“The Bersih rallies over the years had been referred to by the sultan of Johor in a statement yesterday as ‘black marks’ and ‘riots’ in our nation’s history as, in His Majesty’s views, these protests only led to ‘negative’ impacts such as chaos and destruction.
“Bersih respectfully disagrees, and we would like to point out that protests are legitimate means of political expression and are formative to our country’s history,” the Bersih steering committee said in a statement.
The group pointed out that the country itself was born out of a protest movement.
“(Malayan politician) Onn Jaafar rallied the masses to object against the Malayan Union, which was unilaterally imposed by the British after the second World War, and this paved the way for the formation of the Federation of Malaya, the precursor to our eventual independence from the British in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
“Onn and Umno were not the only ones to use protest as a legitimate means of collective action. The multi-racial Putera–AMCJA coalition through leaders like Ishak Muhammad, Tan Cheng Lock, K Ganapathy and Dr Burhanuddin Helmy launched a countrywide protest (hartal) in 1947 to advocate for the People’s Constitution.
“Throughout the passage of time, from Demonstrasi Baling to Reformasi, the rakyat has resorted to protest to express their solidarity and grievances,” it said.
Bersih added that through its protests calling for free and fair elections, several reforms were introduced.
“The introduction of the indelible ink and subsequent improvements to the conduct of elections and the expansion of voting access to voters would not have come about if not for the pressure placed on the Election Comission,” it said.
Bersih added that they also held protests to make a stand against the 1MDB scandal which has been described as the world’s biggest case of kleptocracy where up to RM42 billion were stolen.
“Bersih responded to this grand-scale thievery by organising two peaceful protests where hundreds of thousands of Malaysians turned up.
“We demanded institutional changes to existing laws to end the scourge of corruption in this country and for the culprits to be held accountable.
“If the rakyat had not had the opportunity to express their anger towards electoral injustices and grand-scale corruption in a peaceful manner, who knows what would have happened to our country?” it said.
“The kleptocrat and his accomplices could have continued to plunder this country and not be charged for the crimes they have committed. Surely Your majesty would not condone such a tragedy, had the rakyat not been mobilised,” it added.
Keeping the peace
Bersih stressed that it has, from the very beginning, remained committed to peaceful protests.
“Your Majesty, history proves that civil disobedience has always been part and parcel of our DNA. Bersih invites Your Majesty to join us in not only respecting but celebrating the rakyat’s fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression, form associations and hold peaceful protests.
“As a nation practising parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, we ought to welcome and recognise any expression and participation by our rakyat for the common good of Malaysia. Without protests, there would have been no Malaysia,” it said. MKINI