The Bersih spirit will live long enough to surface again with greater force when the whole country walks to the polls for democracy.
There is nothing wrong if tens of thousands take to the streets in a stroll for democracy, come July 9. It is the right of citizens to express their displeasure when the government of the people, by the people, for the people becomes a government of the few for the few. People elect politicians to high office on the understanding that they will respect all the venerable institutions that govern the lives of the people. When the elected misuse their powers and undermine the vital organs of the government, they have lost the right to stay in office. There are two ways to punish political perverts who have raped democracy: vote them out or take to the streets. The ballot box is the ideal choice, but the date with destiny has not been fixed. In the meantime, the people can send a strong message to the recalcitrant government to mend its ways – by taking to the streets. The streets are the most effective platform to bring a wayward government to its senses. They are better than pumping fists or making pointless speeches in the stadiums. Stadiums are meant for concerts, football matches, circus shows. More often than not, a new country is born in the streets.
But this is not a “spring offensive”. The walk for democracy is not designed to overthrow the government by violent means or to whip up public hysteria. Its aims are simple: “to press for electoral reform, take a stand against corruption and strengthen public institutions”. It is not a cheap tactic to gain political mileage. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) is a civil movement fighting for these causes that the government has long ago abandoned. It has become the voice of the people and has taken up the cudgels on their behalf. Unfortunately, the picture has been deliberately muddled by the government to make demons out of the organisers of the peaceful march. If you believe the government’s tall tale, the rally will create chaos and in the ensuing mayhem, the whole country will slide into anarchy. Foreign investors will take to their heels and all those grandiose economic plans will lie in ruins. People will suffer and perhaps die of starvation.
It is unlikely that Bersih will light the fuse to blow up the country. Trouble makers like Perkasa and all those self-anointed sentinels who have lodged police reports are more likely to do the incendiary job. The government’s “goon squads” have always disrupted peaceful forums in the past while the law enforcers stood idly by. Instead of clamping down on the interlopers, the organisers were given the stick. Any attempt to show up the weaknesses of the government were foiled by thuggish third parties. Yet again, the government is displaying the same pattern of loutish behaviour when Bersih announced it will take its peaceful fight in the open. It tacitly encouraged the trouble makers to jump into the fray and organised its own rally. Right on cue, the seemingly concerned ministers raised the alarm that the country is heading towards the brink with two opposing rallies on collision course. Perkasa, helmed by an addled brain demagogue, and all the other like-minded dimwitted firebrands are determined to turn the walk for democracy into a run for life.
It would do the country little good if legitimate grievances are suppressed. When driven underground, simmering discontent would slowly but surely erode the foundation of the government. People want to vent their frustration openly mainly because Putrajaya has ignored repeated calls for reforms. The government, long used to power and drunk with power, wants to unleash its anger on the people because they dare to question its authority. The clash of the rulers and the ruled is inevitable in any country in the world when the captain has steered the ship of state off course. Malaysia is no different: the ship of state is not sailing in the desired direction because the captain and his crew have veered away from the warms waters of democracy. It is a rotten vessel bobbing in turbulent seas. The passengers have no choice but to tell the skipper he must walk the plank before everbody sinks with him.
The days ahead are fraught with danger. There are ominous signs that brute force will be used to disperse the marchers in the interest of national security (read Barisan Nasional longevity). The clampdown, when it comes, has nothing to do with protecting other law-abiding citizens who want to do their business undisturbed. Those who are preparing to gather in the streets are not fighting their fellow citizens. No one is fomenting a civil war. The trouble that the government is warning about is of its own making. The mischief-maker is the government itself, ably assisted by right-wing thugs and political hooligans and overwhelmingly backed by a robotic police force answerable only to their political paymasters. The rally may not materialise or will be crushed like all previous peaceful protests. Perhaps the ring organisers will be thrown behind bars and there to languish without trial. But people are not easily frightened these days; they will not self-destruct or give credence to fear mongers. It is the government which is running scared. The Bersih spirit will live long enough to surface again with greater force when the whole country walks to the polls for democracy.