Bersih 5 — My firsthand experience

bersih 5 bangsar

The numbers were lower but it was more successful than the last time in many ways

On that morning before the 19th, I was still on the fence, unsure if I should bother attending this time. The timing was a little off and there wasn’t any momentum like the previous Bersih rallies. I’ve attended the previous four but the only one that made a real difference was Bersih 2. All of my close friends who had attended previous rallies have practically given up hope and no longer care to do anything at all (not even posting a thing about it on social media). But there are people who are fighting for Malaysia, risking their lives and making a lot of effort organising these protests. I thought the least we could do was to attend and practise our right to voice out against the government.

I went to Bersih 2.0’s office to buy the t-shirt after deciding to go for Bersih 5. Right after I left, the news came and said that the police went over to raid the place and arrest the chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah along with a few more others from the committee and opposition without much of a valid reason. That solidified my decision to attend the rally and poured gasoline into the fire that’s already burning. Thank you for making such a cowardly stupid decision, you-know-who.

I woke up at around 9.00am. Checked the internet to see if I had to be very careful like Bersih 2. Found out that the Red Shirt leader Jamal was finally arrested (many hours after they’ve arrested Maria and the other Bersih 2.0 committee members and supporters from the opposition) and his followers have “occupied” Masjid Negara. I knew it was safe when the Instagram hashtag feeds showed a lot of Bersih 5 attendees taking happy selfies while on their way to the two meeting points (Bangsar and Masjid Negara). So I had my breakfast, applied sunblock and off I went to the LRT station to Bangsar. It did feel a little scary and awkward walking out into the public alone in the yellow Bersih 5 t-shirt but it was alright as soon as I reached the LRT station — it was filled with yellows!

bersih 5 bangsar lrt
Thousands already arrived in Bangsar before the 10am gathering time.

I arrived at Bangsar LRT station at 9.55am and man, it was a moving sight. It hasn’t even started and it seemed that there were already thousands there chanting, singing and listening to speeches by the organisers. Young and old. High-spirited. And more importantly, the attendance was definitely way more multiracial than at Bersih 4. More balance in numbers between Malays, Chinese and Indians. There were also groups in wheelchairs and groups of Orang Asli. This was what was missing in the previous rally! It feels more “1Malaysia” this time. There were a lot less signboards with only Chinese words on them. No more Beyond-singalong on repeat. No more photo-stepping. And thank goodness, no more lion dance. However, somehow there were still some uninformed fellas using the annoying vuvuzelas.

All this alone gave me an encouraging sense that this rally was already much more successful than the previous one regardless the lower number of participants. Besides, Bersih 4 was a 2-day rally, and this time there was a clash of other events like Rockaway and Manchester United vs. Arsenal. Not to mention about the intimidation by the racist, violent Red Shirts and the arrests by the police. It didn’t top the struggles and the strong sense of 1Malaysia-ness like at Bersih 2 or 3, but at least this one was closer to that. By the way, was there any action taken against the police and FRU that brutalised the peaceful attendees at Bersih 2 and attacked us with teargas and water cannons even when we were forced to hide in Tung Sing Hospital? And to all those mainstream media that either fabricated the news and cover it all up, I will never forget or forgive until you finally admit it.

Back to Bersih 5 in Bangsar, I sat under the LRT track along with the thousands there until 11.30am we were instructed to stand up and start marching towards Dataran Merdeka peaceful. An hour before that, boos was heard in the crowd far away from where I was. Apparently the police came to arrest Hishamuddin Rais. That only fired us up even more. The leaders/organisers of the rally kept reminding the crowd that no matter what happens, we must not be provoked and that this is a peaceful assembly. And like the previous rallies, it was indeed very peaceful throughout the entire event. This is difference between Bersih and Red Shirts. We are peaceful and the Red Shirts are not. And yet Maria’s detained under SOSMA (more on this later). During the rally, I dropped my wallet but some nice people picked up it and gave it back to me. They lectured me in mandarin, which I’m not well-versed in, so I just nodded and smiled till they probably thought I was retarded or something.

bersih 5 rally march
The walk from Bangsar to KLCC.

The march didn’t go very far from Bangsar. The police were at it again, blocking our route to merge with the bigger group that’s moving from Masjid Negara. Made no sense as Dataran Merdeka was still very far away from there. Although the official Bersih 2.0 instructions at 11.50am were to sit there and protest silently, a number of us decided to leave that group and keep on moving towards the Merdeka Square by taking a longer route. I stopped by at KL Sentral for lunch before rejoining the line.

At 2.00pm, just when I thought we were near the destination, Bersih 2.0 instructed all participants to gather at KLCC. The walk was certainly more challenging as it’s slow-moving and the weather was very hot. At that point, I was hoping that the rain would come earlier. However, the march did garner a lot of attention like it always does. Cars and bikers honked and waved in support. Tourists and bystanders taking photos. Good for exposure, I guess.

At around 3.00pm, I finally arrived at KLCC all the way from Bangsar! The main stage was opposite the road in front of the KL Twin Towers, which was a little odd as it’s not a flat-out area but okay considering that this wasn’t planned. Politicians took the stage to give their speeches without overly highlighting their own agendas. Tun Mahathir, his son Mukhriz, and Muhyiddin Yassir came in a truck of their own, for unknown reason, felt the need to drive through the already congested crowd. Dato Ambiga gave her own speech as well and ensured that they’d do everything they can to get Maria out. This was when we found our that they’ve detained Maria under SOSMA, the new security offences act that we already knew it was going to be abused eventually.

bersih 5 klcc
The left view of where I was sitting at the final gathering point of Bersih 5 (in front of KLCC). Bersih 5 was attended by thousands of Malaysians of all races including those from other states and groups of Orang Asli.

Apparently the police confiscated Bersih 2.0’s stage so the audio was poor and the stage wasn’t tall enough. The media and photographers standing around the stage were blocking the views of the attendees. People were yelling at others to sit down when there’s lacking of space to do so. It would’ve been much more comfortable if everyone was instructed to stand up. I, too, was told to sit even when it would take up more space for the ones behind me. But anyway, minor problems.

Rain started pouring before 5.30pm. Everyone stood up to put their raincoats on or to open up their umbrellas. After singing Negaraku, most people started leaving. So did I. Bersih 2.0 too, officially announced it as a wrap and told everyone to disperse. And that’s it. With all things considered, this was a successful rally. Do I expect a real change to happen soon because of this? No. But at least we didn’t roll over and simply allowed evil to win. The Red Shirts, hah, I didn’t even see a single one of them throughout the rally. Great job by the volunteers in purple Bersih t-shirt for keeping things organised, safe and peaceful.

A video posted by Tony Teh (@toninkush) on Nov 19, 2016 at 2:43am PST

Thieves are not caught. Whistleblowers are arrested and charged instead. Fools lead the country. Races are being divided. Economy is worsening quickly — price of most things have gone up and not to mention we have GST now. The Election Commission (EC) still hasn’t done anything to make future elections more fair. The mainstream media is still controlled by federal government. Dropping a single yellow balloon could get you arrested. Maria is being detained under SOSMA (which carries a death penalty) for organising a peaceful assembly. Enough is enough! We MUST NOT allow them another five years.

I do hope those who haven’t even registered to vote would finally get their bums off the couch (and remember you have to register a few months before elections for eligibility to vote in the upcoming one). No matter how unfair it is, voting is still the only way we can achieve change, unfortunately. So I urge everyone, please vote in the next election presumably to be held in 2017.

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