|Bersih 3.0 is not Arab Spring|
|Tuesday, 05 June 2012 08:53am|
©Malay Mail (Used by permission)
by Saifuddin Abdullah
ONE month has passed since Bersih 3.0 was held on April 28.
But the discussions on it are going on like it happened only yesterday.
I do not support Bersih 3.0. But, I do not take it for granted.
My objection is because it was announced as soon as the Dewan Rakyat had just passed a bi-partisan Parliament Select Committee Report on Electoral Reforms (PSC Report).
Opposition MPs did not vote for the report because it approved only 18 out of the 22 proposals discussed and that it did not include the opposition members’ Minority Report.
The report is not perfect. I have my concerns, too.
But that does not make the report unworthy of implementation. Bersih 3.0’s organisers would do well if only they waited for a while.
After the rally was over, in order to understand things better, I gathered information from various videos, writings, participants and post-mortems, including those not aligned to my party and the government.
Bersih 3.0 attracted more participants than Bersih 2.0. They are more multi-racial with notable numbers of Chinese.
More youths and university students attended. Most striking is the presence of the middle-class.
In this context, a survey by University of Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Election (UMCEDEL) on prospective voting pattern in the 13th general election shows that 49 per cent of the electorates are voting for BN, 21 per cent for Pakatan Rakyat, and 30 per cent not yet decided (on the fence).
On the fence voters are mainly made up of youths, students and the middle class.
Through my engagements, I know that a majority of them are not sympathetic to Barisan Nasional.
But they are not necessarily inclined to PR either.
They vote with their conscience.
That is why we have to bring our political discourse to a higher level, i.e: to meet the conscience.
This includes not treating Bersih 3.0 in a manner that insults their intelligence.
One of the popular construct of, or assault against, Bersih 3.0 (depending where one is coming from) is that they wanted to occupy Dataran Merdeka, turn it into a Tahrir Square and eventually bring down the government through a local version of the Arab Spring.
Among many analysis of the Arab Spring, I find Tariq Ramadan’s book, The Arab Awakening, passionate and insightful.
His thesis is that across the Arab world, millions of women and men have taken to the streets, showing that dictators can be overthrown without weapons, by sheer force of numbers, by a non-violent, positive outlook.
But what happens now?
From December 2010 until today, the mass movements had spread like wildfire across the Middle East and North Africa. T
hey shared common characteristics, — protest against social and economic conditions, reject dictatorship and fight against corruption.
But each one has its own specific features, which in turn require individual scrutiny.
What actually has taken place? Were they revolutions, rebellions or popular protests?
Ramadan called it uprisings: half-way between revolution and revolt.
If carried out to its fullest extent and overthrows the existing system (not just the political regime), it can become a revolution.
But, if it is incomplete, manipulated or fail, it will have expressed the peoples’ aspirations but not concretised their hopes.
To date, it is too early to assess if the Arab Spring is truly a success. But we do appreciate its importance and impact. In fact, we are in solidarity with the peoples’ struggle to carry out fundamental reforms with the full participation of all citizens.
While more evaluation of the political, social and economic data is needed, it is quite clear that the characteristics influencing the Arab Spring are not here in this country.
Therefore, Bersih 3.0 is not Arab Spring.
I am not denying that we have issues.
But, the intensity of the issues is better addressed, if political, through an improved election, and if non-political, through its relevant solution, rather than an uprising.
Before GE13 is called, we need to enhance engagement among all stakeholders.
Bersih chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan’s statement that there is no plan for Bersih 4.0 and Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee’s sending the Bar’s Bersih 3.0 resolution to the cabinet are important signals.
Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam’s announcement that the commission is conducting a public inquiry into allegations on incidents related to Bersih 3.0 is a pertinent step towards healing the wounds of our divisions.
But the core of the whole thing is the full implementation of the PSC Report.
The actors must spring into action with the kind of political will that resonates the will of the people.
Saifuddin Abdullah is an advocate of New Politics. He is deputy minister of higher education and can be followed on Twitter at @saifuddinabd. Comments: email@example.com
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