I attended the Bersih4 rally last Saturday. I was at Central Market (Kuala Lumpur), one of the gathering points of the rally, for a couple of hours. The area was packed with people. Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock in front of Central Market was congested with yellow shirts right up to the Dataran Merdeka junction. Easily, a conservative number of 10,000 Malaysians had converged at this point alone.
It was a peaceful demonstration calling for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s resignation and for electoral reforms. The atmosphere was much like a carnival. Vuvuzelas sounded and bus and car horns replied. There were intermittent cries of “Bersih, Bersih, Bersih”. The police discreetly stood out of the way.
Central Market saw brisk business. The food outlets in it were filled with yellow shirts. People were relaxed, enjoying each other’s company united by the cause that brought them together. The stalls outside had a steady flow of customers.
Standing there with these thousands of demonstrators I felt slightly emotional, often wiping tears from my eyes, moved by the crowd of mostly Chinese with Malays and Indians here and there willing to stand shoulder to shoulder not because of our ethnicity but as Malaysians for a better nation.
Critics can argue that Bersih4 was a Chinese event. The Chinese didn’t turn up because they were Chinese. They came as Malaysians, ready to make a stand for much-needed reforms. If the Malays didn’t seize the opportunity to do the same, you can’t blame the Chinese for it.
Because of the Chinese majority at Bersih4, Chinese-based political parties in the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) have reassessed their support for Najib. Veterans in MCA — the leading Chinese party in the BN — have openly called for his ouster. They are listening to the ground and are fully aware that the numbers of Chinese at Bersih4 imply that what ever little support they have now for the MCA may have altogether disappeared! To get that support back, MCA MPs would have to make a decision to listen to the ground and withdraw support to Najib. In a no-confidence vote in Parliament, that might mean that MCA can’t guarantee en bloc support to Najib.
Most reports put the Malay turnout at Bersih4 at about 30%, which is still higher than the 23% of Malays who were in favour of the rally according to a pre-Bersih4 survey conducted by the Merdeka Centre, a local opinion research centre. I think this is a very good sign.
Previous Bersih rallies had a significant Malay turnout mainly because of PAS supporters. Apart from a few representatives, PAS supporters were largely absent from Bersih4. In other words, the Malays who turned up were PKR supporters and other Malays who are just plain fed up with current politics. The point is that the 30% Malays turned up — without PAS’ help, despite the fact that the PKR is rudderless without a top leadership.
I was also told that there were roadblocks on the outskirts leading to Kuala Lumpur city, which means many people from the outskirts who would be mostly Malays were kept out. Yet 30% came out to be heard.
I think that the 30% Malay turnout is extremely significant. It tells me that there are Malays out there who can think for themselves and are willing to make a stand for themselves. Surely there are many more other than the 30% who can be converted? PKR should reach out to them.
The fact that former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also attended the rally should remove some of the reserve among Malays to be identified with protests. It would be good for PKR to capitalize on this newly found openness and launch a membership drive.
Getting Malay support may not be the priority at the moment as the focus may be on a no-confidence vote in Parliament, which is absolutely necessary. But, Malay recruitment shouldn’t be ignored. PKR should reach out to the many Malays out there who are not Umno or PAS members if they want to win a General Elections which should follow if a no-confidence vote carries through.
The talk is that if a no-confidence vote against Najib passes with a majority, a unity government will be set up, which is fine, but a General Elections should follow shortly after. It is not enough to just remove Najib. The entire political culture spawned by the Umno-led BN government has to be removed, which will happen only if more Malays vote for the opposition.
The people can make it happen — make right the wrongs of the past. Leaders need to reach out to us and we will speak. We have this chance now to let our MPs and assemblymen and assemblywomen know what we want. If we are true Malaysian, we will seize the moment. We won’t let it pass without the desired change. Malaysia boleh!