How Maria’s Sosma detention saved Bersih 5

How Maria’s Sosma detention saved Bersih 5

COMMENT As some have said, Bersih 5 was a flop in many ways, most visibly by the turnout which was considerably smaller than the 100,000-strong touted.

By Malaysiakini’s own reckoning, 40,000 was on the ground that day, though police said there were only 15,000, and some other media estimated even fewer than that.

The fatigue of strenuous politicising had made things difficult perhaps as Bersih, more and more, seemed at times deviated from its purely non-partisan path, in particular the appearance on the podium by former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a polarising figure.

This probably turned off quite a few of those who once ardently stood in the NGO’s corner. Though in spirit perhaps, they still hold the thumbs up.

And as the experiment with the TangkapMO1 rally showed, interest from the public was at its lowest ebb. Which made large-scale demonstrations something difficult to pull off quite well.

But symbolically, it was a victory of sorts for bridging the racial divide – while Bersih 4 was labelled as being dominated by the Chinese minority, this time around it was less marked.

Though I personally believe, in Malaysia at least, to mobilise 40,000 demonstrators, is a success itself.

But all that aside, Bersih 5 would have not made the splash it did and given the sustained media coverage worldwide had Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah not been detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma).

Had authorities arrested her and released her with all the rest, it would have not put much of a wrinkle on what most people already expected.

After all, it is standard modus operandi for authorities to arrest the usual suspects and harass rally organisers to frighten all the rest.

Tempered with the professional conduct of cops on the rally day itself, the pre-emptive arrests and raids mounted would have just been seen but not quite noted.

But by continuing to detain Maria under Sosma, a law more suited to suspects linked to terror threats, the government is making her a martyr and turning it into a rallying point for Bersih’s cause.

And stories about her sleeping on only a wooden pallet without blankets nor mattress, under lights that won’t go out, either true or exaggerated, would help to build sympathy.

Every day that Maria spends inside her solitary cell is another beating of the drum in Bersih’s name.

Hundreds of new recruits will now walk in her stead and thousands more will support a cause they would earlier ignore.

And instead of shining brightly for one glorious moment and then disappearing back into the oblivion of Malaysia’s short-term public consciousness, the Bersih 5 rally continues to live in media coverage, as well as the tributes and vigils held for Maria.

And instead of just the usual “rabble rousing” foreign media like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Maria’s visage now graces a page on Time magazine and other foreign reports.

While locally, whatever a certain minister would say, she is a hero that the people will now look up to.

And so it came to pass that for better or for worse, instead of discouraging more dissent, authorities are stoking the fires themselves.

How Maria’s Sosma detention saved Bersih 5
26 Nov 2016 – malaysiakini


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