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Did Bersih walk into BN’s trap?

 | April 28, 2012

Given the perception that Bersih and Pakatan Rakyat are inseparable, the political repercussions from today's fracas would likely discredit Bersih's otherwise valid demands.

ANALYSIS

KUALA LUMPUR: At about 3.20pm, a riot squad truck was seen firing chemical-laced water at a handful of yellow-clad protesters near the Dataran Merdeka area. A few minutes later, several tear gas canisters were shot.

This was just after poll watchdog Bersih 3.0 co-chairman S Ambiga declared the sit-in protest – to demand for free and fair elections – a success after more than 20,000 had defied police lockdown to gather just in front of the police barricades blocking the entrance to the square.

And despite police warning that stern action will be taken against those found near the barricaded area following a restriction order obtained yesterday, the police made no indication that they would act on the crowd.

It had been peaceful from the start. Those gathered at several meeting points throughout the city were allowed to converge near the square.

In fact, opposition leaders like PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim and DAP’s Karpal Singh were permitted to pass through the police blockades en route to the rendezvous point.

So what led to the fracas at around 3.20pm?

What drove the police to fire tear gas and water cannons on the protesters despite the crowd’s intention to disperse already?

Let’s look at the chronology of events.

Just after zohor prayers at around 1.45pm, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali made an appearance at the Dataran Merdeka intersection and delivered a short speech whipping up sentiments with the 20,000-strong crowd present.

He asked the crowd: “Do you want to enter Dataran?” The crowd shouts back, “Yes”. And Azmin replied: “Dataran does not belong to DBKL.”

Ambiga dispersed crowd

At about 2.30pm, Ambiga was in Masjid Jamek and declared that the rally was a success and urged the crowd to disperse.

At 2.35pm, Anwar took to the stage in Masjid India. He echoed Ambiga’s declaration of success and spiced it with a “we want elections to be clean. Malays, Chinese and Indians today all want the dirty government to end”.

Ambiga again called for the crowd to disperse peacefully before continuing her journey to Dataran Merdeka.

Barely had she asked the crowd to disperse when a handful of Bersih supporters forced their way through the barricades leading to Dataran.

This prompted the police to retaliate and the peaceful protest inadvertently became a repeat of the Bersih 2.0 rally that saw the city turned into a war-zone and a headache for the Najib administration.

But the tables are likely to be turned now.

Unlike the July 9 rally which saw police acting brutally against a peaceful rally, today’s fracas was triggered by some unruly supporters of a group that often prided itself on its peaceful demeanour and politically correct demands.

This is exactly what their rivals in the ruling Barisan Nasional want.

BN has tried hard in the past to depict the coalition of rights groups as anti-establishment hell-bent on overthrowing the government through mob rule.

Bersih in bad light

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Today’s untoward incident gave them just that – the political ammunition to invalidate’s Bersih’s demands and strengthen accusations that it never had intentions to improve the election system.

Anticipation is rife that government-owned mainstream media are almost certain to highlight the encroachment made by some of the Bersih 3.0 protesters which forced the police to act.

What would worsen it is the fact that the altercation came amid Ambiga’s vow to respect the court order and pledge that Bersih 3.0 will act in accordance with the law.

Bersih leaders and their opposition backers are likely to deflect the issue.

They will likely blame the violence on agent provocateurs or turn the argument around on “principled grounds”, saying had they been allowed to assemble in Dataran, none of this would have happened.

But this argument has often fallen on deaf ears.

The votes from the highly critical fence-sitting electorate are key to turning around Pakatan Rakyat’s fortunes in its ambition to capture Putrajaya.

Given that omnipresent perception that Bersih and Pakatan are inseparable, the political repercussions from today’s fracas would likely repel neutral support for Pakatan and at the same time discredit Bersih’s otherwise valid demands.


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