This was my account that I wrote a day after Bersih 3.0 which saw over 250,000 people gathered on the 28th of April 2012 to demand for free and fair elections. A year on, we face a crucial election in a week’s time that will decide the social, political and economic future of our nation…
Bar council at around 11 A.M.
Some friends and I met up with the UndiMsia bunch just in front of where #occupydataran were camped and the barricades were set. The mood was rather festive. Some five hundred people sitting around, singing ‘suara rakyat!’, playing with a giant yellow balloon, things seemed like it was gonna be a great day of demonstrations.
At 12 noon, seven of us had decided to move to masjid jamek, where thousands were gathered. While joining in with cries for clean elections, democracy and reformation, we made our way along Jalan Tun Perak to where the barricades were at the junction in front of DBKL tower. It was only 12.45pm when we got there, so we knew we were in for a long wait. As more and more people gathered, the crowd began chanting “hancur UMNO!” or “Najib pening!” or “Tumbang BN!”. Ticked off, I gave a sounding to a few people joining the voice of anti-government individuals. It was clear that many were not just here for free and fair elections. A guy next to me had an iPhone cover that said “No to UMNO, yes to PAS!”. More and more flags and shirts of political parties could be seen. By then, Azmin Ali, Nurrul Izzah and a few opposition MPs had already began addressing the crowd. In my mind I was thinking “Who the hell sent an invitation for Pakatan Rakyat to be here?”
Finally at around 2.35pm, the seven of us saw Ambiga and Anwar Ibrahim standing up on a truck to speak to the crowd. Thousands around me went crazy in applause and chants of “Hidup Rakyat!”. Partisan folk were overjoyed at the sight of their leader. From what I could make out, they were pointing out what a success Bersih 3.0 was and how the rakyat have managed to make a point in how serious we want things to be cleaned up. My friends with me heard both Ambiga and Anwar telling the crowd to disperse, as the sit-in had already accomplished its objective. This however, wasn’t what the hot, agitated and now, high-spirited crowd wanted to hear.
“KE DATARAN, WE WANT DATARAN!”
In a split second, Azmin Ali had stepped down from the truck, and a few dozen people had managed to breach the barricades. They began running straight to Dataran Merdeka, where some 8 or 9 FRU trucks were totally caught off guard. In a moment, hundreds of people had all crossed the barricades. All around us, people were rushing to join the stampede, yelling “MASUK, MASUK!”. By this time, I had already lost sight of two of my friends. I some how felt that because this I was the only one who had been to a few demonstrations including last year’s Bersih, it was my job to make sure all of us were safe. I held on to the few left, telling them to stick together. Before we could decide on which direction to move away in, a couple of shots were heard; the unmistakable sound of teargas canisters flying through the air. I struggled amongst the stampede to get to the DBKL fountain while trying to keep my camera, pull all of us together and breathe. With teargas coming from everywhere including the LRT lines above me, I knew this was far worst than anything we went through on 709.
By the time I reached the fountain, I had lost my flip flops, and all but one friend. People were literally diving into the small body of water in front of me; all while more and more teargas was released into the air. We decided to duck into a side street while people of all ages were taking refuge. The crowd was pushed into the street stalls of Masjid India, fleeing from the never-ending clouds of teargas.
When we exited the market, a few hundred others were recuperating and helping one another out with salt and water. We then decided to head back the same way we came to retrieve my flip flops. As we were doing so, the crowd started running through the tiny market lanes yelling “Polis, Polis mari!”. We moved to the side, watching the final few persons running past us provoking the police that were chasing them. I decided to stand still. One policeman was about to grab me when he realized I wasn’t one of the protestors who were provoking them. I tried to urge the 6 or 7 policeman to stop chasing because hundreds of angry protestors were waiting on the other side. To my expected horror, these hundreds of angry protestors ran back at them. Clearly outnumbered, the 6 or 7 cops literally ran for their lives. We ditched my crazy idea of getting back my slippers and we moved away from the Masjid India area with more shots of teargas being fired behind us.
A friend of ours that we lost phoned us telling us that he was at Sogo. So we asked for directions and made our way there, avoiding all the streets where people were fleeing from the police and teargas. We phoned another two friends, telling them to find their way to Sogo as well. About half an hour later, all four of us reached sogo and were looking for one more person. The crowd at Sogo was resting, sitting along the entrance of the shopping complex. Everyone seemed to be deciding what to do next or where to go. More and more people were running from every street towards Sogo where everybody was helping them with salt and water. I was on my (now) bare toes, feeling uncertain about the mass of people flooding towards our direction.
Red Crescent trucks then came through the street in front of Sogo (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman), distributing bottles of water. I kept expecting the worst to happen (crowd fighting for water, etc.). One of us grabbed a box of water and crossed the road to give it to those who hadn’t gotten any. Moments after Red Crescent left, a few Police cars and motorbikes began riding through at intervals. The crowd with us began hurling the empty water bottles and shouting profanities towards the cops in and on the vehicles. One car after another, the objects hurled became larger, with people kicking the cars as the police tried to navigate through. I told the rest to get off the sidewalk to the entrance of the mall. As I was passing a phone to one of us, he and the other two stood stunned. I peered over to see what was going on. I saw 30 metres away; a police car with a broken windscreen had lost control, went up the sidewalk and smashed into the wall of Sogo. All of us were motionless having seen the entire incident with the 3 persons being hit in the process.
