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Malaysian politics after Bersih 5

  • The pressure exerted by Bersih 5 rally will further accentuate the confrontational mood, making any turnaround impossible. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

Malaysia is a seriously polarized country where any issue could be interpreted in totally different ways by different quarters, including last week's Bersih 5 rally.

Umno leaders think that the rally has failed while communication and multimedia minister Mohd Salleh Said says the number of people taking to the street last Saturday was only 15,500, a mere 3% of last year's turnout of almost half a million people. Meanwhile, PM Najib has said the people have grown tired of Bersih.

Umno's mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia says most of the rally participants were "DAP Chinese" and that PKR, Amanah and Bersatu have failed to get the backing of the Malays, adding that PAS has stronger grassroots support by comparison.

Such conclusions by Umno leaders have prompted some delicate changes in their attitudes. Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan has reminded MCA, Gerakan, MIC, PPP and other BN component parties that it's time to "wake up", having been inspired by his own observation that most of the participants at Sunday's Wilayah Persekutuan Youth Convention were Malays. He has said that BN could not win KL through Umno alone, and that they have to work harder.

Umno information chief Annuar Musa is even more straightforward. He says if DAP could accept Tun Mahathir, it is not impossible for Umno to accept PAS because the two parties share the same objectives and political DNA.

In the meantime, minister in the PM's department Jamil Khir Baharom also says in a statement that an alliance between Umno and PAS will help strengthen Muslim unity.

If Umno leaders feel that Bersih is no longer a threat and that Bersatu and other Malay political parties can't bite, why such a big fuss in the first place? Obviously these people have very little faith in their own judgments.

Now that they think urban constituencies are no more safe, they have the intention of working with PAS or even form an alliance with the Islamist party in hope of keeping their power intact.

The thing is, they don't even mention that only 2,500 people joined the Red Shirt rally, a far cry from the 300,000 pledged by the group's leader Jamal Md Yunos. This somehow reflects the level of support for an Umno divisional chief, something they should get really worried about.

At the same time, Bersih 2.0 claims that some 120,000 people turned up during last Saturday's rally, attesting to the fact that Umno's racist and intimidating antics have failed badly.

The five Bersih rallies held over the past ten years have all started and ended peacefully, and this proves that the authorities' "Arab Spring" accusation aimed at overthrowing the elected government is sheer fabrication.

However, there are other questions that warrant our contemplation, such as: why is this year's turnout significantly smaller than last year's despite the fact the economy is getting worse and life is tougher for most people? Is it because some people have refused to join just because Bersih works with Mahathir?

Even though more Malays have joined the rally this year, their percentage is still shy of 50%. Amanah's previous prediction of at least 30,000 members and supporters showing up at the rally obviously did not materialize. Weak grassroots support among the Malays is a lethal weakness of the opposition.

The Bersih 2.0 roadshow this time took them to many rural areas across the country, but the effects will not show up in a short time. In its stead, this should be seen as part of a long-term plan to reinforce communication with the rural folks in order to bring about the actual changes in future.

Even though Bersih 5 is not going to bring any instant change to the country's politics, its follow-up repercussions should never be played down.

First and foremost, the police detained 24 people before and during the rally, in particular Maria Chin Abdullah who is being detained under SOSMA, showing that BN will do everything to draw a distinct line between itself and the civil society.

Najib did offer some positive responses after Bersih 2 rally in 2011, but after the 1MDB and political donation scandals came to light and after the government decided to harden its stance, the door to win back the support of urban and young voters is now officially closed. This dilemma will only deepen following the government's hardline attitude towards Bersih 5.

Secondly, Umno finds itself more and more in need of and indebted to PAS after the twin by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar as well as Bersih 4 and 5 rallies. The Islamist party must be "rewarded" in order to retain such goodwill. The conservatization of the government's stand will only spell more troubles for both MCA and Gerakan.

The pressure exerted by Bersih 5 rally will further accentuate the confrontational mood, making any turnaround impossible.


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