It was two days before Merdeka and I was on duty to cover the Bersih 4.0 rally on the ground. The rally had been planned for weeks, with the ball bouncing back and forth between the organisers, its detractors and the authorities. Not surprisingly, the rally was deemed illegal. But as with the tradition of all the previous rallies, this one too, will go on. Whether you agree or disagree with the politics of civil disobedience, Bersih 4.0 was a one hell of a solidarity show.
Though I only covered it for the first day, these are thoughts gleaned through speaking with the rally goers as well as my personal observations:
- The mood of Bersih 4.0 was electric; exciting but also uncertain. It was one born out of frustration towards the ruling party, the scandals surrounding the Prime Minister and the current economic state. This was reflected in its lack of coordination, with the rally goers moving to and fro without proper direction. I was told that in the previous rallies, political parties made an effort to ferry the participants in by bus. This time, they came on their own.
- There was greater effort in maintaining the peace. Independent Bersih 4.0 observers formed a barricade between the supporters and the police in order to prevent any untoward from happening. In fact, the organisers made effort on constantly reminding the participants to not cross over the barricade. People's power was definitely alive in this rally, with the participants also making an effort in keeping the streets clean and respecting the Muslim prayers.
- No strong presence of the police outside the Dataran Merdeka barricades. There were a few traffic police stationed sporadically throughout the rally grounds, who I suppose, was suppose to help direct the traffic. Though it should be noted that there were several members of the Special Branch who had eyes on the ground, either taking form as random bystanders or the media.
- The number of Chinese participants were prominent. This was branded by Bersih 4.0's detractors as a racial rally. This was turned around by the sudden appearance of Tun Mahathir and the growing number of Malay participants by the second day. But it was evident that with PAS leaving the Opposition coalition, the numbers of Malays were reduced.
- The criticisms toward the previous Bersih rallies was that it caused a standstill to the "Malay economy" that was supposedly being usurped by the Chinese and caused losses to the traders. It should be noted that almost all traders I met were Malay and making profits off selling food and beverages to the crowd at a slightly higher price. Eateries too, were making money from the rally, with food supplies out by the early part of the night.
- Hero worship is well and alive. Tun Mahathir's arrival and the maddening reception he received would make one wonder if they've forgotten that he was the root of the country's current predicament. Lim Guan Eng's presence too, drew an electric from the crowd, something I felt deeply uncomfortable with.