In trying to make sense of BERSIH’s intention to call for squeaky-clean elections through a second public rally and the mainly hostile media reaction it has invited, one thing is apparent – the country’s deepening political chasm holds the threat of a street collision as opposing factions join the foray.
As a non-governmental organisation (NGO) BERSIH’s expressed platform is elections reform. As a movement it garners public support through the promise of transparent and bersih electoral procedures and processes, lending substance to the cry for societal cleansing.
The fact that it is led by Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, a former Bar Council president recognised internationally for outstanding legal advocacy bespeaks what should be a judicious and unbiased handling of the democratic rights of the people.
However, BERSIH has allowed its image to be negatively perceived because of its open association with political parties whose members have shown themselves to be less than upright. It’s pledge of correcting the inconsistencies in the procedures for a free and fair election is tarnished by the fact that for an issue of great national importance and grave legal implications, BERSIH prefers to take to the streets rather than engage in dialogue and discussion.
It prefers to arouse a rally of banner-waving and chanting people, many of whom would have already been instigated by the leaders of the political parties they belong to. BERSIH then runs the risk of provoking emotional outbursts, employing the same kotor tactics for which Malaysian politicians on both sides of the political divide are infamous. A movement which started as an apolitical group will crumble under the pressure applied by the political parties it is aligned to.
Ambiga’s noble intentions will be drowned by the strident voices of populist leaders who will call BERSIH’s shots and turn the street demonstration into a premature general election campaign. What should be the BERSIH chief’s earnest and articulate voice speaking up at local conventions and international symposiums will degenerate into the name-calling and blame game typical of Malaysian politics.
The insidious nature of an NGO that purports to be transparent begs the question of what is considered honourable and incorruptible by Malaysian standards. When the nation’s leaders and role models are prepared to shift their principles to camouflage personal and group ambitions, one wonders what has happened to the virtues of integrity, or whether Malaysians at all understand what it means to be honest and upright. Where lies the audacity of honour when the people condemning corruption are themselves corrupted?
We are being swayed by the winds of change sweeping across the nation and throughout the world, led by people committed to right the wrongs in society. Mostly they have grown disenchanted with the failure of governments to deliver not only socio-economic development but also moral reform. They have lost faith and trust in the ruling party’s vows to fight abuse and corruption which they still see happening before their eyes. They are now grouping together in larger numbers to insist that their democratic rights as the country’s real stakeholders be taken seriously. They can no longer tolerate being talked down to and dismissed as public nuisance.
However, when trust and respect are diminished by poor communication and the inability to engage one another in civil dialogue there is the danger that the boldest, dissident voices will prevail to drown the more sensible ones.
It is of the greatest urgency that those of us with no furtive agendas other than the good of the community speak up without prejudice. We must rise and speak our minds for the sake of peace and unity. By lending our voices and speaking with a clear conscience and sound reason, we can help restore a little of the respect and trust that Malaysians once had for one another.