Where were you during Bersih 3.0?

It's an open secret that elections in Malaysia are not very fair or clean. If anybody said otherwise they are either brainwashed BN supporters, blissfully ignorant, naive or just delusional. For starters the electoral roll is marred with irregularities such as deceased persons and multiple persons registered under a single address or non-existent addresses. Postal ballots are not transparent, the opposition didn't have fair access to the government controlled mainstream media and public institutions such as the judiciary, attorney-general, MACC, police and the Election Commission didn't act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy.

It took me two Bersih rallies to finally get my lazy ass to the 3rd one. Previously I've been only giving a running commentary from the comfort and safety of my home. This time I thought I wouldn't forgive myself if I missed Bersih 3.0.

So a week before the planned rally, I contacted my Twitter friends and we made plans to go to the party together. I felt much more confident this time since the government for once didn't go all out and declare war on the rally-goers. Instead they just wash they hands off and let DBKL take all heat. A day before the Bersih 3.0 they were granted a court order to declare Dataran Merdeka off limits to the public the next day. Which is ironic because Dataran Merdeka, translated literally to Independence Square is now not really independent or accessible to the people anymore.

I started off around 10:30 that fine Saturday morning. My wife like any other normal wives had her fair share of reservations about me going there. It's not like she's against Bersih per se, she's just worried about my safety. Still after much assurance, I convinced my wife that everything would be okay and I should come back around tea.

Since I expect most of the road leading to Dataran Merdeka or KL in general will be closed, I took the LRT to get to my destination. From Sri Petaling, I can already see a lot of yellow-clad people alighting the train. When I got to the Masjid Jamek station in downtown KL around 11:00 AM, the streets were already filled with Bersih participants. The atmosphere this time was generally calm and peaceful. People were just loitering around with many making their way to the cordoned off Dataran Merdeka.

I made my way leisurely to Central Market which was to be our meeting point. Along the way I stopped by the Bar Council building to say hi to the Occupy Dataran campers who were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street and similar movements in the west.

Most of my friends were already camped in front of Restoran Yusoof right next to Central Market when I got there. Whoever said that Bersih would disrupt business and cause untold loss others should see how most open food establishment made a roaring business from the sudden surge in visitors.

By only 11:00 am there were already an estimated 10,000 people on the streets surrounding Dataran Merdeka with many more rally goers arriving and making their way from various parts of the city to the square.

Unlike last time also, the police were well behave and stood in groups to watch. Well at least that's what they did initially.

From Central Market we made our way to Dataran Merdeka. At least we tried. By noon, the crowd was so huge it was nearly impossible to move any further than the Masjid Jamek LRT station. Besides the Dataran was surrounded with razor wire and large number of cops anyway so there's no point going there.

So we hang around Masjid Jamek area most of the time. That day there were no Malays, Chinese, Indians or any other race. That Saturday we were just Malaysian demanding our right for free and fair election.

The atmosphere was jovial and calm throughout much of the rally. People were chanting bersih-bersih and hidup rakyat and sometimes interluded with reformasi and stop Lynas. By the 2:00 o' clock there were at least 100,000 people on the street, that is by a modest estimate. Some say they're between 150,000 and 250,000 of crowd all over Kuala Lumpur. Whatever the number is, they're definitely not just 25,000 like they claim on TV. The crowd was so huge that by the time of the actual sit in was supposed to start some of us had only standing room.

The rally stayed peaceful even after the politicians started to show up. Some insisted that we must not let politicians hijacks this Bersih rally but I disagree. Without this political parties and their followers, we wouldn't have such a large turnout. Say what you like but Bersih is about politics and we need the politicians to make it happen.

Around 4:00 PM the first signs of violence started to show. Suddenly the crowd started to walk away from Dataran Merdeka and from a distance I can see thick white tear gas smoke billowing to our direction.

While the crowd started to run away from the square, I was busy taking pictures and video recording of the surrounding. It wasn't until minutes later than I started to feel the full effect of the tear gas. My throat hurts and my eyes hurts even more. It felt like somebody sprayed pepper straight into my eyes. I did prepare myself with a pinch of salt from home but unfortunately that didn't help much. And since I've ran out of water, I didn't have anything to wash my eyes or my face.

Lucky for me a few of my fellow demonstrators offered me some salt and water to help ease the pain. I didn't know whether to eat or rub the salt to my face so I did both which seemed to work.

By this time I was completely separated from my friends which I met earlier. Most of the 100,000 strong crowd started to disperse and make their way home after the first dozen canisters of tear gas fired. Some stayed to either watch or show their defiance against the cops. I know better than to hang around any longer so I made my way to the nearest LRT station.

The Plaza Rakyat station next to Pudu Sentral was completely packed with people. The ticket counter queue was a mile long so I thought I'd go take the train instead. The cops apparently were enjoying themselves tear-gassing the dispersing crowd and I can definitely feel the dreadful effect of the gas in the air around Kotaraya and Petaling Street. I tried to board a train at the Pasar Seni station but I found out they were still closed just like Masjid Jamek. So I had no choice but to walk another mile to the Kuala Lumpur railyway station.

There I had to queue for another half hour just to buy tickets. When my turns come, the ticketing machine could only accepts coins but lucky for me a stranger just behind me offered his coins for me. About 45 minutes later I made it safe and sound to the Serdang KTM station where my wife came to pick me up. Next time remind me to top up my Touch n Go card before I join any rallies again.

It was not until I was on board the train that I found out about the ongoing violence in the city center. Maybe Anwar or Azmin was guilty for instigating the crowd to breach the cordoned off area. Maybe it was some special branch officers who broke into the fence, we''ll never know. Whatever it is, I still think they shouldn't have closed the area in the first place. Had they allowed us to sit in peacefully in Dataran Merdeka, those unnecessary violence wouldn't have happened. Another thing, 98% of the rally goers were completely well-behaved and peaceful so there's absolutely no reason why the cops need to beat up those harmless crowd senseless. You should watch some of the video going around Youtube of police brutality. It's sickening.

One more thing, throughout the 4 hours rally, I couldn't get any data connection at all on my smartphone. Rumors had it, the cops had some sort of frequency jammer turned on at the vicinity to block out mobile Internet. Either that or all the local telcos decided to go down mysteriously at the same exact moment which is rather fishy to me. Whatever it is, somebody really didn't want any live coverage of the rally to go out that day, including those police brutality.

Despite being marred by violence towards the end, I must say Bersih 3.0 rally was a resounding success. This rally succeeded in calling Malaysians of all races, believes and age towards a common good cause. I'm convinced all 100,000 people who came out to the streets that day have made up their mind on who to vote during the next general election. What's more just think of the number of people - friends and family members that they'll influence along the way.

Whatever it is I for one thing am very proud to be part of this historic event. If one day my kids or grandchildren asks me where were you during Bersih 3.0? I would proudly say that I was amongst the 100,000 being tear-gassed by the BN government. Yes maybe the government would still turn a blind eye and our pleas fall on deaf ears but I still believe in the power of the people. If the first Bersih rally helped to bring about change in 5 states and swept the country with a political tsunami just think about what these 2 recent rallies would help to bring. Maybe I won't get to see the effect of Bersih any time soon or in the near future. Heck maybe I might not see the effect in this lifetime but hopefully they will come eventually. I did all this so that my children doesn't have to do this. I don't mind if BN or any other political parties win the election. I just want them to win it fairly.