Facing Violence in GE 13
Winter is coming.
This 13th of May will not see a solemn observation of one of Malaysia’s darkest moments – it will instead feature, shockingly, the finale of a two week long Umno carnival celebration of its anniversary.
“Nightmare” is the first word that comes to mind.
Over two parts, this article will analyze the following: the landscape going into the 13th general elections, how we can expect both Pakatan Rakyat and Umno linked interests to act in the coming weeks and months in light of this landscape, some increasingly likely scenarios for election day and its aftermath including the possibility of violence, and what we can do to prevent any disasters.
Bersih 3.0 defines a large part of our current sociopolitical landscape.
Especially relevant to this discussion are the massive turnout of hundreds of thousands of people and the now available videos of “protester violence”.
Beyond the events of the 28th of April, there is the rapid disintegration of public confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.
Put quite simply: barring significant electoral reforms, a very significant proportion of Malaysians will – and I will be generous enough this time to add ‘rightly or wrongly’ – doubt the integrity of the results of the next General Elections if Barisan Nasional wins.
Before examining Umno, let’s take a look at the other side of the fence.
This article is largely about worst case scenarios, so let’s employ the same approach for Pakatan Rakyat.
To put it extremely crudely (with apologies), some might say that seeing the immense masses turn up on the streets for Bersih 3.0 would give some leaders a serious hard on.
Some might go so far as to think: “Hmm, if these many people are willing to go down to the streets because they believe elections will be unfair…….”
Before long, some will start imagining the ‘glory days’ of Reformasi times. After all, if this many protest the possibility of electoral fraud, how many will come out if they can be persuaded that an election was indeed stolen?
They may even ask – how many can I persuade to come out on the streets demanding that Pakatan be declared winners of the election?
(To be fair, I doubt those leading Pakatan would be so foolish as to pursue such an agenda. We merely examine for the sake of thoroughness these worst case scenarios.)
Besides the considerable number of party supporters, I think another sizeable chunk of Malaysian society will not be hard to persuade, especially – and this is a very, very real possibility – if the election was in actual fact, stolen.
Signalling an intention to cheat
Some ten days before Bersih 3.0, legislation was surreptitiously passed in the dead of night that actually makes it easier for the ruling party to cheat and steal an election.
This was perhaps one of the most under-discussed controversies we faced, and remains an alarming signal that the authorities are not fooling around with their intentions to cheat.
This was not a haphazard, to maybe be used “in case of emergency” type of thing. Some very bad people sat down, and put in extremely meticulous, careful thought about how an election can be stolen.
Of course, we now learn that the amendments have been repealed due to public pressure.
We note Minister Nazri Aziz’s statement that the government was just a “postman”, and unaware of the content of the amendments they sent to be passed as law.
If this is our government’s attitude towards the laws that define our nation, then they are quite frankly even more incompetent than I thought. What sort of fool sends a bill to parliament without knowing its contents?
Next they’ll be carrying suitcases full of cash or worse through airports, saying “Oh, what’s that in there? Goodness me, I had no idea, some guy just asked me to carry this through as a favour. Terribly sorry, old chap.”
The men who plan the nightmare
Let’s examine now the BN reaction to some of the scenarios above, especially if there is evidence of a stolen election, and attendant street protests.
Some will wonder whether PM Najib Razak is capable of the nightmare scenarios I will describe below.
In answer to this, we need only consider a profound, if simple, idea that Tolkien articulated: we do not control power, power controls us.
Should there be a change of government, many very prominent, very powerful, and very entrenched elements fear a loss not only of standing and wealth, but of livelihood and their very ability to walk the streets as free men.
Imagine someone having spent a lifetime robbing a country blind; or actually having blood on their hands from all the dirty deeds you have done.
I am thinking here of a whole bunch of formers: Prime Ministers, Finance Ministers, Inspectors General of Police, CEOs, the list goes on.
These are not men who give a rat’s ass what Najib is willing or unwililng to do, or what he is strong enough or not strong enough to do. These are men who will effortlessly pull the strings of a Prime Minister that was weak to begin with, to ensure their own survival.
Observe some recent developments – firstly, Mahathir Mohamad comments that BN needs a strong government to bring back the ISA, his favourite symbol of unchallengable, supposedly “Malay” power (a tool which, among many absurd things, is necessary to prevent the formation of a Communist government with the return of Chin Peng. I must say this fearmonger needs a better, more up to date, script writer).
Secondly, in a move that is just as mind boggingly illogical, Najib appoints former Inspector General of Police Hanif Omar to oversee the investigation into violent incidents on April 28th.
Once again, we have cops investigating their brother cops. The bullshit the government wants you to buy: “Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest?… Nolah, where got?…”
I can hardly imagine a clearer signalling that the old guard seeks to return to power than this recent tale of two Tuns.
The men I imagine and their associates are not men who will willingly face any type of genuine justice. These are men who will protect themselves and their power, at any cost – any cost whatsoever.
Replacing the carrot with the stick
These are not men who balk at violence either. These are men to whom other men are but pawns.
They would steal an election without batting an eyelid; they would do far worse without batting much more.
No one knows what will happen, but let’s say Pakatan leaders decide to react to an election with clear signs of fraudulence by taking to the streets, bringing as many of the rakyat with them as they can.
What do you think will happen next?
I very much doubt the powers that be will capitulate. I think they will retaliate.
Warm ups have already begun. With the May 13th Umno celebrations this year, it is becoming increasingly clear that those around Najib are pushing a very simple message: For 4 years you tried the carrot. It didn’t work. It’s time for the stick.
