Sunday, 27 May 2012

428 Sit-in Protest - Its implications and positive significance

428 Sit-in Protest
- Its implications and positive significance
Statement by Friends of Suaram Working Committee Johor
19 May 2012

[This media statement is the translation of FOS Working Committee's media statement in Chinese that was released on 19 May 2012.]

1. 428 sit-in protest is a continuation and development of Bersih 2.0 rally

The Malaysian people created a new chapter in our country's history on 28 April 2012. According to Bersih 2.0, about 250,000 people from all parts of the country found their way to converge on several major towns, especially the capital Kuala Lumpur, despite heavy police barricades. They assembled in 6 designated locations, waiting for the green light to march towards the Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) of historic importance.

Empowered by the court order, the BN government deployed police force to cordon off Merdeka Square 48 hours prior to the sit-in protest. They set up razor-sharp barbed wire guarded by the police personnel, in an attempt to keep the Bersih organisers and protesters away from the Merdeka Square.

Despite the challenges posed by the authorities to thwart the protest, leaders of Bersih and Hinpunan Hijau adhered to the appropriate, justified, and legitimate principles by way of leading the people to a point closest to the Merdeka Square. People of all ethnic groups conveyed their strong aspirations for clean and fair electoral system, and for stopping Lynas from commencing operation.

Describing the sit-in protest as a complete success, and advising the people to disperse peacefully, Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga demonstrated infinite wisdom in her leadership to prevent possible provocateurs from exploiting the situation with a view to causing pandemonium in “occupying Merdeka Square”.

In Bersih 2.0 rally, 50,000 people took to the streets, demanding for eight demands on electoral reform. Since then, UMNO-led ruling BN, has been persisting in disregarding the sensible, reasonable, and legitimate demands of the people, with the intention of pressing ahead with their plan to rig the electoral system, in an attempt to tighten their grip on the political power they have held for half a century. The BN-dominated PSC (whose chair and vice-chair are UMNO members) appointed for reforming the electoral system, put up 22 proposals on the electoral reforms, accepting only 1 out of 8 demands put forward by Bersih 2.0.

Bersih 2.0 has been consistent in putting up a mass struggle in the face of severe political challenges. The mass struggle was as peaceful as before. The sit-in protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur and seven other major cities (Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Kota Kinabalu, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru) was decided upon towards the end of March, and announced on April 4, with an urgent call for full resignation of the Election Commission.

The call received positive response from the people of all ethnic groups, religions, classes, and political parties. In addition, Malaysians overseas and foreign democrats also gave their support by holding solidarity protests in their respective countries on the same day. The Bersih sit-in protest constituted the biggest popular mass movement against the BN regime in the history of this country.


The 428 sit-in protest is obviously a continuation and development of Bersih 2.0 rally. The number of participants was several times that of Bersih 2.0 rally, breaking the record of mass movements in our history. The mammoth turn out forced the BN government to abandon all pretence of democracy, by way of resorting to violent repression of the peaceful protesters and the journalists who were covering the event. All this was done in the name of reclaiming Merdeka Square from the occupants. The violent crackdown (using tear gas, high pressure water cannon, rubber bullets, arrests, beating, and stalking) resulted in clashes between the police and protesters. In fact, the police personnel were charging into the dispersing peaceful crowd and wantonly arresting protesters. That was why a somewhat chaotic situation ensued.


2. 428 sit-in protest - an excellent co-ordination of forces of current social movement

The number of people participating in the 428 sit-in protest was in the region of 250,000. There was an increase of 4 times of the number of people involved in Bersih 2.0 rally. That was record breaking. The number of protesters involved surpassed those of any mass struggle in Malaysian history. As in Bersih 2.0 rally, the participants of 428 sit-in protest came from all sectors of society, irrespective of race or class (including workers, farmers, petty traders, professionals, businessmen, academics, artists, important figures from political parties, and retirees), as wells as believers of various faiths (largely Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and others).

