Thursday, September 17, 2015


The Bersih 4 rally has satisfied the appetite of both its supporters and detractors. What has Bersih 4 achieved? At most it was a bragging right for its organisers who claimed a success of attracting more than 500,000 participants to their 36-hour rally. It’s main demand, the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, was ignored.

Surely, some street stalls and hotels around the area did make a killing from roaring business and bookings. But Bersih’s follow-up has been meek and fractious. It is obvious that the committee does not have any follow-up plan if Najib chooses to ignore rather than to respond.

Usually, the opposition parties would have followed up with post-rally talks and road shows but this time round they are faced with their own mess. PKR and DAP are trading barbs over whether PAS should be included in the new coalition.

Their detractors refuted the number and accused the rally of being Chinese-led to challenge the Malay leadership. Now, they are forming their own red shirt movement to counter the yellow (Bersih) movement and race relations are about to take another downturn.

Hence, what’s the chance of pushing for reforms in Malaysia? Under current circumstances, it does not look that promising for reforms to work although the majority of Malaysians who had attended the Bersih agreed that we need to weed out corruption and abuse of power in the government.

However, how many of the participants really understand what needed to be done or achieved before any form of reform can be successfully introduced to the people? Most of them are naïve to think that by removing Najib as the prime minister the malaise and problems will be resolved by themselves.

If it is all about Najib, have the participants ever wondered how he could stifle his own deputy, a few ministers, the PAC, the MACC, a special task force to investigate the 1MDB, the AG and Bank Negara without risking his own removal?

What’s at fault is the system. It is the system that centralises too much power in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Executive. It is the system that clouded the need to be transparent and accountable. It has allowed political largesse to be categorised as “assistance” from the government. By design, it does not have any control over money politics. Decisions made by political parties cannot be challenged in courts.

The system has removed an independent check-and-balance mechanism that allows dissatisfied citizens to take the government to task if they are unhappy with certain policy decisions. The anti-corruption agency, the judiciary and the enforcers cannot act on their own because they risk interventions or sackings from the Executive.

If Najib is part of the system that allows and condones such blatant abuse of power and mismanagement, can we expect the beneficiaries of the same system to replace him? Najib is not the main problem. The system is the culprit. Najib merely manipulates and uses the levers of power accessible to him for his own and his party’s benefit.

Hence, what can Bersih and concerned stakeholders do to be more effective?

First, the yardstick to measure Bersih’s success should not be how many people it was able to attract to join the rally at Dataran Merdeka. Naturally, most who can attend or afford to attend are the converted urban folk. Coincidentally, most of them would come from a particular ethnic background.

Unfortunately, Bersih is an urban movement. Most of its committee members are politically linked activists who are urbanites. The impact would be the same if Bersih 5, 6 or 7 were to be held at the same location and supported by the same participants.

On the other hand, Bersih should focus on spreading its messages to the rest of the country – the suburbs, semi-urban, semi-rural and rural areas. It does not need to show that it is able to muster 500,000 participants but it needs to show that it has enough committed activists to carry its messages and demands to the whole country.

The key to reforms in the country does not lie in the hands of Bersih committee members or the opposition parties. It has been proven that the opposition parties are reacting to the responses of the people. They are not the enlightened political reformers that we can depend on. After being given more mandate than they could have ever imagined of in the last two general elections, they are back to their bickering ways.

It is more important for movements or groups which are serious about reforms to engage the people. The key to reforms lies in the hands of the Malay-Muslim majority. If the messages could encourage them to consider how good governance, quality leadership and a clean and transparent government could help benefit them and also the rest of other Malaysians they could be persuaded to give change a chance.

For now, neither Bersih nor the opposition is successful or capable of convincing the Malay-Muslim majority that a change is necessary. The reasons are several; the movement lacks credibility, the ruling regime has successfully played up the race card or simply the messages did not get to them.

Until and unless Bersih drops its own fixation with its bragging rights and focus on the effectiveness of its movement, little is ever going to change and they would have to accept it as a reality. It must work on gaining its own credibility by distancing itself from manipulative politicians. Otherwise, Bersih 4.0 is all about the noise and not the results.

Khoo Kay Peng is a political analyst and management consultant.

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