Maria Unjustly Punished for Bersih’s Moral Victory

Photo credit: FMT

Kee Thuan Chye

Sungai Besar Umno Division Chief Jamal Md Yunos lied when he said the electoral reform movement Bersih planned to “take over” several strategic locations like the Prime Minister’s Office and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at its Bersih 5 rally.

The rally took place last Saturday, but what he alleged did not happen. In fact, only an idiot would have believed that Bersih would even dream of doing a thing like that.

Now we know for sure that Jamal is nothing but a loudmouth full of hot air. And he can be dismissed as nothing more than a troublemaker without a cause, plain and simple.

Three weeks prior to the event, he pledged he would bring out 300,000 Red Shirts to confront Bersih on November 19, but last Saturday, one could hardly spot a Red Shirt at the rally.

There was a news report of 4,000 of them armed with wooden and bamboo poles gathered outside Pertama Complex and that they later marched to Padang Merbok after their poles were confiscated by the police, but that was about all the excitement they caused.

This fizzling-out of the Red Shirts counter-rally reminds me of the similar fiasco staged by Umno Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin and his red-shirted group during the Bersih 2 rally in 2011. That time, too, Malay right-wing NGO Perkasa, led by another loudmouth, Ibrahim Ali, threatened to confront Bersih in a counter-rally way before the event but on the eve of the big day, it cried off.

The poor showing by the Red Shirts last Saturday was what I had expected. And I don’t think that Jamal’s arrest the night before was the cause of that. If it had been properly organised and, more importantly, if they knew what the cause was and believed in it, many more Red Shirts would have come out.

Contrast them with Bersih’s supporters. Their leader, Maria Chin Abdullah, was also arrested the night before, but they still came out in tens of thousands. Because they knew what they were rallying for, and they passionately believed in it. And that was enough for Bersih’s supporters to score a moral victory – not just over the Red Shirts for the latter don’t count for doodly-squat anyway, but, more strikingly, victory over the Government’s attempts to intimidate them and derail them from their purpose.

Looking at the significant multi-racial turnout and considering the huge number of Malays who demonstrated their anger at him as they carried banners calling for an end to kleptocracy and yelling “Undur, undur! Undur, Najib!” (Step down, step down! Step down, Najib!), Prime Minister Najib Razak might have felt his bowels run loose as he stood in his Armani suit.

The turning point may have now been reached as more and more Malaysians have finally come to believe that despite the attempts to cover up the scandal, ‘Malaysian Official 1’ (MO1), who is none other than Najib, did receive money from 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad). The placards reading ‘Tangkap MO1’ (Arrest MO1) and variations to that effect were held high and accusingly by protestors at Bersih 5 – and they were clearly of all races.

What remains for the Government to do now is to intensify its campaign to demonise Bersih in order to further hoodwink the ill-informed into believing that Bersih has an ulterior agenda – that of toppling a democratically elected government.

Maria was arrested last Friday night to be investigated for attempts to carry out activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy. But as Bersih 5 gained traction on the streets on Saturday, the Government responded harshly in the afternoon – Maria would now be detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma), which meant she could be held by the police for up to 28 days.

This is shocking. When the Government tabled Sosma in Parliament to replace the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), it promised that Sosma would not target political opponents or dissidents. It was meant to be aimed at terrorists.

Maria is not a terrorist, far from it. She is someone who loves her country and evidently cares so much for it that she works tirelessly to try and make Malaysia better. She should not have Sosma thrown at her.

It looks like the Government is desperate in wanting ill-informed and easily-scared Malaysians to believe that Bersih is terrorising Malaysians by subverting the security of the country.

But the Government is undeniably wrong. It is committing gross injustice. Look at Bersih’s demands. Are they for the good or ill of the country?

I think it was a mistake for the Government to have arrested Maria in the first place. I had people tell me at the rally the next day that they were initially undecided about attending it, but when they heard of her arrest, they got so angry that they chose to go.

Now the Government could be compounding its earlier mistake with the Sosma move. Seen against the affirmation last Saturday of Bersih’s true intent, the persecution of Maria will make people wonder why the Government is so weak that it needs to employ such a strong weapon to silence an activist who only wants reform. This is harkening back to the dark days of the dreadful ISA.

Najib has lied. In 2012, when he repealed the ISA and three emergency proclamations and got Sosma and the Peaceful Assembly Act passed, he hailed what he did as an act of reform. He promised that the new laws would no longer limit individuals’ freedom but instead ensure that their basic constitutional rights were protected.

But look at Maria now. Her freedom as a citizen are limited. Her basic constitutional rights are not protected. In fact, they are taken away from her. What wrong has she committed?

Besides that, in the aftermath of Bersih 5, PKR MPs Tian Chua and Zuraida Kamaruddin were arrested, joining other Opposition leaders and activists who had been taken in a little earlier. What wrong have they committed?

Tian Chua is being investigated for rioting. So are Bersih steering committee member Hishammuddin Rais and student leader Muhammad Luqman Nul Hakim Zul Razali. What rioting? Is this in connection with Bersih 5 because if it is, where was the rioting?

Bersih 5 was conducted peacefully. Although the Bersih supporters felt frustrated because they were blocked by the police from marching to their intended destination of Dataran Merdeka, they did not storm the barricades. They heeded the police warning like law-abiding citizens.

Later, in the afternoon, the Bersih steeringa committee cleverly switched the rally to an alternative focal point – the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC). It turned out to be as apt a protest venue as Dataran Merdeka for it is also a tourist hub and bustling locality.

There, at the foot of the iconic Twin Towers, rallygoers assembled – again, peacefully – to listen to prominent people rail against Najib and call for clean elections, clean government, parliamentary reform, the right to assemble, all the things that we the citizens of Malaysia should be entitled to.

Bersih 5 also made it clear that it wants only Najib – not everyone in the Government – to step down, simply because he has to be independently investigated for alleged corruption. Bersih is not out to “topple the Government”, regardless of what has been erroneously touted time and again by Najib and his lackeys whenever they are besieged by criticisms related to the 1MDB and RM2.6 billion scandals.

MP Tony Pua clarified in his speech at Bersih 5 that the people wanted to see the Barisan Nasional government toppled, yes – but not by undemocratic means. They want the BN government toppled via the ballot box. “That is the only recourse we have,” he acknowledged.

That’s right. Bersih has always subscribed to the outcome of the ballot. Which is why it has always striven for free and fair elections. It is not out to topple the Government in any other way, and certainly not by violence or rioting. For goodness’ sake, this should be understood by all.

I’m sure Najib understands it. As such, he should call for the release of Maria and all the arrested Bersih 5 sympathisers.

Otherwise, he and his government could lose the perception race – and, unless they play foul, this could also result in a loss at the next election race. — malaysiakini

Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestsellers “Unbelievably Stupid!” and “Unbelievably Stupid Too!”


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