There was a conspicuously reduced number of participants from the Indian community (mainly Hindus). Of late, the Indian community experienced internal dissension, inappropriate leadership, and loss of direction. Due to the mobilisation of various political parties, civil society, and religious groups, participants of other major ethnic groups increased dramatically, resulting in the formation of a formidable current of mass movement.

It clearly shows that after the 709 Bersih rally, the people realised that the BN government was intent on disregarding the aspirations of the people for realizing “8 demands first, then GE 13”. The BN ruling clique planned to resort to the dirty tactic of rigging the electoral process through the “Election Commission” controlled by their own party members, with a view to prolonging its hegemonic rule.

After having experienced the hegemonic rule under the UMNO-dominated Alliance and later BN, the broad masses were longing for launching another struggle of a larger scale than that of 709 rally. It is therefore understandable that 428 sit-in protest attracted a very much larger crowd. There was manifold increase in the number of participants. It indicates that the electoral reform campaign launched and led by Bersih 2.0 has entered into a stage of development of an unprecedented scale.

In addition to the 8 demands for electoral reform, 428 sit-in protest also carries the message of opposing the environmental hazards (such as the rare earth processing plant by Lynas). That is because the 428 sit-in protest was the common action taken jointly by the Bersih 2.0 steering committee and Himpunan Hijau. While Bersih 2.0 advocates for clean and fair elections, Himpunan Hijau calls for action to “Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia” and “Stop the rare earth production”. Although both appeals seemed different, combination of both appeals conveyed a political message that “rigged electoral process breeds a corrupt bureaucracy; a corrupt bureaucracy brings about environmental hazards”. 


Both appeals draw tremendous support from people of all walks of life. The two forces of social movement in different spheres of activity met to carry out a struggle, which had achieved great success. It has created a precedent of excellent cooperation between the different forces of social movement in distinct fields.

3. Non-partisan leadership plays a proactive role in uniting the people

The success of the sit-in protest is attributed to the non-partisan leadership persisted by Ambiga, chairperson of the Bersih 2.0 steering committee, as well as the independent and autonomous stance taken by NGOs.

It seemed that certain quarters within Bersih attempted to sideline the leadership of Ambiga and altered the independent and autonomous position taken by Bersih 2.0 coalition. But this was merely the wishes of a minority, and it was of no consequence. Ambiga again successfully led the sit-in protest by her sheer perseverance, calmness, and resoluteness.

The sit-in protest has again proved the wide acceptance of the non-partisanship and the people-oriented principle by the people from various ethnic groups, religions, classes, and political parties. 

While acknowledging the effort made by political parties in mobilizing their party members to participate in the protest, non-partisanship advocated by Bersih 2.0 as well as Himpunan Hijau does not in any way prevent these political parties (that uphold the principle of democracy and strive for social progress) from participating in the protest. 

On the contrary, it serves to unite a larger population by way of uniting all forces that can be united. In a media conference, Ambiga asserted that Bersih 2.0 would welcome any political party leader to participate in the protest in his capacity as a citizen. 

The protest would have been labelled by the ruling clique or someone having an axe to grind as “party politics” and “intending to seize power” if the protest were to be dominated by any political figure. This would have done more harm than good to the Bersih campaign. The proactive role played by the non-partisan leadership in uniting the people can be seen in the specific examples given below.

One, the Chinese Assembly Halls of 8 states in Malaysia issued a joint statement, urging those who genuinely show concern for environmental issues to gather in KLCC Park on April 28, to bear testimony to the commitment of civil society to fighting environmental hazards.

The joint statement was endorsed by the Chinese Assembly Halls in all the states (namely Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Penang, Johor, Perlis, Sarawak, Terengganu), except Pahang, Kedah, Perak, Kelantan and Sabah.

Although the joint statement made no mention of Bersih 2.0 and electoral reforms, it is clear from the statement that it impliedly endorsed Bersih's 8 demands, since the sit-in protest was a joint action of both Bersih and Himpunan Hijau. They were inextricably linked and inseparable.

