What we know: an open letter to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on the day of the Bersih rally
(Photo courtesy of Dr A Bahardin/ afifbahardin.wordpress.com)
Dear Prime Minister,
This is being written in the early hours of Bersih Day, July 9, 2011. It comes probably too late, but one must try.
The news last night told of blockades around the country, monstrous traffic snarls in the Klang Valley, and raids on hotels in the city – all by the Polis Di-Raja Malaysia, to thwart a public rally peremptorily declared as illegal by your administration.
More worryingly, the name of the PDRM is once again mud in the eyes of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Malaysian voters who have been ‘inconvenienced’ by the ostensible efforts of your government to ensure public safety.
If there is a crisis of confidence in the neutrality and professionalism of the PDRM in fighting crime, then its cause is plain for all to see: the PDRM is used, and blamed, for persecuting those who might not agree with the government of the day.
Pemandu, the new and inspired agency which you have entrusted with the GTP – the government transformation plan – recently announced a series of town hall meetings between the chiefs of police and the rakyat, in an effort to restore the credibility of the PDRM in the eyes of the latter.
But how credible are the chiefs of police when the PDRM itself has been used to water-cannon, tear-gas, or otherwise coerce the Malaysian public to submit to government rule?
How credible can the PDRM be, when it is ordered to arrest and re-arrest those who have dedicated their lives to equalising the lot of the poor Malaysian majority – who do know the score and will vote accordingly in the next general election?
The deep and lasting value of the PDRM is as an institution; it is a powerful symbol of authority and source of respect for the rule of law. Its value hinges on its being perceived to be unerringly neutral.
As things stand re: Bersih, the PDRM will inevitably be associated with the country’s systematically dysfunctional politics, and worse, blamed for a potential conflagration.
And what of the hundreds of Malaysians who have recently been arrested for no reason other than wearing yellow t-shirts or possessing yellow items declared ‘illegal’?
(Fashion police: “This is last year’s colour”)
You, your ministers and the country’s top policemen say that Bersih, despite its seemingly neutral civil society credentials, is really an Opposition rally.
(We also know that it is an opposition rally, with a little ‘o’, whose causes some among us are minded to support.)
You say the Opposition is not bersih.
You say Bersih is illegal, and that the police will stomp – from a great height – on any member of the rakyat, who chooses merely to wear its colours.
Here, we scratch our thick and aching heads and ask: just what are you saying?
That it is illegal to support the Opposition in this country, and thus, that the democratic parliamentary system is bad?
That it is illegal to not support the policies of the government of the day?
That 1Malaysia = 1Government to rule them all, for all time?
This, surely, we know, is not what you mean.
We know that what is legal is not always what is just and fair. Sometimes, we cannot but support that which is declared illegal, because it is just and fair to do so.
Legitimacy derives from fairness, not legality. History shows that to ignore this truism is to invite profound tragedy.
And so, please: restore the dignity of the Polis Di-Raja Malaysia, who are surely better than playground bullies. Restore their role as public guardians and watch popular support for your government swell.
And as Malaysia becomes a nicer place to be, prepare to welcome back her many, formerly disenchanted diaspora, and bear witness the restoration of the Malaysian dream.