Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July 9 rallies: Backing down not an option
Terence Netto
Jun 29, 11

COMMENT By now, the tactics of self-declared opponents of the Bersih 2.0 march are clear: Perkasa and Umno Youth want to ratchet up the pre-march tensions such that the atmosphere becomes taut enough to crack.

If it does, it would not be difficult to guess who would be blamed for the ensuing clashes.

Seldom in recent history has a looming public event such as the Bersih march on July 9 polarised opinion so sharply: one would be hard put to encounter a public issues-aware citizen who does not have an opinion - either for or against - on the march.

Thanks to provocative statements by Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali and the reported threats by some Umno Youth firebrands to burn the PKR headquarters down, the stage is set for a confrontation.

Of course, things need not be that way. All parties should be free to demonstrate, to engage in what can be called 'symbolic speech' - the espousal of opinion in civilly demonstrated forms.

However, for that to take place peacefully in the context of the marches scheduled for July 9, you need the police to be present to see that demonstrators don't get carried away.

But the police have pre-judged the issue by coming out early with a stand against allowing the Bersih march. They followed up by calling up for questioning several players from the side that favours the march for electoral reform.

azlanThat was not all. By arresting some 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) activists, who are actually fringe players in the Bersih drama on grounds that the detained may have committed offences under Section 122 of the Penal Code which entails rebellion against the king, the police are opting to be partisans in the fray rather than umpires above it.

A late attempt at balanced action against the contending parties - their calling up Ibrahim Ali for questioning and their investigation of inflammatory statements by Umno Youth hotheads - won't wash as demonstrations of police neutrality.

The police can rescue things by freeing the PSM detainees and allowing the Bersih and other marches to go on with them opting for a policing of good behaviour role.

What chance is there of that happening?

Beckoning police's better instincts

Well, the good point about political behaviour in a democratic arena is that it allows for redemption by the hitherto erring.

This was what PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim was hoping for in remarks he made when he emerged to speak to the press after being called for questioning by the police yesterday.

He beckoned the police to the courage of their better instincts, alluding to unseen hands as working to deviate the force from their fiduciary duty. He said he felt that absent of the manipulation, the police were wont to do the right thing.

NONEThat is an opinion that national literary laureate A Samad Said may be loath to agree with after his experience of police questioning a day earlier.

Literati love the ineffable and Samad proved no exemption. He gave vent to his instincts by penning 'Unggun Bersih', a lilting ode to democracy.

The police asked if he was paid to write the poem. Writers like Samad rarely respond to commissions; they write as the instinct takes them.

The chagrin Samad felt at the question must have singed his flowing whiskers, for he emerged from the ordeal to declare that he would be at the Bersih march.

For someone who is pushing 80 and reportedly in not too healthy a condition, the police questioning must have recharged his batteries, for there was steel in his determination to be among the marchers.

Which is precisely what the inflammatory statements from Ibrahim Ali and his ilk have contributed to the situation in the prelude to the July 9 event.

Ibrahim's Orwellian doublespeak

Ibrahim's latest provocation, couched in Orwellian doublespeak, sees him urging Perkasa types not to bring weapons to their march on the same day.

NONEThat would be like Mullah Omar suggesting that as an earnest of the Taliban's desire to parley with the Americans, his side would renounce suicide bombing.

The rhetoric, from one side at least, has been of the 'offer no hostages to fortune' type. Backing down from these prideful positions would be unthinkable.

The only way out would be if the police allow all to march and content themselves with policing the behaviour of the marchers.

Or if the Election Commission, without imposing pre-conditions, commences talks with Bersih on their eight demands, with prior acquiescence to a couple of the demands.

That would be the lever to break the looming jam.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

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