Pressed by the Chinese community and the joint action of the Chinese Assembly Halls of several states, Mr. Pheng Yin Huah, chairman of the Federation of Chinese Associations (FCA) told the media: “FCA adopts a clear-cut stand against the construction of the rare earth plant as well as for clean and fair elections. These are the wishes of the Chinese community and the broad masses. As long as the spirit of democracy, law, and constitution is given due respect, ensuring social stability, FCA supports and respects the wishes of the people, and urges all quarters to do the same.”. (See the various media coverage on 23/4/2012)

As an important component party of BN, MCA forbade its members from participating in Bersih 2.0 rally. This time around, MCA was unable to proffer any convincing reasons for opposing the 428 sit-in protest. It therefore made an open announcement that it would not bar its members from participating in the protest. Perhaps MCA leaders finally realized that clean and fair elections and opposing Lynas's rare earth plant are the wishes of the people.

Another example is the media statement of 25 April, issued by the interfaith group - Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST). It called upon the authorities to allow Bersih sit-in rally to proceed as planned. The police have the duty and the capacity to ensure that the assembly proceed peacefully without disruption from any quarter. We appeal to all parties to conduct themselves with decorum and honour.

BCCBCHST further stated that full support should be given to Bersih's demands for clean and fair elections. Bersih's call for electoral reforms is also in line with the universal religious values. All religions support, amongst others, principles of justice, fairplay, and transparency. No undue advantage is enjoyed by any party to the exclusion of the others.

There are many other reasons and facts to show that the success of the sit-in protest is attributed to Ambiga persisting in the non-partisan leadership, which plays a proactive role in uniting all the people in the movement, as well as the independent and autonomous position adopted by the NGOs.

4. The people's power exposes the true colour of the government

The Merdeka Square is a historic site where the proclamation of independence of Malaya took place on 31 August 1957. It symbolizes the end of the British colonial rule. It belongs to the people. The Merdeka Square, located in the heart of the city of Kuala Lumpur, was selected as a venue for the sit-in protest, to demonstrate the strong commitment for clean and fair elections.

The government and the police initially underestimated the momentum of the movement. Their response to the call for 428 sit-in protest was lukewarm. As mobilisation of masses gathered momentum, the authority anxiously barricaded the Merdeka Square for 48 hours with barbed wire and blockades, and heavily guarded by police personnel. No Bersih leaders or their supporters were allowed to enter the barricaded area.

However, as pressure mounted, the reaction of the masses grew. The authorities resorted to the state apparatus and “white terror” to threaten and deter the people from participating in the protest. In response, the turnout of protesters was much more than that in Bersih 2.0 rally. The mainstream media estimated a crowd of 100,000 while Bersih estimated a huge crowd of 250, 000. On April 28, protesters gathered at various specified locations, then marched towards the Merdeka Square. They displayed posters, banners, balloons, and had artistic performance, chanting slogans expressing the demands for clean and fair elections, as well as protesting against Lynas.

After 2 pm, the massive crowd flooded the roads and streets leading to and around Merdeka Square. The police never expected such a mammoth crowd, and they had to take some immediate counter measures. The sit-in protest was peaceful and the protesters were unarmed and orderly. At about 2.30 pm, Ambiga announced that the purpose of the sit-in protest had been achieved, and the protesters were advised to disperse peacefully.

But the police, on the pretext that a few people acted aggressively, began to take harsh actions against the dispersing crowd as well as the journalists who were on duty. (Details of the police brutality can be found in most of the media reports and video recording on the Internet.)

The police took harsh actions against the crowd participating in the peaceful sit-in protest, when the crowd was in the course of dispersing peacefully and the event was about to come to an end. The main reason for such police action was to create chaos.


This is to divert the people's focus of attention from a justified, legitimate and appropriate demand to a “violent conflict” alleged to have been caused by some out to stir up commotion with a view to toppling the government. Najib has so alleged.

