Tag Archives: protests

Bersih 2011–fighting for electoral reform in Malaysia

bersihMalaysia has been a bit late to the anti-government protests shaking the Islamic world. Understandably so; protests in Malaysia are always clamped down on hard (technically it is illegal to form any kind of public meeting without a permit, which is never granted for political gatherings, so protesting is tricky), Malaysians are by nature conservative when it comes to public statements that in any way resemble opposition to the government (the incessant and pervasive fear of IRS investigations or planted ammunition hangs over everyone’s heads, especially following what happened to Anwar Ibrahim) but things are finally coming to a bit of a head.

Electoral reform in Malaysia is an urgent issue. Over the decades that the the ruling party, UMNO, has been in power it has introduced any number of ludicrous amendments to the constitution that, in essence, make it impossible to vote it out of office. Disproportionate shares of the vote are required to pass any kind of reform, and there are persistent and likely rumours of electoral fraud with each and every election that takes place.

Reform is needed. A Euronews clipping notes that the Prime Minister’s opinion polls are showing a stronger approval rating now than when he came to power; it doesn’t note that when he came to power it was under a cloud of rumour and speculation about a murder he had allegedly had a hand in. If you can’t improve on that, especially in an environment where corruption (to an extent) is endemic, well then…

So the rallies for electoral reform, opposing corruption and encouraging transparency, are flying high now under the banner of ‘Bersih‘ (Clean) and 50,000 Malaysians went out in protest this weekend. It was a non-violent protest for the most part, but the Malaysian police cracked down with disproportional force in an effort to “make an example” and discourage further action. Tear gas was fired into the crowds, from the footage it looks like riot police got a bit carried away, and dozens over a thousand arrests were made. The government reaction to the protest compounds its guilt and demonstrates its immaturity on the world stage.

My extended family supported the protests ideologically and in practice. I was proud to read updates of relatives that attended the protests and that were active in supporting those arrested – essentially – illegally. I was worried that they would take this risk but it appears that the relatively high pain threshold of the Malaysian public has been reached. Enough is enough, a fair say is needed.

Democracy will hopefully arrive and perhaps I’ll once again be proud to call Malaysia my home country. I’m certainly proud of my family and the Malaysians that took a stand. It seems to be having some immediate effect; the international press are calling attention and drawing criticism of the Malaysian gov’t and UMNO Youth is planning talks with Bersih. Here’s to the power of the democratic process….!