KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said that the attacks on Bersih by the government and police boosted the popularity of the movement.
The Bersih co-chairman recalled her shock after receiving “constant and consistent attacks” when they announced the 2011 Bersih rally.
“I was in shock because I never anticipated that reaction. But it was that overreaction that made people sit up and think that there must be something wrong with our elections if this is the way the government is reacting to a movement on free and fair elections,” she said.
“So thank you to the government and all those non-state actors who attacked Bersih. You have made it the success that it is today,” exclaimed Ambiga at the Malaysiaku celebration’s Bobo Talk on Monday.
Ambiga said that when she assumed her position heading the Bersih movement, she didn’t feel that there was anything controversial about clean and fair elections. That was why she was shocked to receive such a reaction from the government.
“I didn’t anticipate the kind of response that we got; because at the start, there were very few supporters from the public. They didn't necessarily think that there was anything wrong with our elections,” she said.
But all that changed in the 2011 Bersih 2.0 rally: “I didn’t expect to see almost 50,000 people to be there despite the road blocks and police checks. I saw the videos and I started tearing because I couldn’t believe that so many people came out to support the cause.”
“The government underestimates Malaysians. They underestimate the fair play and the sense of justice that Malaysians have,” said Ambiga.
“People have reached their limit, there is no turning back. They are fed up with the way things are done,” she said.
“Bersih has become more than just a movement on free and fair elections, it is also a movement about democracy and justice,” she adds.
Ambiga said that a movement called Global Bersih started without her involvement by people overseas.
“We didn’t start Global Bersih, people overseas contacted us and said that they wanted to start Global Bersih. So Bersih is not just a Malaysian movement, it is an international movement,” said Ambiga.
“During the Bersih rally days, while we went to the streets here, people were going to the streets around the world. It has created a global community,” she adds.
She says that GE13 was the first time the Malaysian public has been so involved in the elections.
“They (the people) took it upon themselves to guard the sanctity of elections,” said Ambiga.
She said that GE13 also saw the start of Pemantaus which is a citizen movement, the first of its kind in Malaysia.
“We had 2000 election observers nationwide, whom we trained who were observing the elections on the day,” informed Ambiga.
“They came back with reports that talk about the problems that took place on the day,” she said, adding that Permantaus is a great achievement of Bersih.
“We couldn’t do it without the people, the people are so happy to help,” said Ambiga.
She said that even though people were disappointed with GE13, they have taken it upon themselves to start educating others about Bersih’s mission in preparation for the next General Elections.
“We have a lot to be thankful for, we had generous contributions from the public and we’ve had tons of mail and petitions signed,” said Ambiga.
“It’s a way for Malaysians to tell you that they’re thankful for the actions you have done. That is utter support from the people; you can’t get that from paying money,” she adds.
Ambiga highlights the importance of having a clear mission.
“Our message was crystal clear to the people and it was simple and easy for them to understand, and it became something that they became part of,” said Ambiga, adding that Bersih is a grassroots ground-up movement.
“I think the growth of Bersih is unstoppable, and if I were the government, I would work with Bersih instead of working against Bersih,” she said.
“If they came to one of our rallies and said ‘Okay, we will hear you out’, I think that they’ll be in a far better position that they are today. But they chose not to do that, and that’s their mistake,” she adds.
Ambiga said that despite the constant attacks she receives, she still remains strong.
“They will always attack the messenger because they are afraid of the message. The message scares them. Free and fair elections scare them,” she said.