At that time there was a lot of concern on a potential noisy demonstration staged by the pro-democracy groups outside the convention hall where the historic hand-back ceremony attended by the world's dignitary and 6000 journalists was held.
Many thought that Beijing would do all it can to block the demonstration; but the territory's police did Hong Kong proud by managing the demonstrations orderly; the democrats had their say; the hand-back ceremony went smoothly; both events happening side by side, watched by the people of Hongkong and the world.
A really big step for living democracy in HongKong's nascent democratic system which only started elections in the recent past.
Five years later, on September 24, 2002, the Hong Kong government released its proposals for the anti-subversion law, known as Section 23. The proposal became the cause of considerable controversy and division in Hong Kong.
On July 1 2003, some 500,000 people took to the streets in anger — the largest mass demonstration on Chinese soil since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Critics had argued that Article 23, the controversial anti-subversion legislation, violated the civil liberties guaranteed in Hong Kong's Basic Law.
But the demonstrators railed against more than Article 23: pent-up anger over the wobbly local economy and the government's handling of the SARS crisis prompted a huge outpouring of anger, much of it directed at Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. In the aftermath of the public protest, two cabinet members resigned, and the government ultimately retreated from the proposed law.
Peaceful demonstrations are necessary and are guaranteed by the constitution; even if only one single person who does not agree with the system, he or she must be allowed to express his feelings on the street.
No matter how many people want to walk on the street, peaceful demonstrations are an expression of democracy, and all democratic governments must have the capabilities to manage them. To keep order in public demonstrations; the responsibility lies with the police force and it is a test of their management skills. The police cannot ban public demonstrations because of its imagined fear of chaos and inconvenience to the public.
Development is not about hardware or physical infrastructure alone. We can have state of the art technology and tall towers, we must also show that the system respects each and every single individual among us; and that we have the capability to sort out differences among ourselves.
Those with contrarian views, or opposing positions from the power of the day must be given fair and free expression. Democracy functions with a free market; the marketplace of ideas should be unrestrained and the people be allowed to choose.
Many of us were not aware of Bersih 1.0. The Pahlawan brothers and sisters who come together to rally around a national cause are non-partisan. We only come to notice Bersih in the recent months and are attracted by their 8-point rational appeal.
Bersih has won our hearts because the movement is agitating to build a better electoral system that will enable Malaysia to elect better leaders; and better leaders are exactly what the doctor would prescribed for Malaysia's current woes.
As Bersih moves into 2.0, Malaysia too must move from its old operating system mindset into a Malaysia 2.0 mindset and framework.
For example we have a state of the art Mykad being used for national registration; but we still need each eligible voter to go register before they can vote. This is totally unnecessary and ought to be reformed yesterday; anyone holding the Mykad attaining the legal voting age must be permitted to vote with the Mykad, no separate voter registration required — saving national resources, man power and no paper forms needed; therefore less waste and save more trees!
So if the Election Commission has not got around to doing this, now they can pay attention to a much neglected reform. This is what Bersih 2.0 is all about.
Bersih 2.0' s very reasonable demands are:
1. A clean electoral roll
2. Reform the postal ballot,
3. Use of indelible ink to reduce voter fraud
4. A minimum 21-Day campaign period
5. Free and fair access to media,
6. The strengthening of public institutions to act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy
7. The end of corruption by acting against all allegations of corruption including vote buying
8. And end to dirty politics.
All these eight demands are good for the entire country and good for all political parties because a clean and fair system will enable the best people be elected to run the country.
In today's competitive world, the success of each and every citizen depends on the efficiency of the political and economic system one operates in; and our well being and success is directly related to how smart and efficient our public administration and its leadership. Why are so many Malaysians voting with their feet; the answer is obvious. They have no confidence in the current system in delivering success to their career, business and family.
If our government does not wake up to the demands of the times, the country will become sidelined and our people will no longer be able to compete. We cannot talk about any national vision if we don't fix our governance system first.
Why peaceful demos must be allowed
There are eight reasons.
1. Public demonstration is guaranteed by our constitution. It is a legal right of every Malaysian citizen. Every individual or group must be allowed to take his or her cause onto the street.
2. Malaysia has a tradition or history of public demonstrations; UMNO and the Malay pressure groups successfully won their case by taking their cause to the street.
3. Peaceful and orderly demonstrations reflect on the maturity of the populace, and the competence of the police force. They add on to the attractiveness of the country to all, including its citizens, visitors, foreign investors and tourists included. Everyone will feel secure that Malaysians can sort out their differences in public and in an orderly manner, and that the police force is impartial and fair.
4. Bersih 2.0 is about improving the Malaysian electoral system, it is non-partisan. It is working for the interest of One Malaysia. Bersih 2.0 has a just cause.
5. It is a test of the police's public order management abilities; the police and government must not made groundless accusations and propagate imaginary threat and fear. Our police must demonstrate that they can handle public expressions of the people and that they can manage peaceful and orderly public demonstrations with rational argument for our cause. Misplaced emotions do not help our national cause.
6. The government should not worried about the public being misled by public demonstrations staged by whichever groups; in open societies, the public will and can make out whether they can identify with the cause, and competition is the best guarantee for fair play. Today Bersih 2.0 is gaining support not because of the personality of its leadership; but because of its cause.
7. The government of the day would win votes by acting responsibly and in a liberal manner. In this age of transparency enabled by the Internet and social networking media; “spins” would only bring negative backlash; the only way to win hearts is to be open and transparent and compete on merits.
8. Malaysia need Bersih. This is an important message to be sent to all Malaysians, political parties and leaders; the wellbeing and development prospects of Malaysian society rests on the foundation of a Clean society and fair political system.
On July 2, 2011, the BN government has declared Bersih as an illegal organization. Yes, Bersih does not fit the conventional legal framework of social institutions; it is a convergence of NGO groups; it is the coming together of many registered groups who share the same agenda and love for the country. Bersih 2.0 is an expression of the internet age's free association of NGO groups working on different causes being united by one common agenda. Their cause is just and legitimate.
They, therefore, should be allowed to take the people's cause in public. When the BN government allow the will of these groups to prevail, it will only help them win or win back more hearts!
Anyway, Malaysians will support Bersih 2.0 whether one or 1 million people walk on the street on July 9 2011. And if things don't improve, there will be Bersih 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 until the cause is successful.
World history has shown governments the wisdom to uphold the will of the people, and the law of nature dictates that energy cannot remained pent up; they must be channeled productively to bring positive outcomes.
From now on, July 9 will be Hari Bersih because Malaysia needs to be cleaned up badly. Our success and our family's well-being can only be guaranteed in a Clean Malaysia.
This article first appeared on the website Pahlawan.