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Bersih fracas: Who’s the ‘better devil’?

 | May 1, 2012

In the aftermath of the Bersih fracas, no amount of denials or 'passing the buck' is going to help BN, the opposition or Bersih.


KUALA LUMPUR: It’s going to be a long, hard climb back for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak now that it’s apparent that his “transformation” agenda is not filtering down to the masses in the civil service – in this case the police.

The out-pouring of first-hand, unabridged accounts of eye-witnesses, abused victims on Youtube and personal blogs of the police attack on the participants, including journalists, do little to aid Najib and his team’s image.

It also does little to save Bersih and S Ambiga’s image as a neutral group speaking for the rights of the people for good governance and clean and fair elections.

And while the blame game gets underway, the fact remains that no amount of denials or “passing the buck” is going to help the prime minister and his team.

Neither is it going to aid the Anwar Ibrahim-led opposition pact which is perceived to be an “integral” part of the Bersih coalition.

In fact, a FMT analysis of the April 28 fracas had questioned if “Bersih had walked into a BN trap” given the perception that the BN coalition and Pakatan Rakyat are inseparable.

Bearing this in mind, at stake now for both sides is “who’s got the upper hand” and, more simply put, who is the “better devil” in today’s politics.

Professor James Chin, a political analyst with Monash University, believes that “BN has lost the public relations war”.

‘Govt made a mistake’

Chin is of the opinion that last Saturday’s outcome has not tainted Bersih or any other (political) party.

“Those who came for the street rally are hardcore supporters and this is something they would have been aware of.

“I don’t see the outcome as a fallout for Bersih at all – if anything, I believe that both sides have lost.

“Bersih lost with all newsreports on the rioting and BN lost because of the police brutality,” he said.
He said what remains to be seen is “which side is better at blaming the other”.

“But I think BN will lose the PR [public relations] battle mostly because of the number of YouTube videos which show what happened that day.

“The government made a mistake – it shouldn’t have mobilised the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU).

“When you have a large crowd comprising agitated people and the FRU, what do you think is going to happen? The outcome was inevitable,” he said.

Associate Professor Azmi Sharom of Universiti Malaya shared Chin’s views with regard to the police action.

He expressed surprise that the situation did not worsen considering the heavy-handed tactics used by the police.

“There were 80,000 people at the rally and [only] five policemen were injured. Does that sound like it was a crowd out to do damage?”

Bar politicians

He said it was important to look at the bigger picture.

“If 80,000 people wanted to cause trouble, it would have been a much, much worse outcome.

“We need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Bersih didn’t tell the crowd to attack the police.

“There has to be investigation from all sides. But the question now is, can you get an independent investigation done?” he asked.

Azmi added that the rally had left behind a valuable lesson for all concerned: “No political leader should be given a platform to speak at this type of rally.”

On April 28, amidst a jam-packed crowd, Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga had declared the rally a success, saying: “This is already an achievement. No one can take it away from us. We want a clean election.”

She said this before marching towards Dataran Merdeka. At 2.30pm, she again declared the event a success and called for the crowd to disperse only to have Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim step in reportedly to the shouts of reformasi and echo her call.

Anwar, however, laced his declaration with “we want elections to be clean. Malays, Chinese and Indians today all want the dirty government to end”.

‘Better democracy now’

Said Azmi: “When this [politician steps in] happens, it gives Barisan National the opportunity to say that this is an opposition thing and that it has been turned into a political rally.”

Universiti Malaya political analyst KS Balakrishna concurred, saying in the end the rally was “nothing more than an opportunity for the opposition”.

“This was something that didn’t have to happen. There should be confidence in the parliamentary system and respect for the businesses and people who live around that zone,” he said.

He said it was a shame that the situation got out of hand, considering there were proper channels for dialogue between Bersih, the opposition and the Election Commission (EC) which could have avoided any untoward incidents.

He added that the rally had tarnished Bersih’s strong image of neutrality.

“It has definitely created a bad image for Bersih and they should take full responsibility. The rally was an irresponsible act and its leaders must take responsibility,” Balakrishnan said.

He also pointed out that the rally had marred Bersih’s demand for “better governance” as it was a case of not practising what it preached.

“The Bersih coalition wants better governance but it isn’t setting an example for the people by going through the proper channel. After all, the EC was willing to cooperate on their demands.

“So I don’t really see this rally as a success for Bersih,” he said.

Balakrishnan said what was important now is recognising that “we are better at democracy [now] than 10 years ago”.


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