On the day after the Bersih 3.0 rallies, Aliran held a high tea fund-raising event in Penang at which Pak Samad and other Bersih Steering Committee members spoke about what happened in KL. Lucia Lai has the story.
All photos (c) 2012 Lye Tuck-Po
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Aliran held a fund-raising high-tea themed ‘Democracy and Election’ on 29 April at the Rainbow Paradise Beach Resort in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
Invited speakers were Ambiga Sreenevasan and A Samad Said (fondly known as Pak Samad), the co-chairperson of the Bersih Steering Committee. Unfortunately, due to the chaos which broke out in Kuala Lumpur at the tail-end of the Bersih 3.0 rally on 28 April, Ambiga felt that she had a moral obligation to remain in KL and thus could not attend the function.
However, Pak Samad and two other Bersih Steering Committee members, Subramaniam Pillay and Toh Kin Woon were present.
The function started with an introductory speech by former Aliran president P Rama-krsihnan, in which he urged everyone to fight for change. He stressed that if everyone was determined about change, they would surely succeed in changing the government in the coming election.
“Let us defend our God-given rights. Fight for what you believe in.” he said. “I would like to end with a quote from Martin Luther King – ‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle and so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.’
Tea was served after his talk, followed by an address by Pak Samad, who related his Bersih 3.0 ‘Duduk Bantah’ experience on 28 April.
His daily routine, he said, was to walk past a pedestrian bridge near Central Market to Masjid Negara. On that day, however, he was stopped by a police officer. He was annoyed and asked the policeman why.
The police officer replied “Arahan dari atas (orders from above).”
“Arahan dari atas? That was not an Islamic answer at all. I had been passing by here everyday to go to Masjid Negara and now they stopped me? I was angry, so I sat down right there on the bridge as my ‘duduk bantah’ protest.” said Pak Samad. The policemen, eight to nine of them, stood in front of him all the while.
Like Ramakrishnan, he also talked about change and said that just by voting, we can change everything. He ended his address by reading his own poem ‘Unggun Bersih (Cleansing Fire)’ both in Bahasa and English.
Pak Samad also said that he received a lot of criticism in his Facebook page. Someone asked him, why he had become a slave to Ambiga. Another told him off, calling him a senile old man already, and said it would be better for him to sit quietly in a mosque, waiting to die. All this did not discourage him at all, he said in his address.
Aliran exco member Subramaniam Pillay, a founder member of the society, then elaborated on how Bersih came up with its eight demands, and why Bersih 3.0 was held.
In response to the Bersih 2.0 rally last year, the government set up a Parliamentary Select committee (PSC) and came up with 22 recommendations. But the EC and the government had not given any commitment to implement the recommendations before the coming general election. Nor were they willing to address the issue of alleged electoral fraud. Therefore the call for Bersih 3.0 was made.
He also explained why the organisers stuck to Dataran Merdeka as the venue instead of relocating the gathering to Stadium Merdeka. The Dataran has historical significance and is easily accessible via public transport. Further, it is an open space, unlike a stadium, which is enclosed, hence increasing the element of risk or danger for those present.
Subramaniam expressed amazement at seeing so many young people at Bersih 3.0, and marvelled at their energy. He felt that Bersih had ignited a flame within them that had prompted them to come out spontaneously.
During the Q&A session, the three Bersih Steering Committee members sat on the panel, with Aliran president, Francis Loh as moderator.
Before the Q&A started, Toh commented that the key for us to regain the right to the future of our country lies in our taking to task institutions which commit many mistakes. He was glad to note that Malaysians had started to overcome their fear. When we overcome fear, he added, we move towards justice.
The one important question that came from the floor was simply “What next” (after Bersih 3.0)?
Civil society groups and NGOs like Aliran should continue with the struggle, responded Subramaniam. He said it was important for them to be firm, committed and strong, to be able to criticise and to keep the people in power in check.
Toh said the people’s resolve to struggle for clean and fair election will continue, not necessary through protests and march but also through talks to raise awareness.
“We had also launched ‘Jom 100’. Jom 100 is the call for 100 per cent of the rakyat to cast their votes. We do know this is quite impossible, thus we are targeting at least 80 per cent. We make this call because we realise that the higher the votes, the lesser the impact of fraud. We have also invited teams from overseas as election observers and hope they will put pressure on the Election Commission.”
Lucia Lai is a citizen journalist based in Penang.