PRO-DEMOCRACY group Bersih 2.0, also known as the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, confirmed today that it will stage its next mass rally this November.
The group’s chairman, civil rights activist Maria Chin Abdullah, said the plan is “definite” and that further details will be provided during a media conference next week.
“We are definitely having Bersih 5. It’ll be in November. We are having [a] press conference on 14th September,” she was quoted by Malay Mail Online as telling reporters when approached in court today.
The leader did not, however, share the exact date and venue for the event.
Plans for the rally comes amid demands in Malaysia for Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down over his alleged involvement in the multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
The case has earned international attention and is the subject of a civil suit by the U.S Department of Justice as well as investigations by enforcement agencies in numerous countries.
Bersih 2.0 and its precursor, known simply as Bersih, which means “clean” in Bahasa Malaysia, has staged four public demonstrations to date since its inception in 2007. During such rallies, supporters would don yellow clothes (the group’s official color) and flood the streets, calling for electoral reforms and an end to corrupt practices, among other matters.
The first rally in 2007 was precipitated by allegations of corruption and unfair competition in the Malaysian election process that is said to heavily favor Barisan Nasional (BN), a coalition of political parties that has ruled the country since independence in 1957.
The gathering, which started out peacefully, turned violent when riot police fired tear gas canisters and chemical-laced water at protesters. Media reports then claimed that over 200 people were arrested for what the police said was an illegal gathering.
Bersih later regrouped for its second mass demonstration in 2011, spurred by the results of the tumultuous federal polls in 2008 and in anticipation of the next general election, the country’s 13th since 1957.
During the 2008 election, BN continued its chokehold on power even as the opposition scored massive, unprecedented wins to deny the pact its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Bersih, then rebranded as “Bersih 2.0”, urged the Election Commission ensure the next election would be free and fair and demanded among other things, a clean-up to the electoral roll, reforms to the postal voting system, the use of indelible ink, a minimum 21-day campaign period, free and fair access to the media for all political parties and an end to electoral fraud.
Again, the gathering was declared illegal, with the authorities citing legal provisions that stipulate that gatherings of five people and more required permits. Protesters pressed on, however, and according to Bersih 2.0 then, over 50,000 took to the streets of the capital. The event turned chaotic as police in riot gear rained tear gas and chemical water on protesters, and arrested over 1,600 people, including key leaders of the pro-democracy movement and opposition politicians. One protester reportedly died during the protest.
Bersih 2.0 has held two more equally successful rallies since then – one in 2013 dubbed Bersih 3.0, which also made the same demands, and another last year, called Bersih 4, which this time included the call for Najib’s resignation in its list of demands.
Unlike rallies of the past, Bersih 4 was allowed to proceed peacefully, largely due to the Peaceful Assembly Act, a new law enacted by the federal government following international condemnation of the authorities’ heavy-handed approach in clamping down on protesters.