People are ready to gather again under Bersih should Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak decide to dissolve Parliament.
The magnitude of the Bersih 3.0 rallies on that historic day with its epicentre at Kuala Lumpur is proof that the people’s movement has the ability to stand on equal footing with the ruling regime.
A fully fledged people’s power that has an equal standing with the government of the day would mean only one thing – it has the strength and force to reclaim the ultimate political power in the country from the once powerful Umno-controlled government.
With ultimate political power now within the reach of the masses, an unmistakable signal has been sent to the other side.
Its signal is clear. Bersih can harness the force of a fully fledged people’s power before the general election to compel the government of the day to listen to a united demand for electoral reforms.
What is the significance of a public rally?
A rally can be staged by associations, unions or groups of people having common interests to bring their demands in the open in order to pressure the relevant parties such as their employer, the management or the relevant authorities to act. Sometimes it is also to rally for sympathy from the public, the media, a particular authority or even the government.
A public gathering of people for a common cause is mainly concerned with the recognition of their rights related to jobs, salaries, facilities, policy, or dissatisfaction over specific issues.
Hence, the normal modus operandi in the conduct of such a public rally is to make calls or demands in a peaceful atmosphere and to seek amicable solutions to both parties.
But when a democratic political system of a country has been turned into an undemocratic and authoritarian one by the government of the day, the need to mobilise the people to reclaim the ultimate political power is justified by the universal principles of democracy and the need to restore the nation’s political system based on good governance.
Police provoked crowd
In order to reclaim the ultimate power of the people that has been usurped by the current regime that practises undemocratic and authoritarian form of governance, the rallies have to prove and show that they have the people’s force and strength to achieve the objective.
Hence, force or strength forms an integral part of a true people’s power rather than an option.
This can be done by the magnitude of its rallies that have the force to change things and bulldoze away, if compelled, any draconian or unjust laws or directives of a despotic government.
If the regime stands its ground as in the case of the Bersih 3.0 rally, the people’s power can unleash its force by ignoring or breaking the rules that curb their democratic rights to assemble.
A rally would not be able to reach its pinnacle if it is to be conducted completely in a peaceful way in the face of imminent threats.
It must have the elements of physical force to shore up its might if challenged or provoked.
This was what exactly happened when the participants cleared off the barricades surrounding Dataran Merdeka. Is this a show of force or violence?
When the police reacted to neutralise such force by releasing the tear gas and water cannons, it was a show of provocation against the people’s rights.
The act of provocation by the police triggered the chaos and during the chaos, the police unleashed their brutality against the rally participants and the latter hit back using the force of people’s power.
Who then started the violence?
No need for permission
Anyone – be they foreigners, tourists, or our own people – have the right to occupy the grounds of Dataran Merdeka which is a public place for a peaceful gathering: sitting down or standing up, sports events and others.
You do not need permission from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to sit in such a public place.
Dataran Merdeka or Independence/Freedom Square is Malaysia’s symbol of independence and freedom to its people.
Hence, we fully understand why the Bersih participants were adamant that they must assemble on the grounds of this historical landmark .
Here we are not talking about ordinary citizens but the wish of people’s power to occupy it for a mere two hours.
The act of the Bersih followers in forcing their way into Dataran Merdeka which had been cordoned off by the DBKL was an act of exercising their rights to assemble on the grounds by removing the barricades.
The subsequent act of the police to fire tear gas and water cannons on the Bersih participants led to chaos and clashes that should be squarely blamed on the police and the DBKL.
Are the participants who are fully backed by people’s power considered law breakers or even criminals?
By gathering at the historical site as their focal point Bersih could send the right message across the country and to the world .
The magnitude of the Bersih force could then have a bigger effect nationally and internationally.
Is this what the Umno government was so scared of?
Awang Abdillah is a political analyst, writer and FMT columnist. He is also a member of the Sarawak Bersih committee.