Hoping against hope that jamming devices won’t be used at the rally today, I’ll be live-blogging my experience at Bersih 5.0. Refresh the page every now and then for live updates.
Today, Malaysians take to the streets to demand:
- Clean elections
- Clean government
- Strengthen parliamentary democracy
- Right to dissent
- Empower Sabah and Sarawak
I made the snap decision to attend the rally on Thursday. Bersih wasn’t very present in my consciousness this time around, but every time I saw an article or Facebook post about the red-shirts and yellow-shirts, I’d think to myself: Should I go? I didn’t know any of my friends who were going, and the last rally was hot and exhausting.
The tipping point came when a Grab uncle told me he was going for Bersih. He didn’t say much, but sitting there, suddenly, I knew.
I’d be there.
9.30am: As we wait for the rest of my group to arrive, a friend tells me of test-driving a car with a red shirt salesman. “How much they paying you?” my friend asked. “RM50.” “Don’t you think it’s a bit small? You should think more long-term,”. His reply: “Life is hard.” My friend’s wisdom: If someone takes RM100 from you and gives you 50 cents, are you going to thank him?
9.46am: My friends and I board the LRT at Kelana Jays. As we enter, we’re greeted by cheers and applause by fellow rally-goers coming from Subang.
10.00am: Bangsar LRT (one of two meeting-points) is a sea of yellow.
10.56am: I spot a few LGBTQ rainbow flags in the crowd. It’s a group that call themselves Queers United for Equality and Electoral Reform. Above a huge Q.U.E.E.R. banner, a man holds up a sign: TANGKAP Pencuri- MO1. Kebajikan 30 juta rakyat Malaysia mesti diutamakan (ARREST Thief – MO1. The welfare of 30 million Malaysians should come first).
11.04am: The Internet’s slowed down considerably. I decide to give up trying upload photos and instead burn through my phone battery trying to upload my updates. A friend points out a banner hanging from an overhead bridge that I hadn’t noticed: A large portrait of Anwar Ibrahim bearing the words: Kehadiran Saudara-Saudari Akan Membantu Menjana Perubahan di Negara Malaysia Tercinta (Your presence will help generate change in our beloved country of Malaysia). This reminds me of a conversation I had last night with a friend over dinner, about how Bersih is becoming more and more partisan.
11.25am: We’re seated along the highway, waiting for a signal from the front that we can start our march. A guy using a megaphone talks forcefully to the crowd, but he’s too far away to hear clearly. Sporadic chants of “Bersih! Bersih!” (Clean! Clean!) break out from the crowd. Someone begins handing out salt in case of tear gas. I decline, deciding to rely on my swimming goggles and bottle of water.
11.30am: We begin the march! “BERSIH!” “Hebat!”(Clean! Power!”) A little old lady standing on a box instructs us through a microphone to remember that 1pm is prayer time. That’s so cool.
12.33pm: We’d minced forward 1 kilometre when we met a line of purple-shirted security guards, who asked us to halt. Word on the street is that the FRU is ahead of us, preventing us from converging at Dataran Merdeka. We’re told to leave a space in front of us in case those ahead are forced to retreat. It will be at least a half an hour wait under the hot sun as the organisers negotiate our passage with the authorities.
12.59pm: Ambiga is here! She takes the platform and speaks to the waiting crowd. I can only catch a few of her words. “We have given our word [to the auhorities] that we will stay here, and finish our protest here. It’s a nice place to wait…this is worth fighting for.” The crowd responds with cheers of “Hidup Bersih!” (Long live Bersih!)
1.21pm: Something seems to be happening. A few people run towards us from the direction of the blockade. In a Lord-of-the-Rings-type moment, we hear them say, “The FRU are coming!” An ambulance, sirens blaring, drives past. A pause. Nothing happens. We resume our wait, but are now watchful.
1.30pm: “Let’s go take a picture of the FRU,” says Danny.
2.10pm: Malaysian-style, we decide to take a break from the protest and head into Little India in search of food.
2.23pm: We wind up having lunch at Nu Sentral, a mall attached to the transportation hub. The air-conditioning is a welcome relief, but it also makes me more aware of my pounding head, flushed cheeks and sweaty clothes. The food court is full of yellow-shirts taking a break. As we eat, we receive news through the Bersih online stream that the rally’s venue has been changed to KLCC. I am relieved; KLCC is a couple of train stops away.
3.10pm: Had a scoop of Haagen Dazs while waiting for a latecomer to join us. Because, you know, there’s ARFI.
3.33pm: We board an LRT headed to KLCC.
4.08pm: We join the throng gathered in front of Public Bank. There are so many people that we can’t get close enough to the stage to hear the speeches. The crowd sounds a little ugly as those at the back holler at a line of people standing up and blocking the view.
4.30pm: The sky is overcast and the air smells like rain. The three of us (we split from the main group a while ago) decide to head back to avoid a crush. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. At the top of the escalator leading down to the station, we are hit by a heat wave from all the bodies tightly crammed together. We left the sauna and decide to try another station. So do a lot of people.
5.11pm: We get into an Uber. The driver asks permission to go and salam YB Zuraidah, who had been 5 minutes behind us the whole time we were waiting. To think! If I weren’t so tired I’d get out and salam her too.
6.00pm: Traffic was surprisingly clear. I arrived home, took a shower, and tried to sleep off my headache.
It’s 11pm, and I still have a headache. I’m tired and my eyes and throat are dry. One of my Facebook friends wondered, “Why do people go for Bersih?”
Why did I? I knew from the past experience that the rally would be uncomfortable and hot, with long periods of slow walking and sitting around. I was under no delusions that our corrupt politicians would look at our protests and say, “Alright already. We hear you. We’ll stop rigging elections and stealing your money.” I went not because I thought it would change anything, but because I wanted to let them know that I’m not okay with their crap.
I went not because I thought it would change anything, but because I wanted to let them know that I’m not okay with their crap.
The Malaysian headlines have been so painful to read that it’s been a relief to be distracted by the U.S. elections. Our politicians are constantly saying things that make my blood boil. Amidst the anger, frustration and disbelief that too frequently accompanies my perusal of Malaysian news is an overwhelming sense of helplessness. I can’t see what we could possibly do to rid our country of corruption and achieve a true democracy.
Though more than half of the American population was bitterly disappointed at the outcome of the elections, I would readily swap places with them. Their votes actually count, and their leaders respect the outcomes of their elections. Without free and fair elections, what’s a Malaysian to do? Attending the Bersih 5.0 rally was at least a step up from griping about our state of affairs to my husband. At the very least, I get to play a small part in changing our headlines for a day.
It’s nowhere near enough, but it’s something.