The undoing of the people’s movement

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By Charles Vincent

Yesterday morning, the trains were crowded and thousands of people dressed in yellow swarmed the roads as they headed for the designated Bersih 5 gathering points.

Seeing such a show of patriotism does make one feel proud to be a Malaysian. It is doubtful that the sight of another crowd – dressed in red – inspired the same feeling in a lot of Malaysians.

But if the Bersih supporters and the Red Shirt folk had been rivals in a football match, with the police as referee, there is no question that it would be the cops who would be named the Man of the Match.

The police set up barricades around the city, held their ground firmly at the various roadblocks and remained non-confrontational. More important, they kept both the red and yellow shirts away from Dataran Merdeka, thereby preventing a face-off between the two groups.

What we got was a peaceful rally on the part of Bersih. It began well and remained under control. That is more than we could have hoped for.

The police road closures were so effective that the Red Shirts eventually abandoned whatever plans they had, and did it a lot earlier than expected.

Bersih 5 leaders, however, made alternative plans and led their groups to KLCC. But then, thousands of yellow shirts headed home instead, obviously tired after so many hours in the sweltering heat. Still, there were possibly close to 20,000 people who took their Bersih party to KLCC.

Like last year, the local Chinese community made up the majority of the crowd, and this is understandable, given that the rally is in KL. But the Malay crowd came from far and wide and made up for their lack of appearance last year.

In a surprise move, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad turned up as well, having made his way to KLCC immediately after returning to the country from a trip to Sudan. He was accompanied by a few Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia leaders, including its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, and deputy president Mukhriz Mahathir.

The irony was also not lost on many who saw Mahathir speaking to thousands with the looming presence of the Petronas Twin Towers behind him. It was a reminder of Mahathir’s legacy as much as it told of a time when he too was a steadfast and hardline prime minister who did not tolerate dissent.

Obviously, Mahathir supporters made up quite a large section of the crowd. It was his party that helped draw the Malays, after all.

But some observers were disgusted by his presence. A Facebook user wrote this on her wall even as he was speaking: “I wish Mahathir and gang would just shut up. This is not your stage. This is your doing.”

Therein lies the argument about Bersih becoming something other than it was originally intended to be. Indeed, it has been sabotaged by the opposition, and an opposition that now includes people who, not too long ago, were some of its most vehement opponents.

It does look like Bersih has been hijacked by the opposition. If that is so, then Bersih has failed. Worse, if the opposition parties need to use Bersih as their platform, then it’s obvious that they have run out of ideas.

Charles Vincent is an FMT reader

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