“The police’s heavy-handed response made protesters feel as if they were being attacked, which was maybe why the situation spiralled out of control”
At the start of the day, everything was quite calm. The police almost seemed like they had been sent from a public relations department. They bade you good morning and smiled when they greeted you. Then, at around 3pm, it seemed almost as if we were faced with a completely different police force. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The level of aggression was not surprising, it was shocking.I was about 200 or 300 metres away from the frontline near Independence Square when the teargas was fired. I was in an area that was packed with other protesters, and it soon became clear that the police were not holding their ground at the square, but entering into the crowds. I was at a store with friends buying water when we were hit by the teargas. It starts as a smell and then, if you’ve been exposed for a while, you can feel it filling your lungs. It’s quite potent. I wasn’t hit by a water cannon, but I saw them. They were firing them indiscriminately, even in touristic areas.I think the police’s heavy-handed response made protesters feel as if they were being attacked, which could explain why the situation spiralled out of control on both sides. There is a video of demonstrators attacking a lone police car as it drives through a crowd of people before smashing into a wall, which took place after the police had attempted to break up the demonstration. While I don’t condone any violence on behalf of the protesters, I also think the police should be asking themselves why this vehicle entered such a dense area without any backup. The police had aerial support, and they could have alerted the driver or other police officers that he was going to need reinforcement. It makes me ask, what was that car doing there alone in the first place? I think it was done to provoke the protesters.This is the third mass protest Bersih has organised since 2007 to demand electoral reforms. This time the calls were repeated to pressure the election commission to fulfil a number of promised reforms ahead of the upcoming general elections. One of the key demands was that the chairman and deputy chairman of the election commission resign, because they are card-carrying members of the United Malays National Organisation, which is one of the parties that make up the ruling coalition. It’s a problem of perception. If you are both a member of the ruling party and the election commission then it’s difficult for people to see you as being impartial, and ultimately, the public loses its confidence in the system. I personally feel as though the election commission is not serious about its commitment to electoral reform. Voters are also very concerned about the level of corruption within the ruling coalition as well as basic issues such as inflation, the rising cost of living and stagnant wages.