Protests crucial role in shaping history, says Bersih

Bersih has challenged a statement by the Sultan of Johor, saying that peaceful protest is part and parcel of the country’s DNA. – Facebook pic, June 25, 2022.

THE Bersih steering committee has reminded Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar that street protests have played a crucial role in addressing pertinent national issues.

The electoral watchdog said it “respectfully disagrees” with the sultan’s statement that “riots”, as he put it, are a “black mark” on the nation’s history, led to the “negative” impact of chaos and destruction. 

The non-profit group pointed out that peaceful protests are legitimate means of political expression and are formative to the country’s history.

“Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right of all citizens guaranteed under article 10 of the Federal Constitution, along with the right to freedom of speech, expression and to form associations.

“Furthermore, the freedom to protest without violence is enshrined in our supreme law because they have played an integral part in our nation’s history to shape our destiny, and bring pressure to bear on unjust laws and corrupt authorities,” the group said in a statement today. 

Yesterday, the sultan said that he is against street protests, as proposed by Johor DAP vice-chief Sheikh Umar Bagharib Ali, to pressure the government into resolving the issue of the country’s rising cost of living.

In fact, the Johor ruler said such a demonstration is not a responsible way to find a solution and that there were many constructive ways to resolve the matter.

“Have we not learned enough from the bloody street protests of the past? Have they forgotten the riots of 1969, also more recently, the Bersih riots?

“It never achieved anything, except chaos, destruction and a black mark on our nation’s history.

“Protesting on the streets is not the Malaysian way. There will be no winners when this happens. There will only be losers, and who knows how long it will take for the scars to heal.

“Our laws must be respected and upheld. Do not spew seditious statements when there are many other constructive avenues to channel your suggestions and views,” he said in a Facebook post.

Bersih said that arguably, one can say that this country was born out of a protest movement. 

“Onn Jaafar rallied the masses to object to the Malayan Union, which was unilaterally imposed by the British after the Second World War.

“This paved the way to the formation of the Federation of Malaya, the precursor to our eventual independence from the British in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963,” Bersih said, adding that that a former Johor menteri besar and Umno were not the only ones to use protest as a legitimate means of collective action.

“The multi-racial Putera–AMCJA coalition through leaders like Ishak Haji Muhammad, Tan Cheng Lock, K. Ganapathy and Burhanuddin Helmy launched a countrywide protest (hartal) in 1947 to advocate the ‘people’s constitution’.

“Throughout the passage of time, from Demonstrasi Baling to Reformasi, the rakyat has resorted to protest to express solidarity and grievances. 

“Most recently, the Malaysian Bar protested for the fourth time in its walk for judicial independence.”

Bersih said it carried on this spirit since its formation in 2006 to highlight electoral malpractices and shortcomings, which rendered the elections less than free or fair for a democracy. 

“The introduction of the indelible ink and subsequent improvements to the conduct of elections, and the expansion of voting access would not have come about if not for the pressure placed on the EC.”

The group added that the fourth and fifth rallies in 2015 and 2016, respectively, came about due the 1MDB scandal, which has been described as the world’s biggest case of kleptocracy, where up to RM42 billion was looted from national coffers. 

“Bersih responded to this grand-scale thievery by organising two peaceful protests where hundreds of thousands of Malaysians turned up.

“We demanded institutional changes to existing laws to end the scourge of corruption in this country and for the culprits to be held accountable.

“If the rakyat had not had the opportunity to express their anger towards electoral injustices and such corruption in a peaceful manner, who knows what would have happened to our country?”

Bersih said the kleptocrat and his accomplices could have continued to plunder this country and not be charged for the crimes they have committed. 

“Surely, Your Majesty would not condone such a tragedy, had the rakyat not been mobilised.

“Bersih has from the very beginning committed itself to organising peaceful protests and if there had been disorderly conducts, chaos or even damage to properties, then it was usually caused by aggressive police action, where instead of facilitating the peaceful protestors, they attacked us with tear gas, water cannon and brute force.”

Bersih said it has proven beyond doubt that it could organise large-scale peaceful protests during Bersih 4 and 5, where, aside from blocking several roads and places, the police left protesters alone.

“Your Majesty, history proves that civil disobedience has always been part and parcel of our DNA. 

“Bersih invites Your Majesty to join us in not only respecting but celebrating the rakyat’s fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression, form associations and hold peaceful protests. 

“As a nation practising parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, we ought to welcome and recognise any expression or participation by the rakyat for the common good of Malaysia.

“Without protests, there would have been no Malaysia.” – June 25, 2022.

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