Statements made by Najib and the police on or after 428 sit-in protest for the sake of justifying police brutality, were mainly based on the false allegation that, after Ambiga had made the announcement advising the people to disperse peacefully, some people broke through the police barricades, intending to “Occupy Merdeka Square” and “to cause chaos with a view to overthrowing the government”.

Can such allegation withstand scrutiny? No. Let us make some observations relying on facts and on the course of development of events.

1. It is a fact that before April 28, a small group of people occupied Merdeka Square. They were just some youths describing themselves as the “Occupy Merdeka Square” group.

On 14 April, a group of largely Malay university students gathered in Merdeka Square, to demand for the abolition of the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) as well as to demand for free tertiary education. Some of them who were willing to stay put in Merdeka Square, to persist in their struggle for their demands, in the hope of drawing public attention, stayed put in Merdeka Square together with the “Occupy Merdeka Square” group. But they were unable to persuade students from other universities or colleges to participate in their struggle, let alone getting the support from society at large.

On 19 April, the General Secretary of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), S. Arutchelvan, specifically issued a statement entitled “The Students have raised the bar in our democratic struggle”. He made the following comments which could hardly be acceptable:

“Few may realise that the student 'anti-PTPTN and free education' rally on 14 April 2012 is going to be a significant event, … the students declared that they were going to stay put or occupy Merdeka Square up to 28 April, to greet BERSIH 3.0; the Student occupy movement seems to brighten our days leading to BERSIH 3.0.” (Note: “our” here refers to Arutchelvan and those who advocated “Occupy Merdeka Square”).

The obvious mistake made by this PSM leader and the supporters of “Occupy Merdeka Square” was that they regarded as truth what they had observed, as if the public shared their views, and was prepared to act on them. This is an effort in futility!

Despite their good intention to merge both the May Day Celebration and the students' “Occupy Merdeka Square” rally into one, for the purpose of liberating the Merdeka Square, it came to naught.

The events mentioned above merely indicate that there is a minority of people, who have been subjected to brutal oppression, are rather anxious to be relieved of such suppression. They were influenced and encouraged by the vigorous mass movements taking place abroad, resulting in a strong desire to bring about reforms, thereby harbouring some unrealistic radical ideas. This is perfectly understandable. Imbued with radical ideas, they will on certain occasions, resort to such spontaneous collective action to “Occupy Merdeka Square”. That is not surprising.

Of course, if the government and the police were to make use of the radical action of this minority group as a pretext to relentlessly carry out brutal suppression of the unarmed broad masses who participated in the 428 sit-in protest, such oppressive action certainly cannot stand up to scrutiny.

2. About 3 pm on April 28, shortly after Ambiga announced that the purpose of 428 sit-in protest had been achieved and advised the crowd to disperse peacefully, a tiny group of people on their own volition removed some of the barricades and road blocks set up by the police. They rushed into Merdeka Square in high spirit. This is a fact.

These protesters acted out of frustration caused by the government and the police in cordoning off the Merdeka Square, curbing the populace of their freedom of assembly. It was the natural reaction of the awakened people who have long been subjected to the relentless and brutal suppression of the hegemonistic ruling clique. They had summoned up the courage to overcome the confines of the legal restrictions.

But to label such action of breaching barricades and moving into Merdeka Square as an act to “Occupy Merdeka Square” is devoid of logic for the following reasons:

(1) 428 sit-in protest was under the leadership of Bersih 2.0 steering committee headed by Ambiga. At all times, the committee never insisted that 428 sit-in protest was to “Occupy Merdeka Square”. In this connection, Ambiga stated clearly: “The Police had locked down Merdeka Square, we shall go near Dataran to express our voice”;

(2) It was estimated that at least 100,000 people were surrounding Dataran on April 28. The vast majority of the protesters brought only small bags containing small personal items and drinking water. Some even came empty-handed. No one brought camping materials like, tents, sleeping bags or large bags with daily necessity, etc. ;

(3) The massive flow of people flooded all the roads surrounding Merdeka Square. Practically, the masses had occupied the whole of the KL city centre. In such circumstances, occupying Merdeka Square itself was of not much significance.

