The government's action made her a hero material, says MIC vice-president and deputy minister M Saravanan.
PETALING JAYA: All the brickbats thrown against Bersih chairperson S Ambiga by those in the government, have made the former Bar Council president popular and allowed her to gain the sympathy of Malaysians.
Describing the election watchdog co-chairperson as an ordinary person, MIC vice-president M Saravanan said Ambiga did ordinary things which can be done by anyone.
“However, the subsequent action by the government after the April 28 Bersih rally and opposition parties throwing their support for her made her extraordinary.
“Our action [the government's] made her a hero material… in this case a heroine,” the Federal Territory and Urban Wellbeing Deputy Minister told FMT in an interview.
On the Bersih 3.0 rally, the MIC leader said even if the crowd which attended the rally was 80,000 or 300,000 as claimed by the opposition, it was barely one percent of the country’s total population of 29 million.
Bersih wanted the rally to be held at the historic Dataran Merdeka. But the police obtained a court order barring anyone from entering the Dataran area for three days starting April 27.
This caused Bersih to hold the mammoth rally, calling for free and fair elections, on the busy streets of the federal capital.
The government subsequently filed a suit against Ambiga and nine other Bersih steering committee members in the civil court for damages caused as a result of the rally.
The government is seeking general and special damages amounting to RM122,000 and also a declaration that Bersih had violated the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Then on May 15, a group of retired armed forces personnel held “butt exercises” in front of her residence at Bukit Damansara.
The Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans Association said the event was held to protest against Ambiga for being an “enemy of the nation who had smeared the country’s name” by organising the April 28 rally.
Earlier on May 10, a “burger protest” was also held in front of Ambiga’s house by a group of traders who claimed to have suffered losses due to the Bersih rally.
In the latest twist, Kuala Lumpur City Hall sent a letter of demand to Ambiga and steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah.
The letter, inked by DBKL director-general Salleh Yusup, sought compensation amounting to RM351,203.45 with regard to the rally, and an additional RM100 for preparing the legal notice.
If Ambiga and Maria failed to settle the stipulated amount within two weeks, Salleh said DBKL would initiate legal action against them.
Shooting in the foot
All these actions coupled with statements by government leaders bashing Ambiga turned the tide in Ambiga’s favour. She soon gained popularity and sympathy from fellow Malaysians.
“We [the government] should have allowed them [protesters] to meet for two hours at Dataran Merdeka. It’s no big deal… just let them gather, say what they want and disperse,” said Saravanan.
“Although the government offered them [organiser] a solution, which is to hold the rally at a stadium, they did not accept it. It would have been better at a stadium. Even the Umno 66th year celebration was held at a stadium. The same thing with PAS’ Himpunan Hijau.
“I think this is the way forward. We should allow rallies but at enclosed or confined areas. There is no point putting up barricades, getting court orders and all that. The April rally shows this legal approach does not work,” he added.
He said if the Bersih rally was held in a stadium, then bloodshed could have been averted.
The rally turned unruly after police fired tear gas and sprayed chemically-laced water on the protesters when they tried to force their way into the Dataran Merdeka area. Scores were injured in the melee, including policemen.
Saravanan said if the rally was held at a stadium, the crowd estimate would have been more accurate and skirmishes avoided.
“Look at it this way… the damage [caused] by barring the rally [from entering Dataran Merdeka] was far more than if we had allowed the two-hour rally at the square… it’s that simple. We shot ourselves in the foot in the absence of strategic planning,” said Saravanan.