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Bersih 3: Q&A with Wong Chin-Huat, steering committee member

Meld Magazine

Sat Apr 28 2012

Protesters with Ambiga masks, Bersih 2.0 in Melbourne

WHAT’S the Malaysian movement Bersih 3.0 all about? Wong Chin-Huat, Bersih steering committee member, former ISA detainee and journalism lecturer speaks to Meld’s Jowee Tee – ahead of today’s rallies.

How will Bersih 3.0 be different from Bersih 2.0?

It is actually a continuity. Bersih 1.0 in terms of the organisation, we were a coalition of political parties and NGOs. Bersih 2.0 as an organisation was only an NGO-NGO coalition. The Bersih 3.0 rally is organised by Bersih 2.0, so in that sense the Bersih 2.0 rally and Bersih 3.0 is a continuity.

In Bersih 2.0, we had eight demands. In 3.0 we continue asking for those eight demands in which we have seen only a partial fulfillment of one, and the other one being recommended. The other six were partially addressed or not addressed at all.

So whatare you looking for? Is it commitment?

We want to see a simple electoral reform being done before the next election because otherwise, the legitimacy of the government will be questioned. On top of asking for the three demands we also ask for the current EC leadership to resign.

We are also asking for international observers because we want to make sure the next general election will be conducted with a theme of integrity, and also that it would be scrutinised. We hope they will feel deterred by international observers from committing more fraud.

How do you respond to critics who say, “How will having another rally so close to the last one achieve the results they want?”

The very simple thing I think is that the last time, with the government, the police crackdown and so on, we still had 50,000 people and the outcome was quite clear. The government was actually forced to do something because what happened was not just that they felt the pressure, it’s not just that we were going into the streets.

The fact that “we were going into the streets” had really affected many people – and transformed them. So the government felt the pressure from not only the 50,000 people that took to the streets but many more – maybe millions – who were actually encouraged by those that went.

So this time around, we can say we are hoping to get more people. We won’t know the exact figures. Easily, I think 100,000 to 200,000 and  above and so on. So we expect [Malaysians] to step forward and push for change and we believe that the government will have to deal with it. Because if they don’t deal with this, if they don’t respond to public opinion then eventually they may get rejected by the public.

What doyou think this Bersih will be like? Do you think there will be violence?

I don’t think so, though I can’t tell you for sure that it will not happen. What I see now is that learning from their last experience in dealing with Bersih 2, the government realised that crackdowns will merely trigger more defiance.

So what is the smartest thing the government can do right now?

The smartest thing the government can do is actually to facilitate this and respond to the public opinion for electoral reform. And pledge that they will not call for an election until this issue is adequately and meaningfully addressed. Because otherwise, I think that it would create a strong backlash on the government.

Malaysian politics is so polarised that people on both ends of the divide have made up their mind, but there are still a significant number of middle-ground voters who can’t make up their minds on whether they would go out to vote or not. And a crackdown, a denial of  Malaysians, I think that would probably create a stronger tsunami like in 2008.

What can young Malaysians living overseas do about this?

I think they can take part, they can take part in Global Bersih. Australia is 6 of 8 cities. So they can certainly do all these things. Australia itself will have 12 cities, so you basically have access to support this everywhere.

What we need is people actually coming forward to speak their case, about why they care. So the problem that actually plagues the Malaysian public is that too many people stay away from Malaysian politics thinking that it’s dirty. Refusing to know what’s going on, and often when people speak up they say “Yeah these people are activists, we are not like them”.

So what we need is ordinary Malaysians to say “we are just like you”. We care about politics because that’s the only way to love the country.

So I would encourage them to actually do a video recording. And tell a story. And spread the message further. And get people who are like that to persuade them and say why I care, and why you should too.

What about people who are concerned about who to vote for? What about the people who say, even if I vote for the Opposition, there really is no one who represents “me”?

I think you have to ask and say. For example, you go to a supermarket and cannot find the product that you want. You probably have to ask and say, “The supermarket is out there to make a profit, why don’t they sell the product I want?”

Could it be there are people like me but that are simply too few of us? Or is it there are people like me who aren’t used to speaking out about what I want?

And if you don’t step into the supermarket, that says, “I don’t step into the supermarket because they don’t sell the product that I want.”

Could the causality be seen from the other way around? Simply because we don’t step in.

Therefore, they wouldn’t want to sell the things you want right?

You’re left with a market where, those who bother to go to the supermarket would only demand for inferior goods. So, of course, as a supermarket you would just supply them.

My point is that the quality of the politician reflects on the quality of us. If we don’t care about what we want for the politics and politicians, of course we don’t see the best politician. In fact the best politician will probably quit politics because he cannot survive. So I think that, to put it in a lighter way, politicians can be man’s best friend and women’s best friend for that matter. We can house-train them.