What happened towards the close of the Bersih 3.0 rally in KL city Saturday last was a disgrace. It was a disgrace not to the Bersih 3.0 participants but to the authorities.
Bersih 3.0 had been a resounding success.
About 250,000 to 300,000 Malaysians from all corners of the country, from all walks of life, races and ages had turned up to tell the Najib administration that they did not believe that the Malaysian electoral roll is clean and that they want the Najib administration to have the roll cleaned up and reforms put in place for a clean and fair electoral process to ensure free, fair and clean elections.
They had come despite knowing that they risked being tear-gassed and water-cannoned. Arrested and even beaten up! That spoke a lot for their conviction.
Yet, although the Bersih 3.0 participants had for most of the day been peaceful and carnival in spirit, the situation turned chaotic when the authorities first started to fire tear gas and water cannons at the participants near Dataran Merdeka at about 3 pm.
Trying to put the blame on Anwar for instigating the crowd to breach the police barricade to Dataran Merdeka is both disingenious and disingenuous of the authorities.
For Anwar to do so would be politically suicidal to him. Anwar is not a political greenhorn.
In fact, Anwar has clarified at a press conference that he was trying to calm down the crowd and to tell them to disperse after negotiations with the authorities for permission for the rally participants to enter Dataran Merdeka had failed.
In fact, some are now saying that some sections of the police barricade had in fact been opened by the authorities as if to lure the participants in.
At least one guy thought that the rally participants had been conned when police started firing tear gas and water cannons as soon as some people tried to cross to Dataran Merdeka after sections of the barricade had been opened.
So, what did actually happen?
The authorities' claim that they only started to fire tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd after they had started breaching the barricade doesn't seem to hold much water when you consider that rally participants far away from Dataran Merdeka were apparently also been fired upon.
Why was there a need to do this, if the purpose of firing tear gas and water cannons was to stop the rally participants from breaching the barricade?
Why was there also a need to chase participants all over the place even up to Chinatown as some claim? Why was there a need to close the Masjid Jamek LRT station and therefore prevent people from making their way home when the idea was to disperse the crowds?
Why are there claims that police beat up rally participants?
Was there in fact a coordinated attempt to frustrate the Bersih 3.0 rally and to put the blame on and make the organisers and participants look bad and therefore to steal the thunder from them and their message to the government that they want electoral reforms and free, fair and clean elections?
If not, why is there the constant reference to one single incident where a small crowd of people had apparently attacked a police vehicle that had ploughed into them. That incident was unfortunate and cannot be condoned but understandable in the circumstance.
There were even reports that journalists and press photographers had been assaulted and roughed up including an Al Jazeera photographer, with some even having their cameras damaged, for which the authorities are now willing to set up an independent panel to investigate the allegations. (The Star 3 May 2012)
While the authorities are at it, they should also set up an independent panel to investigate the many alleged incidents of police brutality against innocent rally participants.
If the authorities had nothing to hide, why did they have to manhandle the press who were out there just doing their work?
But just for one moment we assume that some of the Bersih 3.0 participants had indeed willfully breached the police barricade to Dataran Merdeka.
Could the police with their heavy presence not do something to arrest the culprits and warn the rest against further proceeding?
It was not as if the crowds were charging at the police and causing havoc or harm to anybody. They just wanted access to Dataran Merdeka.
Why the high handed response against the rally participants? Where was the balance, as the president of the Bar Council had himself asked?
Why indeed were the authorities so intent on defending a small piece of turf like what one reformasi mom had written to Malaysia Chronicle to ask.
After all, Dataran Merdeka or Independence Square is a public square to which the people have a right of access.
What was so SUDDENLY sacred about the venue that the authorities had to have it protected by a court order hastily obtained at the penultimate moment and even had it locked down just to prevent the Bersih 3.0 proposed duduk bantah (sit-in) when all the while it had been accessible to the public?
The authorities even have the cheeks to blame the organisers for not taking up their offer of alternative venues like Merdeka Stadium. But they forgot to say that their offer came late and was rather insincere just like in the case of the previous Bersh 2.0 rally when even their late offer of the use of Merdeka Stadium was eventually denied at the very last moment!
With that kind of history, can anyone trust the authorities?
Malaysians just hope that the heavy-handed response to Bersih 3.0 rally participants and the previous Bersih 2.0 rally participants is not the precursor of Najib's boast that he would defend Putrajaya at all costs even if it involved broken bones and crushed bodies.