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Malaysian Spring: Bersih 3.0 democracy movement plans mass sit-in

By Peter Boyle

April 18, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly --  The Coalition of Free and Fair Elections (called Bersih – meaning “clean” in Malay), a civil society movement for free and fair elections in Malaysia, has called for a mass sit in on April 28 because it suspects that the country’s entrenched Barisan Nasional (BN) government is about to call a general election before addressing widespread electoral irregularities confirmed by a review forced on the government by the previous Bersih 2.0 mass mobilisation on July 9, 2011.

The Bersih 2.0 mobilisation was banned by the government, which set up roadblocks around the capital Kuala Lumpur, carried out pre-emptive arrests of activists and tried to ban the wearing of yellow clothes, the colour used by the movement. Yet on the July 9 some 50,000 defied the riot squads, tear gas attacks and 1600 arrests and took to the streets.

It became the “Malaysian Spring”. Stories, photos and amateur video footage of great bravery and perseverance of the “rakyat”, the ordinary folk of Malaysia, went viral in the social media. One image that was etched in the hearts of millions of Malaysian democracy activists was that of tear-gassed 65-year-old retired teacher Annie Ooi Siew Lan — later popularly dubbed “Auntie Bersih” — walking away from riot police line, wearing her “banned” yellow T-shirt and clutching a water bottle and a small bunch of flowers.

Auntie Bersih

Tear-gassed: A 65-year-old retired teacher Annie Ooi Siew Lan, subsequently popularly dubbed "Auntie Bersih", walking away from riot police line. Photo by Malaysian blogger "As I See It".

Bersih 3.0 organisers hope to at least double the numbers coming out in the capital and have planned more than 53 global solidarity actions in 18 other countries.

The movement is making three demands:

1. The Election Commission must resign, as it has failed in its responsibility and has lost the confidence of the public.

2. The electoral process must be cleaned before the [next] 13th general elections.

3. Invite international observers to observe the 13th general elections.

If these conditions are not met, the movement fears the next election results will be rigged by the BN government.

“More than 50% of the urban population, maybe as high as 70% in certain areas, supports the opposition Pakatan Rakyat front”, Malysian Socialist Party (PSM) MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj explained to Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

“Many of these supporters are deeply suspicious of the BN. They feel that the BN regularly cheats in the elections, and that this time they are packing the electoral roll with foreign workers. Information recently received by the Electoral Commission seems to indicate that there is hanky-panky going on.

“Let me give some examples. The parliamentary seat of Kota Raja has had a huge increase of voters – an increase of 32% over the number on the roll in March 2008. The overall increase for the country as a whole is about 10%, and the neighbouring parliamentary constituency of Klang had an increase of about 13%. Similarly, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah’s seat of Lembah Pantai witnessed an increase in voters of 26% since March 2008 while the neighbouring seat of Siputeh only experienced a 5% increase.

“The rumour mills are working overtime. People allege that thousands of foreign workers have been given identification papers and that they have been asked to vote for the ruling coalition. Something like this did actually occur in the state of Sabah, so it is not a totally outlandish suspicion."

“There is a perception that massive cheating is going to take place,” Dr Jeyakumar added . “Then we have the open warning by the prime minister that the ruling coalition will hold on to power whatever happens. He now says that it was just rhetoric to motivate his party members, but people are worried that he would hang on to power by extra-parliamentary means."

“The BN has gone on an open vote-buying spree. RM 500 [approximatelyA$160] has been given out as cash handouts to around 70% of Malaysian families. RM 100 has been given to all school children. This is significant because around 35% of Malaysian families earn a monthly income below RM2000.

“All this is unprecedented, and underlines the fact that the ruling coalition feels itself under threat! Meanwhile, BN politicians and their proxies are trying to stir up ethnic-religious anxieties.

“So people feel that we need to mobilise peoples’ power to make sure that the peoples’ will as expressed by the polls is respected.”

Dr Jeyakumar noted the BN government’s “marked departure from their aggressive authoritarian stance over Bersih 2.0. The government is playing it cautiously now.”

Malaysian students occupy Dataran Merdeka

Students have occupied Dataran Merdeka ahead of the Bersih 3.0 mass sit-in planned for April 28. Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Global Bersih

David Teoh, a Malaysian currently working in Australia , was one of the organisers of a very successful global component to the Bersih 2.0 action last July. He played a direct role in organising actions in Australia, the biggest drew about 1000 Malaysians and their supporters in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

This year, Teoh told Green Left Weekly/Links, that he expects even bigger global Bersih mobilisation.

