BERSIH for Malaysia: It’s Going to be Our Time to Play. Let’s Play Clean.

Watching the Malaysian general elections at a bar in Jaya One back in 2013, I remember being detached… apathetic maybe. At that time I knew little about politics. All I knew was my government was untouchable. But after a couple of hours, something strange happened — the numbers … they started siding with the opposition. Apathy suddenly left my being. I place my pint down. Eyes widen, I slowly inch off my seat and soon, I was cheering with the people around me. That night, the opposition won 3 big states (Selangor, Kelantan and Penang) and the popular vote. Barisan Nasional (BN) the ruling party however managed to maintain its power due in part to questionable electoral and campaigning methods.

No matter the results, the numbers surprised me that year. It wasn’t a small percentage of people or specifically racial minorities, the Chinese and the Indians, that thought our political leaders were not worthy to run our country. It was possibly more than half the country and people of all races. Since that elections, Malaysia has been through a lot. Under the rule of Mr. Najib, Malaysia has successfully been placed on the map for being part of the world’s biggest financial scandal (1MDB). The guy who declared 1Malaysia in 2010, has also created a superficial, non-transparent, so called democratic government that actively blocks online opposition sites and threatens and arrests people that rightly criticise the administration.

There however is another side to this story. BERSIH rallies have been organised since 2007, maintaining their high turnout rates every time it has been held. A rally supported by various opposition leaders, multiple NGOs and countless common people across the country, BERSIH is an entity that does not have a singular leader. Its major concerns are:

Clean Government
Clean Power
Clean Elections
Clean-up Racism
Clean Parliament

Today I attended BERSIH 5.0 in New York. I couldn’t have thought of a better way of spending my Saturday afternoon.(Managed to even catch up with my schoolmate from Taiping who I hadn’t seen in 8 years while I was there.) Having travelled for the past few years now for study, I have learnt one thing about politics — similar to the case with Malaysia, different forms of state failure often burgeons from its neglect of the voices of the people, especially those of minority groups. And these effects run deep — creating racist, classist, xenophobic and misogynistic rhetoric that actively work to spread fear and create division among us. Political leaders I agree are often stuck within their profit driven agendas, but we must not forget that our voices outnumber theirs. No matter what anyone says about your race, religion, gender or education, your voice matters.

Our different faiths tell us that we are connected spiritually. The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I believe that. Standing next to all these people at today’s rally, I feel what they feel, I feel what people back home feel — “Sehati, Sejiwa” we want change. That being said, I also believe our governments connect us tangibly. And in the pursuit of better means of survival, we have a collective responsibility to do right by it. Be it through protest, getting appropriately informed or simply through more honest conversations with the people around us. As we look forward to our general elections in 2018, as much as we hope that people in power will be accountable, we must hold ourselves accountable in the pursuit of a better society — “Lawan Tetap Lawan”.

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