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Analysts warn Bersih about rally fatigue

by August 5, 2016 General

Participants of the Bersih 4 rally cheer on as they gather in Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2015. — Picture by Kamles KumarParticipants of the Bersih 4 rally cheer on as they gather in Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2015. — Picture by Kamles KumarKUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 — The Bersih 5 rally planned some time this year may suffer a poorer turnout than the Bersih 4 protest last August due to political fatigue and bad timing, some analysts say.

“I strongly suspect (the turnout) will be less than last year,” Dr Oh Ei Sun, a Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Malay Mail Online, citing “fatigue and futility” as the main reason.

Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 announced Wednesday that they will hold a Bersih 5 rally at an unspecified date and venue later this year, after the United States Department of Justice’s announcement that they would seize assets worth more than US$1 billion (RM4.03 billion), which they allege are linked to funds from state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The fifth instalment of Bersih 2.0’s street protests would come just about one year after the Bersih 4 demonstration last August, which the group said attracted 500,000 people, that had demanded action on the long-running 1MDB controversy and also called for institutional reforms.

“I think the passion for change has largely dissipated after the futility of the last elections and the 505 (May 5 2013) rally,” Oh said.

“People did not even bother to go back to vote during the recent by-elections despite 1MDB,” he added

The Singapore-based political analyst acknowledged that there is anger among the people, but they have no channel to express it.

“Almost all urban areas went for opposition already, almost impossible to squeeze out more seats, and rural seats remain solidly Umno or PAS,” he added further.

Dr Faisal Hazis, associate professor at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, also expressed skepticism with what Bersih 5 would achieve.

He said that any momentum created by Bersih 5 currently would be ineffective with the general election not due for another two years.

“It is very difficult to maintain the momentum. You can’t keep the momentum for two years. What they can do is to do small tea parties in small groups to explain the issues at hand, especially in rural areas, and then hold a major rally closer to the elections as a climax,” he said.

“I would like to see Bersih have a clear objective of what message they want to send. I believe (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) is already explaining 1MDB to the rural folks and he still has some traction among the Malay voters. So they do not need to duplicate this,” he added, referring to the former prime minister.

PKR and former Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said last month that they would go on a roadshow to explain the 1MDB issue to the grassroots, particularly rural residents.

Faisal said that the turnout for the new rally, without effective inroads, would consist of the same urban crowd that had attended Bersih 2.0’s previous rallies.

He also said that Bersih 2.0’s objectives must be broader than 1MDB — such as comprehensive electoral reforms that still need drastic work.

Independent analyst Khoo Kay Peng, however, believes that it is too early to judge the effectiveness of Bersih 2.0’s campaign this time around.

“They started early this time and they have said that they will be doing a series of roadshows first across the country. We need to see how effective this is. It is too early for either of us to judge the effectiveness,” he added.

He also said that the timing for Bersih 5 is right because elections might be called earlier than expected and that the turnout could also be big if all potential stakeholders throw their weight behind the rally.

“There are the opposition parties and also Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s camp — if all these stakeholders come in, you might see a good turnout,” he added.

Since the last Bersih rally, which saw a surprise cameo by Dr Mahathir, the veteran politician quit Umno, started working with other opposition and civil society figures, and is now setting up his own political party to take on Barisan Nasional (BN) in the next national polls.

The formation of the new party, along with several other former Umno rebels who have left the part in the wake of the 1MDB controversy, are touted to form a “grand coalition” with the new opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan for the elections.

Bersih 2.0 has said that it will hold roadshows in order to explain the agenda and motive behind Bersih 5 throughout the country before culminating in the rally proper.