“We had Malaysians in 38 cities supporting Bersih 2.0. This time around, we have banded together to increase the number of global locations and to get the message out there to Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike in support of Bersih 3.0. The Global Bersih website will serve as a one stop centre for all Global-related Bersih news.

“Juxtaposed with the police violence against Bersih 2.0 in Kuala Lumpur, the Global Bersih movement proved to be highly embarrassing on the government as Malaysians abroad assembled peacefully under the protection of the police at their respective locations.

“Since Bersih 2.0, the Malaysian government has commendably responded by setting up a Parliamentary Select Committee which has come up with 22 recommendations for electoral reforms, most of which have to be responded to by the Electoral Commission (EC). However in that same period, we have witnessed the total inability of the EC to address the fundamental issue of cleansing the electoral roll which is mired with irregularities.

“At present, the Malaysian government has given the undertaking that they will not crack down on the main Bersih 3.0 sit-down rally to be held in Kuala Lumpur. However there is some disagreement with the venue chosen, Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur. We will have to wait on how this will play out in the coming days ahead.”

Students march for free education

"Students are not Robots! Stop fooling students," says placard at student march in Kuala Lumpur on April 14. Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Students occupy Independence Square

Since July 14, students demanding free education and protesting the government’s education loan system have been peacefully occupying Independence Square. A number of tents have been set up, tapping the symbolism of the global Occupy movement, and student activists say they will stay there to welcome the Bersih 3.0 protesters on April 28.

However in the early hours of the morning of April 19 a group of 50-70 thugs attacked the students’ camp, smashing up their tents and smashing some of their equipment. Police nearby allowed the attack to proceed and only intervened later after students demanded  they act against this criminal activity.

The students have vowed to continue their protest camp until April 28.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Perkasa militia group (which the BN government allows to operate as a counterforce to the democratic and progressive movements) has threatened to hold a counter-mobilisation at Independence Square on April 29. However, a similar right-wing counter-mobilsation to Bersih 2.0 drew very small numbers on July 9 last year.


Let's liberate Dataran Merdeka

By S. Arutchelvan, PSM secretary general

April 26, 2012 -- Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) calls upon all Malaysians to liberate Dataran Merdeka from the clutches of the ruling party UMNO-BN, which seems to once again using various means to stop the peaceful assembly calling for clean and fair election first before polling day is announced.

Najib Tun Razak should immediately instruct DBKL to allow the BERSIH rally at Dataran Merdeka if he indeed believes in his own political transformation plans. The prime minister must also understand that apart from the one seat BN won, all other seats were won by the opposition in Federal Territory. This means DBKL itself is being ruled by a government without any mandate in Kuala Lumpur. It will also mean that all Najib’s big reforms are just hollow promises.

The previous two BERSIH rallies had been peaceful except in places where the police clashed and denied people to right to assemble. The May Day Coalition have also used the Dataran Merdeka for workers' days rallies before. Therefore there is no reasonable reason to stop BERSIH 3.0 from using Dataran Merdeka. In fact the local authorities should assist BERSIH 3.0 in the logistics rather than giving bare denial and unwanted relocations.
In the last two weeks, two groups, the students and Occupy Dataran, have been staying put in Dataran Merdeka. The PSM salutes the determination and courage put forward by these groups who have been fighting for democratic space in spite of numerous harassments from the authorities.

These efforts will be vain unless Malaysian seize the opportunity and makes April 28 a referendum from the rakyat who want a clean democratic system. The PSM will mobilise and work with all parties to make this assemble a success.

It will be meaningless to call Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square by its name if the square is going to barricaded and enslaved from public using it. Let’s us together liberate Dataran Merdeka. Let us join the movement for change!


Reforms in the Malaysia

Malaysian Spring movement has attracted a lot of people in protests for reform in Malaysia.

The students have raised the bar in our democratic struggle

By S.Arutchelvan
Secretary-general, Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM)

Since 14th. April 2012, the Malaysian student movement have occupied Dataran Merdeka in a real sense. They have put up tents, stayed put and are keeping on the fight beyond the imagination of many including myself. They may be small in numbers but their determination is surely big. The student movement have definitely grown in bravery and their action seems to gain support by the day.

14th April had its significant in Malaysian history and it was called Black 14. On April 14, 1999, Anwar was sentenced to 6 years jail. The day was marked with huge protest, Two years after that in 2001, ten reformasi activist were arrested under the ISA as they were planning a huge protest on Black 14. The ISA arrest in 2001, gave birth to GMI- Abolish ISA Movement.

