“No, no, no, the massive demonstration that we held last July 9 is not the ‘Arab Spring’ of Malaysia”, says Edmund Bon, a Catholic lawyer from the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) and supporter of Bersih 2.0. Bersih 2.0 is the name given by a group of NGOs to the big rally they organised last weekend, attended by more than 70 thousand people.
The massive demonstration — suffocated by the police with tear gas and 1,600 arrests — has some similarities with those that erupted in North Africa and the Middle East: People attended from all classes, all ethnicities, all religions — Christians, Muslims, Hindu, tribal… But unlike those of the Middle East, “the entire middle class rallied here and our goals were not the ones to bring down a dictatorship: Malaysia does not have a strong dictatorship, or a high percentage of unemployed. The reason that led us to demonstrate was to push the election committee to prepare clean and fair elections. “
Edmund Bon — who offers legal support to Bersih 2.0 — lists the contradictions within the Election Committee: There are people who vote twice, voting lists with names of deceased, families assigned 100 names and 100 cards election… “We — he tells AsiaNews — are asking them to eliminate all these irregularities.”
“Another thing we are demanding — he adds — is that the Election Committee give sufficient time for the election campaign: so far they have lasted 4-5 days from the announcement of the election. Obviously, this benefits those who already hold power. We demand that the election campaign is 15 days long, to give everyone a chance to consider who to vote for and to give everyone time to get organised. “
“Our demands — Bon clarifies — are not transcendental or enormous: we just want to rid the election of irregularities.” The lawyer says that such requests are those that international monitoring organisations seek to implement during the elections in the world. “They – he adds — are more or less the same made in 2007 when we held the Bersih 1, our first event. Then we met the members of the election committee, we drafted an agreement on steps to take… but nothing was done.”
The demonstration was not intended not to topple the government, but rather to criticize it: under the current electoral system, the party UMNO and its coalition partner the BN (Barisan Nasional) has always won the elections since 1956. “The BN – Bon concludes – is the longest serving government in the world. Only in the last elections was its power reduced and the opposition won in five states “.
The MCCHR lawyer points out that the organisers of the Bersih 2.0 are the NGOs and political parties. They called on all parties to participate, but only the opposition participated. Among them was Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the PKR, along with other opposition parties.
The protest has enormous relevance because the next election is supposed to be held by 2013. In these years, the BN has lost more votes, especially among the youth, and it is possible that with these corrections they will lose even more elections.
Maybe that’s why police and the government had at first restrained and then suppressed the flow of huge crowds. Days before, police detained thousands of people to prevent them from arriving in Kuala Lumpur, on the eve of the protest they arrested some demonstrators, on the day of the great demonstration they blocked streets, used tear gas, water cannons, and dispersed the crowd with batons and arrests accusing the over 70 thousand of holding an “unauthorised” demonstration.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has expressed his dissatisfaction with the gathering dismissing it as “chaos.” But so many people have defied the police and obstacles, which indicates that a lot of anger is brewing in the hearts of voters. Meanwhile, in at least 30 cities around the world, supporters are preparing (or have already held) Bersih 2.0 demonstrations in countries such as Australia, Japan, France, the United States, Great Britain, South Korea, and Taiwan.