Malaysiakini Letter

Bersih 4 is not about regime change

Thomas Fann  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Since Bersih 4 was announced on the July 29, 2015 with the urging for PM Najib Abdul Razak’s resignation over the 1MDB mega-scandal, some commentators and Facebookers have misunderstood this as an urging to overthrow Najib’s administration à la Arab Spring-style with phrases like regime change, Occupy, overthrow of a democratically-elected government, etc, being used.

In their minds they see images of hundreds of thousands of protesters converging on our Dataran Merdeka with their tents and sleeping bags, ready to occupy until Najib resigns and the BN government is overthrown.

They also see the regime sending in the riot police, tear gas and water cannons and eventually military tanks to crush the protest and leaving hundreds dead in their wake (our own Tiananmen?). To these detractors, such scenarios are absolutely and rightfully so, abhorrent and unacceptable.

Ah but then, Bersih only urged a 34-hour protest and at 11.59pm on the eve of Merdeka Day on Aug 30, the tents will be unpegged and the protesters told to go back to their normal life and enjoy their Merdeka Day holiday.

Another set of detractors then say, “What is the point then? If Bersih 4 cannot change the government, why bother to protest? And there is no way Najib will resign just because we protested.” Both sets of view are fair if it had been Bersih’s declared aim to bring down Najib on the weekend of Aug 29 and 30 and institute a regime change.

Exercising our rights

But alas Bersih is not expecting Najib to heed our urging on or before Aug 29 and 30 or even after, though if it does happen it would be welcomed by many Malaysians who are concern with the path he is leading this country down to.

If it is not regime change we are expecting with the Bersih 4 rally, then why should we come out in massive numbers? The answer is because we are a democracy and we are exercising our rights as enshrined under Article 10 of our federal constitution to have the freedom to speech, expression, assemble peacefully and to form associations.

Don’t we have a right to even ask a prime minister who is also the prime suspect of the biggest embezzlement of public funds in our country to take a leave of absence while investigation is under way? Instead of doing the honourable thing to ensure integrity in the investigation of 1MDB, Najib, without notice, removed the attorney-general who was leading the IMDB task force.

He also sacked ministers in his cabinet who questioned his handling of 1MDB, including the deputy PM and co-opted four members of the public accounts committee (PAC) who were investigating IMDB to the executive, effectively halting their investigation.

There is little hope that the truth will be uncovered regarding 1MDB now. In recent days, the police have even arrested key members the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on the 1MDB task force on suspicion of leaking information.

Sending a message

Protest is a legitimate means for any citizens to express their dissatisfaction with any issues or anyone, even the prime minister. It is a given that in most country that claims to be a democracy, citizens are likely to be urging the resignation of their prime ministers or presidents almost everyday. It doesn’t mean the leader will listen to the protesters but it does send a message to him or her.

And this is what we want to do, to send a message, loud and clear, that Najib has failed in his duty as prime minister and finance minister and he has to resign.

The question of who would or should take over as PM from Najib is not for Bersih to demand other than to say that this person must command the confidence of the majority of Parliamentarians in the Dewan Rakyat. Whether it is the Deputy PM or deputy president of Umno or another more acceptable candidate to all parties is not up to Bersih to decide or demand as Bersih is non-partisan when it comes to party politics.

Bersih believes that there are many Malaysians who over the years and recent months who have followed the exposé of 1MDB closely, are in total dismay and disgust with the allegations and the way the PM avoided coming clean with it. We believe he has to go to stem the descend of our country into a political, social and economic abyss that we may never recover from.

Legitimate regime change is reserved for another day at the ballot box at the 14th general election but for now we just want to assemble peacefully to make our dissent known and demand institutional reforms that would prevent another 1MDB on Aug 29 and 30.

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” - Albert Einstein


THOMAS FANN is the vice-chair (southern peninsula) of the Bersih 2.0 steering committee and is the chairperson of Engage, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to encouraging and empowering citizens to get engaged with nation-building.

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