5. 428 sit-in protest has achieved a new height for democracy and human rights movement in Malaysia

In brief, the 428 sit-in protest is a struggle largely organized and led by BERSIH and Himpunan Hijau. It strives for a clean and fair election. And it is also a form of protest against the environmental hazards brought about by LYNAS.

It is not a sudden outburst of collective action by a certain group of people, nor a political conspiracy planned by any political leader, or by political parties to create disorder for the purpose of overthrowing the government.

In fact, it is a pre-planned and organized political struggle having a clear-cut objective in mind and under proper leadership. People of all ethnic groups and from all walks of life participated in the protest on their own volition. Their demands were for electoral reforms and to ward off environmental hazards.

The experience of such struggle is of practical importance, being a vital component part of democracy and human rights movement in this country in this era.

Since late 19th century to the 1950s of the last century, the peoples of various ethnic groups from Peninsular Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei came under the British colonial rule. They suffered oppression and lived in bondage.

As a result of the anti-imperialist movement, the British colonialists were compelled to grant Malaya independence in 1957, and allowed Singapore to have self-government in 1959, with a view to preserving their long-term interests in political, economic and military spheres.

In 1963, the British allowed a merger of the 5 territories to form Malaysia. Brunei and Singapore withdrew subsequently, leaving only Peninsular Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia. Since then, the British remained as the back-seat driver.

From then on, “Malaysians” came under the domination of the Malay feudal aristocracy and the landlord class as well as the UMNO-dominated Alliance ruling clique buttressed by the British colonialists.

In 1974, the Alliance Party brought some opposition parties (which had crossed over) into their fold to become the present Barisan Nasional (BN). Adopting a political system of “constitutional monarchy”, BN exercises direct control over Malaysia.

For over 50 years, Malaysians of various ethnic groups [Malay, Chinese, Indian (Tamil), Iban (Dayak), Kadazan, Dusun and other minority groups] and of all classes (working class in the various sectors, labourers, farmers, fishermen, hawkers, small manufacturers, petty bourgeoisie, national capitalists, etc.) have become the victims of communalism and racial policies implemented by the Alliance government, and later by the BN government. The extent of suffering experienced by each of them varies. The downtrodden and the marginalized ethnic groups suffered the most.

From practical experience gained in general elections over the past 50 years or so, the Malaysian people have been made aware of the unreasonable and deceptive nature of the “rules of the game” in parliamentary elections introduced by the BN government (like legislation on elections, electoral system and procedures).

They have also realized that the continual existence and implementation of the “rules of the game” of parliamentary elections, favouring the ruling clique of the day, would never bring about a popularly-elected government, genuinely representing and protecting the interests of the people.

BERSIH, a coalition representing the people' aspirations was eventually formed to strive for clean and fair elections. On 10 November 2007, a huge crowd of 40,000 strong, under the leadership of BERSIH gathered in Kuala Lumpur, demanding for electoral reforms.

This has had a major impact on the general elections result in the year 2008. After the 2008 general elections, BERSIH 2.0 steering committee headed by Ambiga, was formed by a coalition of 62 NGOs, in order to play a better and a more important role. The committee adopted a non-partisan stand to unite every force possible, for the purpose of pushing for electoral reforms.

Both 709 rally and 428 sit-in protest, were organized under the leadership of BERSIH 2.0. The 428 sit-in protest, in particular, has deeply inspired the Malaysian people. It has caused democracy and human rights movement in Malaysia to reach a new height. This is clearly shown in the following aspects:


1. As many as 250,000 people participated in the 428 sit-in protest. The large number of participants and the unprecedented scale of the gathering are record breaking. It was also far better organised than any political gathering whether by the ruling party or opposition parties in our country. 

