NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.
A few generations from now, budding Malaysian historians will no doubt expound and deliberate over whether 9 July 2011 was the beginning of the end for the Barisan Nasional regime.
Although by then the name ‘BN’ will have long disappeared from the lexicon of public discourse, those seeking to trace the roots of the thriving democratic polity in Malaysia would certainly recognise the day of the Bersih 2.0 rally as a watershed moment for the country, and indeed a day of inglorious infamy for the incumbent government.
Future Malaysians will find it difficult to comprehend the series of tumultuous events leading up to this day. They will wonder incredulously at the capricious flip-flopping of the government, and question how their forefathers could have put up with it for so long. They will appreciate the struggle against systemic injustice, but they will also ask why it took so long for the nation to wake.
Views will be many and varied. Political analysts will theorise and speculate upon the power struggles that took place, both between the opposing political forces and also those within the ruling coalition. Perhaps they will even single out the stupendous rebellion by the Home Minister and Police Chief as key catalytic factors of the crisis.
Some will undoubtedly attempt to dissect the semi-feudal dynamics encapsulating the process – the intervention of the King and the open defiance of the royal word by an embattled regime and its overzealous cohorts.
Social scientists will also find parallel in the regional context, perhaps even christening the saga with a moniker as they did the ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘Jasmine Revolution’. A few books will invariably be spawned, maybe even a blockbuster movie following the de-politicisation of our film industry. For politicians, it will become the ultimate lesson – how not to run a government, or give me a gun and I’ll shoot myself repeatedly.
Grandfathers would regale their kin with stories of arrests, roadblocks and how Kuala Lumpur was brought to a virtual standstill. And almost everyone will find it ironical that a mass movement promoting ‘clean’ and fair elections had brought out the dirtiest machinations of the authorities.
There are plenty more reasons why people will remember this day, and many more variants in which they will choose to rationalise it. But more than that, more than the possibility of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians taking to the streets, more than the bare exposal of the ruling party’s weaknesses and insecurities, is the fact that in the last two and a half weeks, Malaysians have watched in utter disgust and disbelief as the rights of their fellow citizens were flagrantly disregarded for no good reason. Two hundred and eighty-four times.
This includes the McCarthyistic detention of Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, A Letchuman, Sukumaran Munisamy, Sarasvathy Muthu, Sarat Babu and Choo Chon Kai, six Malaysians who care, under the Emergency Ordinance purportedly for ‘waging war against the King’, a treasonous crime punishable by death.
This is in addition to the arbitrary arrests of 187 Malaysians since 22 June 2011 for speaking publicly about Bersih 2.0, and in some cases simply for donning a yellow T-shirt. And then we have the 91 Malaysians who have been served restriction orders and warned of consequences if they choose to exercise their basic human right to assembly.
9 July 2011 may well turn out to be the cul-de-sac for the BN regime. Yet whatever happens and however we choose to interpret this episode, there are 284 reasons why we must never forget it.
284 Malaysians stripped of their rights. 284 cases of abuse of power. 284 memories that will haunt the ruling regime.
These 284 reasons will ensure that the Barisan Nasional will be, in the near future, a thing of the past.