Immediately, the crowd began rushing towards the crashed car. My first thought was that they are out to kill these cops, and that we’ve gotta get away from here (later i found out that some people in that crowd ran to help the victims). Grabbing the 3 others, I shook them up and said “LET’S GO, NOW.” We ran to towards the nearest street that was heading to Bandaraya LRT station. One of us was repeatedly saying “They were hit, 3 guys were hit!”. “We’ve gotta find a way out from here!”, I yelled in return. Every direction we headed had people running toward us with cops or FRU trucks chasing them. That moment was when I realized we were in the worst pickle. We ran to a Subway near to Bandaraya LRT station where there were tables and chairs outside, to think of what to do next. The street in front of us had Police on motorbikes crashing and people hurling objects at them. More cops started to rush in on foot, beating some of the provocateurs and arresting others.
To my disbelief, there were families hiding in front of Subway with senior citizens and children under the age of 8, all crying in fear. We couldn’t stay where they were because their screams were attracting attention and cops were moving in to attack and arrest anyone on the sidewalks near us. Seeing that we were totally boxed into the Protestors versus Police riot, I decided to ask a nearby policeman (who seemed to be by standing, totally uninvolved in the commotion on the street), “Bang, kita nak balik. Jalan mane yg slamat?”. He was in no talking mood. “O, Ko nak balik? Tadi dah cakap UNDUR, korang tak undur, Skarang nak balik plak?!!”. He began approaching me, with 4 or 5 other cops rushing in. He grabbed the scarf I was holding in my hand to see the logo printed on it. Just as a friend was rushing to where I was, the cop said, “KO NAK KLUAR DARI SINI KE, OK, KO IKUT KAMI!”. Two cops grabbed my arms, pulling me in their direction to arrest me. Colin got in between me and the cops, telling them “Bang, tolong la, dorang nak balik rumah je”. A few others from subway rushed in to pull me back. Distracted by the others pleading with them to leave us alone, the cops loosened their grip and I turned, walking away. “KORANG PEKAK KE?! Dah cakap undur, UNDUR!!”, one of them yelled as he pushed me from the back, hard enough to lose my balance. At that moment, God really gave me the patience to not do anything my fist was ready to.
The mothers at Subway began pleading with the cops, crying and screaming. The others begged us to change our yellow shirts. I put on my black tee and ran behind the office tower with the other three. We asked the security guard to let us into the tower’s basement car park. He obviously couldn’t. None of us could see what was going on at Sogo, which was round the corner, some 70 meters away. Next to the office tower, there was a gravel open car park. We spotted an opening in the aluminum construction wall at the end of the car park that seemed to lead to another basement car park. With no other option, we ran across the gravel, praying that no one would follow us to what could be a hiding spot. As we were running across, we could see more FRU trucks approaching, people running in all directions, and heard more shots of teargas being fired with screams following them. We sprinted towards the opening and realized it was an underground loading bay. There, 5 other persons were sitting against the wall, hiding.
I drank some water, checked my twitter feed on my phone. Already rumors were spreading about the death of the 3 who were hit by the police car. Worse to hear, two handguns belonging to policemen, were apparently missing. My mind ran wild with the possibilities of what happened after the car crashed.
KL was in utter chaos.
Surprisingly enough, the other tweets from other areas seemed to be pretty mild. It then hit me that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We then decided to hide there for an hour in hopes that the crowds would clear by then. We could still hear shouts, screams and see people running in the distance.
After an hour at around 5.10 pm, we walked out shocked to find that there were still a lot of people on the streets. Some were still chanting “Hidup Rakyat, Hidup Bersih!”. We headed back towards Dataran Merdeka, thinking that at least that area would have cleared by now. In that direction, people and motorbikes began running towards us. We ducked into another side street, and there were people on the parallel street running across our view.
It still hadn’t ended.
We navigated our way around the heated areas, avoiding Dataran Merdeka ending up in Masjid India again. I found a stall selling slippers, and had to pay RM15 for them. Walking on, we found our way to the back entrance of Masjid Jamek LRT station. Just as we entered, cops began to fire teargas towards the mob on Jalan Tun Perak outside. People began swarming into the station, so we made a quick decision and rushed down to the underground train tracks. Thank heavens the trains were running by then. We then got off at Pasar Seni at 6pm and met with the other UndiMsia peeps. We exchanged stories and they were shocked to hear all that had happened where we were.
Heading home and telling my family what I had experienced made me realize how bad things could have turned out for us. Had we not moved off the sidewalk in front of Sogo when the crowd turned into a mob, the three that were hit could have easily been us. I was so lucky as to not have stepped on a rusty nail the 3 hours that I ran around barefoot.
After reading the numerous articles and tweets when I got home, I discovered that many had not seen all that I did and were spinning the truth they didn’t know. Many were either making baseless assumptions or jokes out of all that occurred.
I strongly oppose the presence of politicians at the rally. If you wanna come as a citizen, that’s fine. However, democracy and free and fair elections does not need your ceramah and your DAP/PAS/PKR flags in an agitated crowd. I was also incredibly shocked to see the number of people who came in an anti-government spirit. All the anti-government chants, the crowd stirring, only lead to an aggressive crowd; one full of people taking bersih as an avenue to release their frustrations. We can go on about how Anwar told Azmin Ali to cross the barricades (he probably did, but people were already crossing by that time), and about how Police brutality was rampant, but from what I had witnessed, a lot of these untrained cops were becoming hostile simply in defense. Every cop I saw after 2.55pm that day had fear all over his face, definitely not sure how to handle provocateurs. Protestors went mad, all out to wage war against the cops.
So how could Bersih claim success, simply based on attendance when such a huge portion was there only to overthrow a government?
These were my thoughts then. Although only one of the eight demands have since been met by the election commission, the rally and the two before it have managed to spark constructive discussions within society on the political climate of our nation. I now see that the outcome of a democratic stand cannot be judged by what is before us, but by what is yet to come. I pray that all Malaysians remember this as they cast their votes in the coming week.