Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 9: A momentous test of wills

Terence Netto
Jul 2, 11

COMMENT Repression versus democratic dissent is an old story in human history, with victory - if not immediately, then sometime down the road - favouring the forces of freedom.

You would think that given the higher frequency of victories for the latter, projectors of the former, conscious of events such as the Arab Spring, would be reluctant to invoke preemptive powers in a face-off with the latter.

But, as the philosopher Hegel warned, the Owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.

Hegel was saying that wisdom is an attribute that tends to take hold only at the drawn-out close to events, when fatigue sets in and hubris is exposed for the trap it is.

That is why with police power clenching tightly into a repressive sweep against all forms of democratic dissent, Bersih 2.0, the march planned for July 9 to push for electoral reform, has come to be draped in the mantle of iconic pronouns in freedom's eternal battle with autocracy.

NONERepressive action against Bersih in the last few weeks, ridiculous, even grotesque, in some instances, is enabling the march - if its proponents evade the fast-massing ranks of the repressor to stage it - to take its place among hallowed ranks, such as Tahrir Square, Tiananmen and Edsa, to name a few - that have carved imperishable niches in emancipation's history.

In sum, the staging of the Bersih march has now become a movement that derives its force from greater than just the totality of the numbers its organisers claim they can marshal; and is stronger than the moral potency of its demands for electoral reform.

The government's myopia in opting to repress, as distinct to allowing it or even beguiling Bersih into talking rather than marching, has only succeeded in giving the planned event a voltage it would not have otherwise had.

Open admission of EC's bias

Repression is the oxygen of democratic causes.

To the government, the march has come to represent an attempted breach of a psychological threshold: Umno-BN's half-century incumbency occupies in the public consciousness the aura of the immovable object.

A repression-fuelled Bersih march is shaping and may well turn out to be the irresistible force that would shatter this threshold.

No less than the deputy chair of the Election Commission whose neutrality ought to prelude sides-taking, gave vent to the perception of the motive force behind Bersih.

azlanHe pronounced the electoral reform-seeking body a stooge in the hands of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat in its quest to dislodge Umno-BN from Putrajaya.

Wan Ahmad Wan Omar shifted from supposedly neutral umpire to spokesperson of the incumbent powerbrokers with that comment.

What he said was not a Freudian slip; it was an open admission of the EC's bias, exactly grounds for Bersih's grievances.

In the democratic arena, political parties are expected to use all legitimate methods to lever for advantage in the competition for votes. Only knaves or the staggeringly cynical complain about this.

Herein the rub: the powers-that-be grant their competitors in the political arena a highly constrained space in which to vie for influence.

When the latter push the parameters of that unequal space, the incumbent powerbrokers manipulate or, as may be required, coerce levers of state and vehicles of public influence to repress that effort at expanded democratic expression, particularly when it threatens their ultimate dislodgement.

This is how the ongoing test of wills between the authorities and Bersih has evolved.

Taut competition for July 9

Now if Bersih wavers in its push for the march, the psychological props of the scaffolding that holds up Umno-BN's domination of Malaysian politics would remain to fight another day.

But if Bersih succeeds in assembling the same number of marchers, or if it exceeds the numbers obtained at its inaugural march nearly four years back, this would be read as a breaching of the Umno-BN ramparts.

one million youth gathering in putrajaya on stage najib razak speakerComing, if it does, a few weeks after Umno tried to parlay through hyperbolic propaganda a figure of about 8,000 youths who attended a gathering in Putrajaya into something like a million attendees, Bersih 2.0 would be irresistible proof that the ruling autocracy is on its last legs.

That perception - and perception is everything in politics - would be life-threatening to the incumbents at the imminent general election.

Hence two opposing imperatives are in taut competition for July 9: an autocracy frantically resisting the evidence its writ has run out is ranged against a movement out to show that given fairer competition that writ would have long expired.

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