2. Bersih's demand for a clean and fair election is justified, legitimate and appropriate. Its publicity campaign has raised the awareness of the masses. The people now understand the legality of wearing yellow T-shirts with BERSIH logo. They have shown their disdain for the “unlawful prohibition” on wearing Bersih yellow tees imposed by the government and the police. 428 sit-in protest has created a new situation, where the people achieved victory in a legal struggle over the “unlawful prohibition” imposed by the government and the police.

3.The BERSIH 2.0 committee adhered to the principle of struggling in a rational and advantageous manner and with restraint. The protesters were advised to end the protest after having achieved its purpose, so as to avoid chaos and destruction likely to be caused by the over-zealous crowd. 428 sit-in protest has created favourable conditions for organizing a campaign of a larger scale and of a higher level in time to come. It sets an excellent example for NGOs to maintain their independent and autonomous stand in the struggle.

Finally, we wish both BERSIH 2.0 and the electoral reforms a bright and successful future.

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人民之友对下届大选意见书
英巫文译稿将在此陆续贴出

作为坚守“独立自主”和“与民同在”的立场的一个民间组织,人民之友在上个月对即将来临的第14届全国大选投票,发表了一篇以华文书写的意见书,题为:投票支持"反对国家伊斯兰化的候选人": 反对巫统霸权统治!莫让马哈迪帮派"复辟"!。

这篇意见书的英文译稿,将在近期内在本部落格贴出。马来文译稿将在下个月内贴出。敬请关注!

我们希望,我们在意见书内所表达的对下届大选的立场和观点,能够准确而又广泛地传播到我国各民族、各阶层的人民群众中接受考验,并接受各党派在这次全国大选斗争和今后实践的检验。


The English and Malay renditions of Sahabat Rakyat’s opinions about next election will be published here consecutively

As an NGO which upholds “independent and autonomous” position and "always be with the people" principle, Sahabat Rakyat had released a Chinese-written statement of views with regard to the voting in the upcoming 14th General Election, entitled “Vote for candidates who are against State Islamisation: Oppose UMNO hegemonic rule! Prevent the return to power of Mahathir’s faction!”

The English rendition of this statement will be published in our blog in the near future whereas the Malay rendition will be published next month (November). Please stay tuned!

We hope that our position and views pertaining to the next General Election expressed in the statement will be accurately and widely disseminated and also examined by the popular masses of various ethnicities and social strata through their involvement in the struggle of the next General Election carried out by various political parties and their practices in all fields in future.


Akan datang: Penerbitan penterjemahan pendapat Sahabat Rakyat mengenai pilihan raya ke-14 dalam Bahasa Inggeris dan Bahasa Melayu

Sebagai sebuah pertubuhan masyarakat yang berpendirian teguh tentang prinsip "bebas dan berautonomi" dan “sentiasa berdampingan dengan rakyat jelata”, Sahabat Rakyat telah menerbitkan kenyataan tentang pandangan kami terhadap Pilihan Raya Umum ke-14 yang akan datang yang bertajuk "Undilah calon yang menentang Pengislaman Negera: Menentang pemerintahan hegemoni UMNO! Jangan benarkan puak Mahathir kembali memerintah! "

Penterjemahan Bahasa Inggeris kenyataan tersebut akan diterbitkan dalam blog kita dalam waktu terdekat manakala penterjemahan Bahasa Melayu akan diterbitkan pada bulan hadapan.

Kami berharap pendirian dan pandangan kami berkenaan pilihan raya kali ini yang dinyatakan dalam kenyataan tersebut dapat disebarkan dengan tepat dan meluas untuk diuji dalam kalangan rakyat semua bangsa semua strata sosial melalui penglibatan mereka dalam amalan pelbagai parti politik dalam pertempuran pilihan raya umum kali ini mahupun masa depan.

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