen to emphasise are not quite as important; cheating and vote-buying are only really easy to pull off in by-elections, and have never occurred on a large, mass scale. Ijok was a clear case of vote-buying, and previous by-elections have seen bussing of voters, but these elections did not decide anything important, and though cheating can never be tolerated, it is nowhere near as big a problem as the larger systemic issues with Malaysian democracy.

Likewise, I have not been impressed by their continued references to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. It may or may not make political sense, but in my view, it is dangerous to see the King as the potential saviour of Malaysian democracy and the Malaysian nation. It is the people of Malaysia, not their King, who can save this country, and to imply otherwise, as BERSIH and its supporters have done, is a grave disservice to the democratic principles we support.

Nevertheless, I would have gone for the rally if I could. Its broader point — on the need for fair play in Malaysian democracy, and on the need for change — is something I unequivocally support, and something I would be willing to stand up for.

So, why do I say this rally was a tremendous waste of Malaysian taxpayers' money? Because of how the government responded. As the steward of the property of the Malaysian people, the Barisan Nasional administration only showed today its complete inability to manage the things we have entrusted to it.

First, there was the announcement by the police that they would arrest anyone who showed up for the rally. Then, there was the Prime Minister's declaration that the rally could not be tolerated, because any public gathering of more than five people is illegal without a police permit. As one of my friends has pointed out, this means my family of six is breaking the law every time we go for a picnic.

Well, of course these things are illegal. So what? Everyone's broken this law at one time or another. It wasn't too long ago that both the ruling and the opposition Islamic parties held rallies protesting that stupid Danish caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Nobody fired water cannons or launched tear gas canisters at them; nobody ordered them to disperse. Why the hypocrisy?

If this law is disregarded so frequently, it is a law that can only be enforced selectively most of the time — and that means the law should be changed. Neither the police nor the Prime Minister addressed the reason behind the rallies — left unspoken was the implication that these rallies were for a bad cause. If rallies for a good cause are illegal, that only means that the law banning them needs revision.

The police later said that the rallies disrupted road traffic, and constituted a "hazard to public safety". As far as I know, the only people injured in the rallies were those who had dangerous chemicals spewed in their faces — and even though motorists were inconvenienced, the same can very well be said for any of those illegal public gatherings the administration has tacitly condoned. By the time the rallies were under way, firing water cannons at them would have done little to aid the flow of traffic, and that is exactly what happened — the rallies ended as planned, despite the police attempts to disperse them.

Now, all of this is very naturally maddening — your government is using poor logic and bad reasoning to pour scorn on a good cause. But what really took the cake was watching this, and realising that our money is funding this bullshit:



Shahrizat's comments are absolutely galling — it is as if she were speaking of a bunch of hooligans (like the mat rempit her party proposed to send on an expedition to the North Pole) instead of a bunch of activists. I think I know who is really "polluting the peaceful atmosphere of this country".

That bad video montage towards the end finally made me lose any faith whatsoever in this government's ability to manage my money. They can't even make a mildly convincing attempt to produce propaganda — and what's worse, they made the propaganda so transparent by including it in a news report.

Demonstrations always end in violence? As someone so wisely pointed out on Youtube, it's a bit shocking that nobody got hurt at all those famous rallies opposing the Malayan Union.

Let's end this bullshit. Let's toss this miserable excuse of a government out. Let's have fair and meaningful elections — and even if we don't, let's make the party in power hurt. I dare you to vote for Barisan Nasional. After this farcical affair, even if this pathetic administration ever deserved the support of its people, it simply is not worth it.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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