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BERSIH 3 demonstrators came in their thousands on 28 April 2012 in Kuala Lumpur- photo by Reuter

BERSIH 3 demonstrators-Initially peaceful

Whenever there are activities against the government of the day in Malaysia, most of us will troop in droves to online reports by non-mainstream media or the foreign media like here and here for news.

BERSIH 3, (better historically known as BERSIH 428 – APRIL TWENTY EIGHT- to denote the date of the event like 911) is no different.

I tried to access BERSIH website this morning (28 Apr 2012) but it was BLOCKED! I notice this shutdown seems to be the practice by the authorities to prevent communication of information or updates which they deem as incendiary.

I remember they did the same to Sarawak Reports website which gave information on the wrongdoings of Sarawak geriatric Chief Minister during the last state general election in 2011. The same action the former Egyptian regime took during the massively effective Tahrir Square demonstrations. Fortunately there were no attempts to block the social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

Earlier on I was following the live updates on the march for fair electoral reforms here. I checked YouTube postings on the event (plenty of them being posted by 4.30pm), logged in Facebook for postings by “Yellow” minded friends and also watched Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN news to get the virtual images of the police response to the protesters and was quite disgusted seeing policemen kicking and slapping helpless protesters. And the whole world watches these mindless actions against unarmed demonstrators and my blood involuntarily boiled. So much for 1 Malaysia’s slogan…(Pro-government) People first, (same old ) Performance now.

The police responded uncompromisingly with water cannon and tear gas - ASTRO TV image

I am all for freedom of expression through peaceful and responsible means. From what I saw the demonstrators were generally peaceful till a few of them broke the barricades around the Merdeka Square and the police response was swift and uncompromising, charging,beating,slapping,punching,kicking,breaking cameras,spraying with water (chemical-laced?) cannon and shooting tear gas canisters into the crowd of protesters.

The authorities are morbidly against BERSIH demonstrators using the square as they were probably thinking of the world famous Tahrir Square in Cairo. In fact BERSIH leaders are unhappy with the provocative acts of some demonstrators (could these be the “government’s agents?). Why would genuine BERSIH demonstrators jeopardize their cause and more importantly their safety by provoking the police? Unless of course these people are looking for dramatic TV images to be beamed around the world. Taking cognizance that international global support/economic sanctions could cripple any government on documented human rights abuses.

A hurt BERSIH 428 female demonstrator - ASTRO TV image

By not allowing the protesters to use Merdeka Square is already a signal from the government that any confrontation would be met with brutal force. They used the same strategy during the last BERSIH 2 smaller protests.

On the other hand, the protesters also used the same tactics to get the whole world to watch them. The same strategies employed by both sides and no major lessons learnt from previous encounters, on how to resolve or contain this outpouring of dissatisfaction at the perceived failure of the appointed body to come up with true reforms of the electoral practices seen as favouring the existing government.

A demonstrator (yes, most were in defiant yellow) is slapped,arrested and head-locked away - ASTRO TV image

The government’s stand on BERSIH 3 demonstration has not changed. Neither is the reaction of the protesters who came in their thousands, about 25,000, according to foreign news reports. Apparently the crowd is bigger than the previous BERSIH 2 gathering. People are becoming bolder or has electoral reform’s awareness increased among the rights-savvy public?

Meaningful lessons are not learnt especially by the government and why in the world should they? Their strategy appears to let it be known that they are going to stay in power comes what may! Even if the present electoral practices are seen to be flawed giving it a glaring advantage. But for how long can the government do this? The time will come when the peoples’ will power will prevail.

Let us hope that situation would not go out of hand such that meaningful interactions are replaced by bare emotion. It is so easy to pit people in this multi-cultural country where differences and sensitivities can be capitalised to cause havoc. Listen politicians, you all cannot expect to sleep in peace at night if it came to that. Neither can all of us.

DEFIANCE: Hurling back the tear gas canister to where it came from -One of the iconic images at BERSIH 428 Protests (AP photo)

More fence sitters, awakened from their long slumbers, are going to make a stand in the impending 13th General Election. What they see on TV is distasteful either way.

It’s not wise for the government to delay calling for the election as people might forget all the “goodies” they have received over the last six months! (Such as defined poor people given RM500 cash each, civil servants’ increased pay, no-interest bank loan for the low-income groups, etc)

As they say…. “Melayu mudah lupa“? (Malays forget easily). It is actually a plea-ridden expression meant to appeal to the emotion of the largest group of population of this country to unite. Looking at the bigger picture,however, I am sure Malaysians of all cultural backgrounds and persuasions would not forget that they are set to lose everything should unfair government practices continue unabated.

Footnote: You can read an account of a unique (and frightening) yet interesting personal experience of a protester at BERSIH 428 KL here.

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