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Bersih chairman defends street protests as genuine activism, not political theatre

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Bersih chairman Mohamad Faisal Abdul Aziz has reassured critics that the movement’s street protests are not mere political theatre, Malaysiakini reported today.

He said that there was criticism against them when they marched to Parliament, with some saying that it was theatrical.

“There was a lot of perception (against us) when we marched to Parliament saying it was theatre (wayang) and what not.

“But what’s important is that we have proved (our resolve),” he was quoted as saying during an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini.

This affirmation comes amidst questions raised by critics about Bersih’s sincerity in holding the government accountable, particularly after its recent protest over the slow pace of reforms.

Since its establishment, Bersih has been strongly associated with the parties forming Pakatan Harapan (PH) as they collaboratively campaigned against the former BN government for reform.

He cautioned that failure by the government to implement significant reforms or to upset the public with actions like a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) in the ongoing criminal cases of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would prompt Bersih to initiate its sixth major demonstration.

Faisal said the common background as former Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (Abim) presidents shared by both himself and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would not prevent Bersih from maintaining its critical stance towards the Madani government.

“The Madani-lead government is not ‘maksum’ (infallible) and must be able to accept criticism.

“When we criticise the government, it would strengthen the Madani narrative, therefore (former president) advising (another former president) is not an issue in Abim,” he was quoted saying.

Addressing the perception of Bersih’s diminished influence, Faisal added that the broader challenge faced by civil societies in mobilising the public in the post-Covid-19 era, where social media has become the preferred platform for self-expression.

Due to this, he said Bersih aims to reinvigorate grassroots momentum by educating the public about its reform agenda and emphasising the importance of democratic trustworthiness.

“What we have today is a trust deficit (towards the system). The prime ministers may have changed, yet the outcome remains the same.

“So Bersih wants to revive the people’s hope that changes can happen if we keep the momentum.

“Then the public will know that Bersih still exists, and we want to keep the momentum going to raise people’s voice and the agenda of change,” he was quoted as saying.

On February 27, over 100 Bersih demonstrators conducted a march to Parliament, presenting a memorandum urging the government to accelerate reforms, particularly focusing on 10 critical issues highlighted by the group.

In response to Bersih’s protest outside Parliament, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s information chief Datuk Razali Idris cast doubt on the sincerity of the action, dismissing it as merely a facade aimed at creating the impression that Bersih was withdrawing its support for PH.

Faisal then went on to say that the fact that Bersih’s supporters also backed PH was insignificant as it indicated that support was not unconditional.

“It is not like back then when people supported political parties ‘membabi buta’ (unconditionally) without checks and balances.

“We will not give you a free pass and say ‘we voted for you, you became the government, so do as you please’. That is not us in the context of Bersih,” he was reported saying.