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Bersih and its followers and detractors

 | November 19, 2016

The people who say it's not the time to rally must tell us when the right time is.



You would have to be living on another planet to be unaware of Malaysia’s worst financial scandal and political crisis in recent memory. In her series of exposes on 1MDB, Clare Rewcastle-Brown has alleged that our leaders are ill-equipped to deal with large scale corruption. Many certainly agree that the 1MDB affair is about fraud on a massive scale.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that our so-called democratic system and institutions cannot stop Malaysia’s slide to becoming an international pariah. The right to dissent has been taken away from us. We are threatened with the Sedition Act and a slew of other draconian laws. The avenues for discourse have been reduced to so few that a complete overhaul of our institutions has become necessary if Malaysia is to retain any respect from the democratic world.

That’s why it’s important to support Bersih.

Bersih has often been denied permits for its peaceful rallies. When plans were being made for Bersih 3, the authorities claimed that communist elements were going to topple the government. That was quickly exposed as a lie. Against Bersih 4, the race card was used to isolate the Malays from other Malaysians, with the claim that the Malays were not interested in reforms. That tactic failed too.

In anticipation of Bersih 5, sermons in government controlled mosques all over the country alleged that going on marches against the government was anti-Islamic and would expose the country to foreign intervention.

This tactic of using religion to scare the Malays from participating is also likely to fail, and the authorities probably know it.

Some people have claimed that the best way to make institutional reforms is to cast your vote at election time. Have these people not heard that electoral fraud has not been redressed? The electorate has no confidence in the fairness or legality of elections in Malaysia.

In many places around the world, people have pledged to be in solidarity with Malaysians taking part in the Bersih 5 rally. At these overseas locations, people will march without any problems. They will not be arrested, be photographed or beaten up.

In Kuala Lumpur, the authorities do not want Bersih participants to march to or gather at Dataran Merdeka. The reason is simple. It’s where Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first prime minister, raised the Malaysian flag and the Union Jack was lowered. It was the place where the colonial power, Britain, returned the country to its people. It will be a psychological boost for the rakyat if Bersih gathers at such a symbolic location, and that’s why the authorities don’t want it to happen.

The people who say that now is not the right time to march have the burden of telling us when the right time will be.

Students have been warned of disciplinary action if they take part in the rally. Civil servants have been threatened with dismissal or pay cuts. Journalists have been harassed. So, isn’t this as good a time as any to protest?

The rally-goers are not flippant people who have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning. They are sacrificing their time, effort, and possibly their freedom so that their children may have a brighter future.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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