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The Flipside

Published: Wednesday September 2, 2015 MYT 10:11:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday September 2, 2015 MYT 10:15:13 AM

An overnight carnival on the streets

FORGIVE me, but I have never been a fan of rallies or large-scale demonstrations.

For one, it’s hard to understand how taking to the streets and shouting slogans of protest for your cause can be considered a proactive move.

The sheer size of the crowd and the congestion it creates also makes for a rather uncomfortable experience, especially for those who want no part in such gatherings.

If those reasons aren’t enough, then the fear of violence and chaos is why I feel rallies can be an unnecessary nuisance to public order.

So when the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) announced that it would be organising a mammoth rally for the fourth time since 2007, I was a little less than ecstatic for obvious reasons.

None of Bersih’s previous three rallies ended peacefully, and while the group’s reasons were noble, its methods weren’t.

The organisers also seemed to be forwarding an Opposition agenda rather than a Malaysian one, which is why a political neutral like myself found it hard to get behind Bersih.

So yes, the decision to have a Bersih 4 at Dataran Merdeka and that too on the eve of the National Day celebrations was what I initially considered a deliberate attempt to disrupt public peace and security.

But after covering the 34-hour rally that ended at midnight on Sunday, I am unashamed to admit that I was wrong this time.

There was no resemblance to the Bersih rallies of old, unless you consider the yellow t-shirts worn by the participants, with the words “Bersih 4” printed on them.

This could very well have been a National Day carnival, as the spirit of unity and friendship was very much on display among the rally-goers.

I witnessed participants sharing food and drink, non-Muslims assisting the Muslims with “wudhu” (ablutions) during prayer time, and places of worship opening their doors to those who wished to rest.

Never mind the statistics that rally participants comprised mostly Chinese or that the Malay turnout was low because PAS was not involved this time around.

I’d prefer to believe that the Malaysians who came out in droves were also there to voice out on behalf of their fellow countrymen who were not. 

The fact that the crowd swelled just hours before the National Day countdown was further indication that this was a patriotic bunch that had come to celebrate a proud occasion together.

Despite being the longest ever Bersih rally, there wasn’t a single incident of violence. When one or two troublemakers tried to provoke the crowd, they were swiftly dealt with. 

There were a handful who committed the distasteful deed of stepping on photos of the country’s leaders while some shouted slogans and carried placards that were vulgar in nature, but things never looked like they were about to get out of control.

As one colleague suggested: this was indeed a “boring” rally for journalists as there were no dramatic incidents to report about.

The police deserve a chunk of the credit for that, and more importantly, for being patient with the protesters throughout the rally.

Unlike previous Bersih rallies, they refrained from dispersing the protesters by force, and that made all the difference. 

It also helped that the Opposition leaders did not hijack the rally this time around and chose to stick to the script of the organisers.

Sure, cries of “Bebas Anwar” could be heard sporadically in some corners of Masjid Jamek, but they were mostly drowned out by the waving of Malaysian flags, the blowing of vuvuzelas, and chants of “Hidup Rakyat!”.

Having covered the mess that was Bersih 3 and having seen what Bersih 4 turned out to be, I can safely say that Malaysians have matured in their sense of camaraderie with one another. 

I will continue to remain sceptical of rallies and how effective they are, but if all of them are like Bersih 4 – more of a carnival and less like a protest – then I’ll join in the fun.

I do have one complaint though: those wretched vuvuzelas need to be banned. For good!

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Bersih, Bersih 4, rally, opinion, Akil Yunus

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