Venue Debate is a Smokescreen Because Bersih is an Outdated Idea

Venue Debate is a Smokescreen Because Bersih is an Outdated Idea

The Bukit Jalil National Stadium offers something perfect for those planning a sit-down protest – seats. Some 100,000 of them, all made of plastic and all more comfortable than sitting on the ground.

But Bersih co-founder Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan has knocked back an offer to use the stadium, as she has for three other sporting venues.

Despite the fact she was told she could take her pick of where she would like to stage her rally a full five days before the event, she rejected them all on the basis that she would not have enough time to change her plans.

Ambiga insists that the only place the protest can take place is the one venue that is off limits – the Dataran Merdeka.

It is unavailable not because the federal government has stood in the way. On the contrary the Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has shouted himself hoarse making it clear he is not stopping Bersih 3.0.

It is unavailable because the venue belongs to Kuala Lumpur City Hall and as the Occupy Dataran protesters found out this week, you don’t mess with City Hall. They have been unceremoniously given their marching orders (just like the Occupy Wall Street protesters were escorted off the premises in New York City by the way.)

A neutral observer might think that Ambiga and her friends are insisting on this one venue because in reality, their aim is to create a scene, even street violence. Bersih 2.0 became global news not because anyone outside Malaysia took time to explore and understand the issues, but because images of riot police and tear gas are what win the ratings war on CNN and the other 24 hour news channels.

But the venue issue is actually a smokescreen. Bersih 3.0 looks like it won’t replicate Bersih 2.0 because put simply, Bersih is a concept whose time has passed.

As The Choice has pointed out, most of Bersih’s fabled electoral reform demands, from indelible ink onwards, have long ago been met by the Electoral Commission.

Of more relevance, given the seismic changes sweeping Malaysia from the scrapping of the ISA to the amendments to the PPPA, suddenly Bersih looks confused and out of date.

Those yellow t-shirts are out of fashion. They’re just so 2011.

Added to this, Bersih has sprawled to become an open house for every group in the land with a grievance, from Indian welfare to environmental causes. Whatever the flaws of Bersih 2.0, at least we knew what it stood for. Now it is one big soup of a protest.

For Bersih 3.0 the pièce de résistance came yesterday, a week after PAS threw its waning clout behind the event.

Influential former PAS Deputy President Nasharuddin Mat Isa declared Ambiga unfit to lead the movement because of her previous support for gay and lesbian causes.

With friends like these at PAS who needs enemies?

Being a highly intelligent woman, Ambiga knows full well that the party is over. She has been cleverly “reaching out” to the government with an unworkable offer to call off the protest, knowing full well that when her event is inevitably poorly attended, she has plenty of excuses ready.

“We never wanted it to be like last year’s event….it is because we have softened our position….there were too many irrelevant causes trying to be heard under the Bersih banner.”

Take your pick from the likely excuses we will hear Ambiga narrating on Sunday morning. The one you won’t hear is that which was succinctly articulated by the Prime Minister: “Bersih has become irrelevant”.