On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It’s all about politics, in the end

It does not look like there is going to be a compromise or a middle ground solution between the organisers of the rally and the police. The organisers want to proceed and have no intention of applying for a permit.

The police, meanwhile, have said there will be no more talk with the organisers and stressed that it is time now for action and the full force of the police would be applied.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar did not rule out the possibility of the police invoking the Internal Security Act to nab participants of the illegal rallies.

What is different from the first Bersih protest held in 2007 and other past massive protests is that this time, two other parties have warned that they would proceed with counter demonstrations if the Bersih 2.0 rally went ahead.

This time, the police fear a clash and their concerns are justified, given the emotions that have built up. From the information the police have gathered, there are good reasons why police are talking about taking tough preventive measures.

In 1997, supporters of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim staged a huge protest after the court sentenced him to six years’ jail for sodomy. A passing TV3 vehicle was attacked in front of Masjid Jamek by an angry mob in full view of the public and many shops were looted. And it was a one-sided affair then.

Anwar’s conviction, the protests and the backdrop of the 1997 financial crisis in Asia certainly had an impact as (then Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had a tough election in 1999.

In the case of the Bersih protest in 2007, which also called for electoral reforms, about 250 demonstrators were arrested as they clashed with the police. When elections were called the following year, Pakatan Rakyat won five states, despite claiming the electoral rolls were “unclean”, and that cheating and dirty tactics were used. And for the record, PAS has ruled Kelantan for 21 years.

But it’s hard to argue against a case for a clean electoral system. It’s a clever political package. Seriously, who can argue against such a clarion call and who can say “no” to freedom of expression and the right to protest, which are all basic principles of demo­cracy?

It’s understandably attractive for many and, undoubtedly, a matter of choice if people wish to take part in the rally. But again, those who organise the rally and those who wish to take part should also know the legal and political consequences of their decisions.

Any gathering of five, without a permit, is illegal and even if we feel that it is an archaic law, it remains a law until it is changed.

The organisers of Bersih 2.0 should give a convincing answer to whether their campaign is initiated by Paka­tan Rakyat, which has given the whole show a political dimension, or it has been hijacked by them.

It doesn’t help that Anwar has said he could just call organiser Datuk S. Ambiga to call off the rally. Of course, like many politicians, he claimed he was misquoted.

PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu has also said on record that the Bersih 2.0 rally would help Pakatan in the elections.

On the surface, it looks simple but it’s all politics in the end and not quite as innocuous as it seems. The reaction has been political, and likewise the counter protests.

The organisers of Bersih 2.0 cannot expect their rivals to join them on the argument of a clean electoral system when the latter feels that the system is sufficient, admittedly it can still be improved, as the opposition has gained so much.

Against the rising political temperature, the issue has become more explosive when elements of religion and sedition come into play.

Some have said the authorities over-reacted and the communist revival claim is a little scratched, given the fact that almost all the commie icons are long dead. Even China and Vietnam are communist in name only these days.

Still, the July 9 rally won’t be a stroll in the park. It is a political event. So, let’s not bluff ourselves that it is a non-governmental organisation affair as they wouldn’t be able to marshal the numbers, if it is indeed an NGO show. The organisers need PAS particularly to bring in the crowd.

It is essentially a show of strength ahead of the polls. The competing forces too have little choice but to bring in the numbers. Every single one of them will claim to represent and act for us, not because the rallies and counter-rallies will help their political ambitions.

There will be enough people who believe in them. Just as enough people climbed trees to put up PAS flags and quarrelled with their families and friends for Datuk Ibrahim Ali, until he called himself an independent. There will also be people who still believe in him now that he is representing an NGO and he is doing all these for Malay rights.

There will also be people who believe politics can be clean and there are wannabe politicians with noble intentions.

The Datuk Trio, meanwhile, must be upset at the seeming obsession of the authorities over the Bersih 2.0 rally as the sex video issue has been forgotten overnight, which is what Anwar probably wants.

All these groups could hold their gatherings in stadiums, with even a short march thrown in, if they want to. They could shout and make speeches for 24 hours if they want, but as Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was quoted in Sinar Harian as saying, it would have lacked the “oomph”.

Without the chaos, the anger, the water cannon, the arrests, it would not be a success. So it all comes down to that.