Malaysia – A Response to Bersih 2.0 Rally

How can a Ruling Party Champion a Street Protest Call for a Better Democracy

Some say that extreme pressure manifests the best in human character. Recent YouTube videos of the Bersih 2.0 rally testify to such character among Malaysians today.  Indeed, when Ibrahim Ali zealously predicted racial tensions during the street protests as a divisive scare tactic, his aggression prompted a new stage of racial unity in Malaysia. This does not mean that Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds are deeply engaged with one another beyond mere tolerance, but it does suggest that the Malaysian government no longer need fear another May 13 incident. After 54 years of independence, Malaysians no longer buy the colonial propaganda, perpetuated in our and our forefathers’ minds, that Malaysians are incapable of being united. In fact, 10 years prior to independence, the Hartal Protest of 1947 showed that racial unity during a street rally is possible.

There are many valid reasons for the government to fear. But if the potential for the street rally as an instrument of positive change in Malaysia at large is addressed well, then such marching can turn into a beautiful testimony of Malaysia’s version of democracy. This is the benchmark that any ruling party should strive for – to be a champion of the people’s voice and to display to the world an exemplary model of a country that acknowledges itself to be, but is not fearful of being, at the cross-road of democracy. The Sixth Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies in Vilnius, Lithuania on 1st July, 2011 affirms that Malaysia is not alone in this adventure.

We hope the way our country walks this adventure is a legacy we can leave behind to future generations of One Malaysia. We should also not be overly quick to adopt other countries’ models of democracy. In particular, Malaysia should be very careful not to idealize the liberal democracy of modern super-powers, too often a 21st-century version of colonialism, given its history of being ruled by others from 1511 to 1957. Malaysia is unique because of the richness of its people, and should develop its own version of modern democracy that will be relevant to its faith and cultural traditions.

What acknowledgements and actions should take place with regard to the Bersih 2.0 electoral reformation rally? First, the ruling party should have acknowledged its support for a ‘bersih’ election and expressed its commitment to improve election activities within its own party. At the same time, opposition parties need to express their commitment to the call they made on the street. It is superficial to say that the opposition parties are completely ‘bersih’ or immune from dirty politics. Humanity is human, and manipulation, which comes in different ways, is inevitable.

The ruling party’s conduct would have been more appealing if it had imitated Prophet Muhammad when he resolved the first tribal conflict in Mecca. 9th July could have been Malaysia’s legacy if all political party leaders carried a huge yellow fabric with Bersih 2.0 printed on it from one destination to the other to symbolize their commitment to integrity. This would have reflected the mature implementation of Islam Hadhari or Civilizational Islam that was introduced by Tun Ahmad Badawi. The rally could have concluded with bringing the banner collectively to Yang Di Pertuan Agung, who could have been invited to end the people’s rally with a prayer for our nation. Turning what was expected to be bad into something good could be momentous. Encouraging the citizens doing good and being competent in supporting them to achieve this in an orderly manner could make any ruling party, as well as the people, a champion of the rally.

Secondly, the government should also take into consideration that some police officers failed to follow procedures, for example, in treating the civilians brutally. Again, human is human. Even a nuclear power plant, designed with a sophisticated automatic emergency-shutdown safety system, can still occasionally malfunction. How can the brain drain problem be resolved if 1 million Malaysians abroad, whom the recently launched Talent Corp is trying to reach, watched some police officers kicking civilians – especially those who had already fell on the ground and were helplessly not moving, with  their bodies wrapped with Malaysian flags –? Perhaps, the today’s generation is complacent, compared to our forefathers fell down fighting against the colonials for our country’s independence. Today, sadly, we fight with each other. Where are the human values of our generation today? What kind of explanation can parents give to Malaysian youngsters who watch these scenes? Is this behavior acceptable in our community?

Third, the government should build a strategy for mitigating the impact of globalization on the discourse surrounding Malaysia’s street protests. Freedom of expression is basic to humanity, but freedom that weakens rather than advances the country must not predominate.   Unfortunately, crude language and abusive activity online, especially in blogs, YouTube, and Facebook show a degradation of ethics among Malaysians. Being critical is good, but it is essential for Malaysia’s future at large that such ideas are articulated objectively and in a mutually respectful manner. For example, a blogger’s opinion may be right, but the vulgarity of the narrative may shape non-Malaysians’ opinions about Malaysians who, in a regression of integrity, hide themselves behind computer screens. Such a person is exposed by the Malay proverb, “macam ketam mengajar berjalan tegak,” which describes a crab, which cannot walk straight, teaching others to walk straight. With such language, how can we be sure that the non-ruling parties would govern Malaysia with integrity, competency and accountability if they can’t watch their language when they are not yet in power?

My father made an interesting remark about the recent Bersih 2.0 rally. He said that “giving them the space for expression is like letting their matured boils burst open.” I hope that after bursting, healing comes quickly. Perhaps, it was good that it burst?

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