Incidents such as described by Chang Lih Kang recently seem to increasingly be the norm – where the fires of racism and hatred are openly fanned by civil servants who are supposed to be neutral (a condition not entirely fulfilled by, say, the Election Commission chiefs). The underlying message is as simple as it is crude: behave and yield to our dominion, or we will beat the shit out of you.
Resisting Violence in GE13
Violence has a tendency to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In part one of this article, we looked at how the crisis of confidence in our electoral system sets off a chain of events that ends in a situation wherein the powerful will have many temptations to employ violence as a means to retain power. Today, we start by examining how violence may be engineered.
My feeling is that plans are already in place to use extremely selective video footage from Bersih 3.0 in an attempt to incept into people’s minds the notion that voting against BN will lead to violence on the streets.
Possibly both before and after the elections, with one hand the powers that be will release the Malaysian equivalent of the Nazi brownshirts – gangsters who specialise in intimidating political opponents (a group that has had much practice and warm up exercises in anti-government political ceramahs throughout Malaysia recently, targeting the likes of Nurul Izzah) – into the public, instigating mass violence, and brutal clashes with any street protesters challenging fraudulent electoral results.
With the other hand, they may thereafter send in the men with guns – the police and perhaps the military – to ‘restore order’, possibly paving the way for another Emergency declaration (after all, was that not the backdrop to the rise to power of our current PM’s father?).
Should this come to pass, God forbid, blood may run in the streets, while fear runs rampant in society.
Given how our media is severely restricted and unquestionably biased, public opinion will be divided sharply over who is to blame.
What can we do?
Faced with the possibility of this nightmare, the question then becomes: what are citizens of conscience to do?
When I first started reflecting on this, the dilemma seemed very real.
On the one hand, one does not want to be the pawn of any political party – much less so if it will result in falling into a trap of violence set by the powers that be.
On the other, it is equally unjust to allow our very country to be stolen from underneath our noses.
A moral strategy
Far and away the best possible outcome still within reach is for the government to overhaul the electoral system before the next general elections.
We’re talking here about replacing the entire leadership of the Electoral Commission, appointing truly independent individuals to helm the commission, and postponing the elections until Bersih’s recommendations can be implemented.
If we can ensure free and fair elections, the nation will be spared the terrible fate it may otherwise have to face.
Should we find ourselves with a clean system, then all parties must commit fully to accepting the results of the election, one way or another.
Of course, no one is holding their breath waiting for this to happen. Thus, we are compelled to examine other contingencies.
Should there be compelling evidence that the powers that be have stolen an election and refuse to yield power, then the streets must be considered as an option.
Nevertheless, there is more than one way to go down to the streets.
Consistent objective: Clean and fair elections
First and foremost, one must clearly articulate the goal of any street protest (lest we face the problems of direction and achievable goals faced, say, by the Occupy movement). If Pakatan leaders demand that they be declared the winner of the elections, this will give any protest far too partisan a bent, even for my tastes.
In order to keep the battle focused and to dispel any single possibility of moral ambiguity, I posit that the right thing to demand for is for fresh elections to be held under new leadership of the Elections Commission.
The underlying point is this – the government must be elected cleanly in a democratic fashion. As citizens, we must accept any winner of an election, given the crucial condition that those elections are clean and fair.
Thus, it is not our duty to demand that any one party be installed into power; it is, however, our duty to our nation, our children and ourselves to demand that whichever government is elected is elected fairly.
If all involved take the position that fresh elections under a truly independent Elections Commission need to be held in light of proven electoral fraud, then I believe we will gain both the support of the majority, and an unassailable moral high ground.
These two factors are assets that, in my view, make or break a social movement.
Shaping creative, non-violent resistance
Next we must consider method.
How we choose to protest will determine the outcome of the movement.
Our goals should be to find ways to minimise the possibility of any acts of violence that are committed in the name of the movement (note that violence may nearly be inevitable, due to factors entirely outside our control – not least the likelihood that agent provocateurs will be employed).
In addition to traditional methods of protest, should we face the nightmares outlined above, we must also consider less traditional methods.
The sit-in concept of 28th April is a great starting point. What violence can someone commit while sitting down?
To go even further, we need to consider effective ways for people to participate who might otherwise not go down to the streets.
Chief among these that come to mind is a hartal – a general strike.
Excepting emergency services and such, a widespread strike would prove a crippling blow.
No one can be arrested or beaten if he or she decides they have a cold or family emergency that prevents them from going to work.
Should this idea gain traction however – the impact to the nation and its signal as to the illegitimacy of the election cannot possibly be understated.
It is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of viable methods, but I provide the above to give a directional idea.
There are various political solutions that could potentially provide some stability in the aftermath of a stolen election.
It is not viable to discuss them all in detail, but they generally pivot on (the somewhat unlikely event of) having sufficient parliamentarians of conscience and may involve the controversial notion of crossovers and such.
In fact, I believe the choice of BN candidates in these elections will pivot largely on an unwavering loyalty to Najib personally – precisely to stave off any such coup situation.
This will be a defining moment for the rest of the BN component parties as well – and perhaps quite literally their very last opportunity in history to redeem what little is left of their honour.
It will be a time where we look deep into their hearts and souls, and see whether they are indeed irreparably ruled by corruption and greed, or whether some iota of decency and sense of duty to a conscientious democracy may yet redeem them.
Facing down nightmares
The days we face ahead of us may be dark days indeed; it will test us all severely, in very many ways – it will probably test those in politics most of all.
For when push comes to shove, the nation and the world will be watching all political actors closely – it is a time when we will differentiate the visionaries from the short sighted, and the statesmen from the politicians.
It will be a time when we too are tested – as citizens, and as human beings of conscience. A fire comes that will forge and define the type of nation we will endure or enjoy for generations to come. In this hour of reckoning,