Therefore April 14 continue to remain an important date to remember. Not many would have realised that the student Anti PTPTN and free education rally on 14 April 2012 is going to be a significant event. Not until the students declared that they are going to stay put or occupy Dataran till 28 April to greet BERSIH3. While BERSIH3 is not getting the same reaction like BERSIH2, when the Goverment did huge arrest and clampdown before the event including the arrest of PSM activist under the Emergency ordinance; yet the Student occupy movement seems to brighten our days leading to BERSIH3.

The students and young people have put up with the weather, with the DBKL enforcement units and very recently, with the UMNO led thugs. Their determination to go on till the 28 April is a high order. Every day or every second, they feel that there is going to be a clamp-down, an attack, a raid, an arrest and a wipe out. But these students and young people stay put. They have raised the bar in our democratic struggle. They have declared the small space in Dataran Merdeka as University Dataran Merdeka, where they hold lectures, discussion and plan strategies. It is a tedious and monotonous job to gather people round the clock, but they have managed to keep it up, at times with less than 5 people around.

Of course the struggle of today cannot be compared with the huge uprisings in the mid 1940s spearheaded by the left and movement such as the PUTERA-AMCJA which organised the HARTAL 1947, the Socialist front continued these traditions in the 60s, in the 70s, The UM Socialist Club led by people like Hishamuddin Rais lead the student movement to its golden era of resistance and class struggle.

After the 1969 May day incident and the demise of the Socialist front, Malaysia’s political landscape took a more communal approach rather than a class approach. Yet time to time, many groups came and expressed their frustration against the system including the Chinese Educationist movement as well as single issues movement like the protest against ARE in Bukit Merah and the Penan Blockade in saving their livelihood.

The democratic movement was weak and after Operasi Lallang in 1987 and under Mahathirism, every Public Institution was controlled and tainted. During this period, if more than 5 people were to assemble, then it is an achievement. In the early nineties, it was people like Dr. Nasir and Selvam who created democratic space among the urban settlers and plantation workers. They organised demonstration as well as fought evictions in urban areas. Things changed dramatically in 1998, the reformasi movement took centre stage and who can forget the September 20 gathering at Dataran Merdeka. A huge clampdown followed after this. Section 27 of the Police Act was rampantly used against activist and groups. The Reformasi movement failed but it kept a lasting memory and build a new brand of street activists called reformist.

In 2007, demonstration of Bar Council’s walk to freedom, BERSIH and Hindraf created significant mood for the 2008 Tsunami to take place. If it was not for the radicalisation of the masses, it would not have been so easy for the opposition to win many seats including winning in 5 States. The Badawi’s administration was much lenient in the use of power but continued to clampdown on public assemblies. In spite of that, huge demonstration like the Anti ISA demonstration in 2009 continued to rock the capital. It seems that the warnings, court orders and the tear gases have yet to tame or frighten the people. Each time, the police or the Home Minister makes an announcement asking people not to attend an assembly, it just builds the momentum.

2011 is yet a significant year with BERSIH2, EO6 and occupy Dataran, all happening one after another. The ruling elites fierce reaction in using the police on the BERSIH2 and PSM’s EO6 back fired. The Malaysian people continued to rule the streets and cherish their democratic freedom with more activism. Many new democratic groups emerged after BERSIH2. They started to gather and express their freedom. Nobody seems to apply for a permit as such it became obsolete it applying for a police permit.

Under this backdrop, Najib trying very hard to win back some support, made some reforms. He had no choice. He called for the ISA to be repealed, amended the Police Act on Illegal Assembly, amended the Colleges and university Act as well as Printing Presses Act. If Najib was in an opinion, that this will quench the thirst of the democratic movement, he is dead wrong. Armed with social media such as facebook and twitter, the people movement continued to show character and advancement.

A group of young people calling themselves Occupy Dataran gather every Saturday without fail. They get chased from time to time by the police and the DBKL, only to return again the next week. An environmental movement was born in Kuantan and the anti Lynas protest seem to once again built a huge peoples’ movement and successfully organised huge rallies called Himpun.

From the struggle of just gathering around in a static place, the current demonstration has moved to a rally concept. There seems to be more and more rallies compared to assemblies today. These are the achievements and the sign of the maturity of the movement. This year we saw how Himpun2 as well as Women Day rallies. BERSIH3 an May Day will once again see more people organised rallies.

Now the student movement, have moved the democratic bar higher with their determination to stay put and continue to occupy Dataram till the 28 february. Will they succeed or will they be crushed? Whatever it is, they have made their point and have raised the bar. They have brought new meaning and new breath to our movement.

It is the continuous process of empowering and building the democratic movement which is going save this country. While we wait for BERSIH3, let us enjoy this new space our young people have created.


11pm, 19 April 2012

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