The prime minister uses fear tactics to intimidate Malaysians and try to persuade them that Bersih has tarnished Malaysia’s image.
“They locked down the city only to lock us into solidarity. We went into the streets to look for democracy, only to find our country.”
These were the poignant words of Wong Chin Huat, the political scientist and Bersih 2.0 leader who stood on his makeshift podium to address the crowd at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.
“Malaysians have been liberated twice. We first gained freedom from the British in 1957. On July 9, 2011, we were liberated from our fears after over five decades of being gripped by fear and suspicion.”
Wong’s short but moving message evoked the fallen memory of Baharuddin Ahmad, the victim of the Bersih 2.0 rally and although unconnected, the political aide Teoh Beng Hock, who died at the hands of his interrogators in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Inviting the gathering to stand for a minute’s silence in honour of their memory, Wong proceeded to remind Malaysians of what it meant to be Malaysian.
It wasn’t new stuff, but happening as it did on the eve of Teoh’s death, it was a powerful reminder that work to reclaim Malaysia from the grip of oppression was a “work in progress” as Wong put it.
The lecturer and columnist also told us that on July 9, “a miracle happened”.
He related stories of ordinary Malaysians who decided to go to the streets, despite the threat of police violence and intimidation from right-wing groups.
In the event, 50,000 Malaysians breached police blockades, faced water cannon, tear gas and baton charges. They knew the risks and were prepared to face the consequences, perhaps sacrificing their lives so that the country could gain a better future.
An eye- opener
“Running for our lives from the tear gas and police attacks, we discovered at that moment in time, that we were not Malay, Indian, Chinese or Kadazan… we were just another human being. That was the most significant happening of July 9; we had become ‘one’.”
He related to us the story of a friend who knew the risks of going on the march and of not returning.
So strong was his urge to answer the Bersih 2.0 demands for free and clean elections, an end to corruption and the strengthening of our public institutions, that the friend had prepared a will and wrote a “final letter” to his young daughter , in the event of his death.
After Wong’s speech, Malaysians were invited onto the “stage” to contribute or speak of their Bersih experience. Others were content to tell FMT their views on the event.
A financial adviser called Sam said, “Chin Huat put forward all the valid points and it was an eye- opener. The interesting part was the relaying of experience by those people who took part and were affected, in the actual demonstrations. One girl asked, ‘How could the government do this to its own people?’”
FJ, a former lawyer, said, “I thought the talk was quite timely, seeing that the 13th general election is coming and especially with the news about postal voting. Chin Huat’s speech was not new, but is a reminder of what is important to Malaysia and Malaysians.
“It’s easy to forget the struggles back home when one is so far away and caught up with the minutiae of daily life. I’ve only been here two weeks, and already I feel out of touch with the scene back home.
“One thing I will cherish is when we were all singing Negaraku together. That was a moment of unity and pride.”
Kuo Yeap, an accountant and London activist, said, “Chin Huat did not need a police permit to speak in England. He gave fellow Malaysians in London hope to fight for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to peaceful protest, and for clean and fair elections.”
A designer called Khatijah said, “It was good to have Wong at Speaker’s Corner. The large Malaysian flag certainly drew attention from park visitors who stopped to listen to what he had to say about elections in Malaysia.”
Unbalanced media war
“His riveting narration as a witness and of himself being arrested and beaten by police is a testimony to the true spirit of fighting for fair elections.
“His inclusion of the death of Teoh, although not directly related to the Bersih movement, is an extension of how the ruling party can easily manipulate and spin the media to portray the victim as the bad guy – what more in an uneven and unbalanced media war where opposing views are denied air or press time –one of the eight Bersih demands.”
Wong’s words left a mark on many Malaysians that day, as it must have done countless times before.
“Around the globe, and in 29 cities, thousands of Malaysians were united in solidarity with the protesters of KL. We did it because of our love for the country. No one had any regrets.”
“Some of us cried singing the national anthem,” he said. “It was the greatest moment of our lives, being a Malaysian, that July 9.”
Before he ended his talk, Speakers’ Corner reverberated with seven cries of “Merdeka”, just as the Tunku Abdul Rahman had done 55 years earlier, followed by the Negara Ku.
How ironic that “Bersih”, which means “clean”, is a dirty word for the government of Malaysia.
How ironic, too, that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak uses fear tactics to intimidate Malaysians and try to persuade them that Bersih has damaged the reputation of the Muslims and tarnished Malaysia’s image.
How ludicrous that Najib claims that associating with Bersih would destroy and divide the unity between races and between Muslims, when it is apparent to all that Bersih has united the races.
Perhaps Najib will say anything to conceal his inability to execute real and meaningful reforms.