Malaysia: Hundreds of thousands demand democratic elections at Bersih 3.0; police attack peaceful protest

Video by Green Left TV.

April 30, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The Coalition of Free and Fair Elections (Bersih – meaning “clean” in Malay), the movement for free and fair elections in Malaysia, said that the April 28 rally was a great success, claiming that 300,000 Malaysians had joined the Bersih 3.0 rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur. Bersih 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 without addressing widespread electoral irregularities. Rallies were also held in around 85 cities around Malaysia and across the world (click HERE for reports).

Around 500 people rallied in Sydney of April 28, 2012. Photos by Peter Boyle (who also addressed the rally on behalf of Socialist Alliance). There were rallies across Australia. See Bersih 3.0 Australia for reports.

Coalition co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan declared the rallies successful at a press conference at the KL Sentral after the rally, reported Malaysiakini. "The atmosphere was wonderful and the numbers that were there -- it was tremendous. We feel that it was a success because there was so much support for the cause and everything was fine [so much so] that we gave the order to disperse very quickly, by 2.30 pm, because as we got to Dataran (Merdeka [Independence Square]) it was very difficult for the people to sit down”, Ambiga said.

Ambiga added that it was undeniable that the police were “not very restrained”, and there had been “excessive use of tear gas”.

As the rally was dispersing, police attacked using water cannon and tears gas, with more than 400 people reportedly arrested.

"The police had also manhandled protesters and beaten up press photographers for taking pictures of violent arrests', observed Charles Santiago, member of parliament for Klang. "In sharp contrast, northern Penang had a peaceful rally as there were no presence of the police or razor wire. Malaysians living in 80 different cities across the world also rallied peacefully, with no untoward incidents."

See also:

PSM: Why were the people stopped from entering Independence Square?

By S. Arutchelvan, secretary general, Socialist Party of Malaysia

April 30, 2012 -- In the aftermath of BERSIH 3.0, however you look at it, the police and the government must take full responsibility on whatever damage that happened.

The PSM is totally convinced that if the ruling government had allowed the people the freedom to gather at Dataran Merdeka [Independence Square], then the assembly would have been peaceful and there would not have been untoward incidents.

If the government allowed Dataran Merdeka to be used the people would have all gathered at Dataran Merdeka and the traffic all around KL would be have been normal. There have been hundreds of other occasions when Dataran Merdeka has been closed for public activity and there was no problem about it.

Even in a scenario where the people walked from six points to Dataran Merdeka, it would still be better then what happened when Dataran was completely sealed off. The traffic may be disrupted in these six points but that may have just been a temporary problem until everyone reached Dataran Merdeka.

If Dataran Merdeka was allowed, all the speeches would have been presented with a good microphone system and the organisers would have been able to disperse the crowd after the assembly in an orderly manner. There would have been any rubbish around as the organisers would have told the public to collect the garbage, as happened in Kuantan during the anti-Lynas assembly recently.

If Dataran Merdeka was allowed, then the police would not have to run all around KL and police would have had an easier task of monitoring the situation. Our main question here is, why does the government allow the whole of KL city to suffer just in order to protect one rectangle called Dataran Merdeka -– Independence Square.

The answer is simply. The Government does not want to see any democratic movement occupy Dataran Merdeka which has its historical importance. Many people spoke about Tahrir square and equate Merdeka square to that. It is perhaps of this one reason that the government used all its might to protect this square. It is because of this that they used excessive force and became paranoid when the Dataran Merdeka barrier was removed by a small segment of the people. The authorities were obsessed to protect Dataran Merdeka at all cost and used all their arsenal to protect this square.

The breach of the barricades in Dataran Merdeka by a small group of the people cannot be used as an excuse to unleash the police terror on a peaceful rally. Because of this high-handed and irrational act by the police, it resulted in many problems which otherwise could have been avoided. Until the police attack, the assembly was very organised, peaceful, colourful and very festive.

There has also been lots of speculation about who broke the barricade. It is my opinion that there is nothing really wrong in people breaking the barricades in Dataran Merdeka, for the simple fact that the people wanted the Dataran liberated and stand true to its name, “Independence Square”. This was the popular chant of the people who wanted to gather at Dataran Merdeka. It was a popular demand rather than an isolated one. The police used discretion in allowing the people to rally from six points, though initially they said that they will not allow this. In the same manner, the police could have used their discretion in allowing the people to gather at Dataran Merdeka.

Even though Dataran Merdeka was not liberated on April 28, 2012. Nevertheless there will be continous efforts to liberate this public space in the future. Let us not forget the heroic task taken by the students and the Occupy Dataran in the last two weeks in occupying Dataran leading to BERSIH 3.0.

The people will continue to oppose draconian laws; previously huge demonstrations have been held against the Internal Security Act, ... and many other draconian laws. Fighting against draconian laws is a democratic right of the people. In this case, the court order was obtained at the 11th hour and is ex-parte. It is the will of the people that matters in a democratic movement, not the will of a court order obtained in an undemocratic fashion and enforced by police force.

There is no justification at all for the police to have used the removal of the barricades as a reason to go on a rampage at the huge rally. It seems as if the police were waiting for the occasion.

We would like to stress that most of the injuries sustained by the people and the police took place after the assembly, when the police refused to allow people to disperse peacefully. The police in small groups picked on protesters, assaulted and beat them up. They refused to allow people to leave the area. Also, since the train services were disrupted, it was difficult for people to leave. This resulted in people getting frustrated and in engaging in scuffles with the police.

All this could have been avoided if the police allowed the people to disperse peacefully. Instead the police went on terrorising the people, attacking those who took pictures of the assaults and in the process attacked journalists and observers from the Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) and the Bar Council.
Another question which is bothering is the fact that there were agent provocateurs, and some police were even wearing the BERSIH T-shirts...

While we welcome the early release of all the detainees, they should not have been arrested in the first place. The police high command and the government must take full responsibility. In their efforts to defend Dataran Merdeka, they have made a mockery of themselves and made a charade of our democracy. What the people wanted was free and fair elections and they wanted to express it in numbers.

The numbers that turned made it the biggest demonstration in recent years and BERSIH 3.0 will be remembered by many who participated for two reasons. It will be remembered as a huge show of people's power and it will be remembered for the unjust violence by the police.

It seems that the police and the ruling government have yet to reform. In spite of new laws, new slogans and new promises, the people's freedom continues to be trampled upon. The people will continue to rise up against tyranny. This is definitely not the last of the rallies for change.

Photo by Harakahdaily.

Bersih 3.0, Sydney, April 28, 2012.