By Clara Chooi
KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — Umno deputy minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has continued to differ with his party on last month’s Bersih 3.0 rally, openly declaring in his column in Sinar Harian today that he disagreed the event was aimed at ousting the government or linked to communism.
The outspoken leader also disputed the comparisons drawn between the rally for free and fair elections and the Arab Spring, insisting that the factors that had led to the uprising in the Middle East do not exist here.
“I disagree if Bersih 3.0 is accused of having communist influences or that it wants to topple the government through street protests.
“Even more inaccurate if it is likened to the Arab Spring. This is because the factors that led to the Arab Spring do not exist here,” Saifuddin (picture) said in his column published in Malay daily Sinar Harian today.
After the Bersih 3.0 “sit-in” rally on April 28, many prominent Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders spoke out against the event, with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak even alleging that it was aimed at toppling the current administration.
Apart from Najib, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and three former top policemen had also come out to claim that Bersih 2.0, the polls watchdog that organised the rally, had planned to oust the government through the event.
Among the three former police officers was Tun Hanif Omar, who said that communist sympathisers were involved in the rally.
Hanif was later appointed by the government to head a six-man independent panel tasked to investigate the violent clashes during the sit-in.
Saifuddin stressed today that it was important that leaders make the effort to air fair and truthful views regarding Bersih 3.0 by watching all videos, writings, feedback and post-mortem reports from a variety of sources, “including from those who do not share our leanings”.
He said, however, that despite his views, he does not support Bersih 2.0 and had disagreed with the group’s plan to march on April 28 without allowing enough time for the government and authorities to implement the 22 recommendations made by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reforms, a bipartisan panel mooted by Najib.
But, the Umno supreme council member gave a reminder that the turnout for Bersih 3.0 was even larger than last year’s July 9 rally and more multiracial.
“The youths, including graduates, were many. Even more interesting was the involvement of the middle class,” he said.
Saifuddin pointed out that many of those who participated this year had objectives other than the rally’s demand for free and fair polls, such as their support for the opposition’s call to abolish the PTPTN federal student loan scheme and to scrap Lynas Corp’s controversial rare earth plant in Kuantan.
He reasoned that there were vast differences between the majority who participated peacefully in the rally and the groups that caused unwanted incidents, as well as the police who carried out their duties professionally and those who behaved oddly, even towards the media.
In this context, said Saifuddin, the results of Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections’ recent survey on the coming polls were relevant.
According to the study, 49 per cent of voters have already decided to choose BN while 21 per cent will vote for Pakatan Rakyat (PR). The remaining 30 per cent of voters are fence-sitters.
“Some of these fence-sitters are the youths and the middle class. There are those among them who joined Bersih 3.0,” he pointed out. “This study was done before the event. What would the present situation be like?”
“Bersih 3.0 is not the Arab Spring. It is also not anti-(Ferdinand) Marcos or anti-Suharto or even pro-Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said, referring to fallen dictatorships in the Philippines and Indonesia and Myanmar’s opposition leader.
“However, this does not mean we can do whatever we like. Instead, we must be careful.”