The busy junction in front of the Puduraya bus terminal became the focal point of yesterday’s protest as crowds snowballed from 500 in nearby Petaling Street at 12.40pm to a whopping 10,000 just half an hour later.
And while the protesters faced off with the police at Jalan Pudu, just round the corner, mere metres away an estimated thousand more were turned away from the original planned gathering point Stadium Merdeka, which was barricaded by police with barbed wire.
But with so many obstacles in place and the entire city practically locked down with roadblocks and closure of key LRT stations, how did the protesters give the police the slip and organised themselves?
The answer, perhaps, is still a mystery to Bersih 2.0 and possibly even the police who had placed much of its strength at key rally points in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Pasar Seni, Masjid Jamek and Masjid Negara, leaving Petaling Street relatively unguarded.
Petaling Street catalyst
Having conducted mass arrests at pre-announced gathering points in Masjid Negara, the old railway station nearby, Sogo and Masjid Jamek, the police somehow left Petaling Street alone where the protest grew.
Small clusters had gathered at the Chinatown market as early as 11am when suddenly, applause broke and the group started marching.
As the group crossed Jalan Tan Cheng Lock and further down to Jalan Petaling, it grew from 500 to 1,000, believed to include another few hundreds that were chased out from Masjid Negara, Pasar Seni and Dayabumi building.
As they moved down Jalan Petaling, the group, by chance, was bolstered by PAS supporters who had escaped arrest in the area around Masjid Jamek and Masjid India.
Within 15 minutes, the march had snowballed to about 4,000 people, clogging up the entire stretch of Jalan Sultan, about 750m away from Stadium Merdeka.
By then, the procession had taken a rather carnival-like atmosphere, with urbanites carrying flowers and Malaysian flags, singing songs and chanting “Bersihkan Piliharaya” (Clean up the election).
Young, multiracial crowd
Notably, the crowd was made up of many Malaysians in their 20s who were first-time demonstrators.
Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent research house Merdeka Centre, dubbed this group as the Facebook generation.
“Other than the usual opposition supporters, I noticed a lot of newcomers this rally. This may signify that Bersih 2.0 has managed to spark something through Facebook to galvanise this kind of support,” said Ibrahim, who had also walked yesterday.
While several marshalls were spotted, the crowd mostly moved organically, strangely stopping at corner of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Tun HS Lee when they could have marched all the way up to the stadium to confront the riot police defending the historical landmark.
Herd mentality somehow led the crowd of 4,000 to Jalan Tun Perak, where about 1,000 from Masjid Jamek who had gathered in front of the Maybank tower, near the recently renovated Puduraya bus station.
It was then that the first real leader of the demonstration emerged in the form of PAS election director and former Bersih steering committee member Dr Hatta Ramli, who ominously announced on loudspeaker, “If you have a yellow shirt, this is the time to put it on.”
A diverse group, one common cause
Moments later, the first barrage of tear gas began raining in and pandemonium broke lose.
Tens of thousands of people started running towards Puduraya while those on the hill slope by the Maybank building climbed gates to get as far away from the stinging gas as possible, crowding a fountain to wash their faces.
The tear gas split the group into two, one which regrouped at Jalan Pudu where a protracted stand-off with the police took place, while the remainder joined a smaller crowd from Kuala Lumpur Selangor Assembly Hall which had earlier marched to Stadium Merdeka.
In the end, this Bersih 2.0 group led by national laureateA Samad Saidmanaged to get only several hundred meters away from the Istana before they were stopped, failing thus to hand over their the movement’s petition to the Agong.
But despite being foiled from its original plan, Bersih 2.0 had succeeded in getting ordinary Malaysians from all walks of life – from the trendies to the skull-cap wearing conservatives – to come together for a common cause.
And unlike other protests before, it was a multiracial crowd that at 4pm, when unexpectedly informed that police would allow them to march to Jalan Sultan, it was met by rounds of “thank you” and the crowd broke into an impromptu rendition of the national anthem.
In comparison, Malaysiakini reporter Ahmad Fadzly Esa reported that only 20 Perkasa members were spotted for their “stroll” in Taman Titiwangsa lakes, when they had initially promised about 15,000 for a counter-rally. The group had called it off after failing to secure a police permit.
Meanwhile, a counter rally by Umno Youth in Bukit Bintang attracted 500 ‘patriots’, slightly over a third of the 1,400 people arrested yesterday.
On the same note, police brutality remains a concern as heavy-handed measures were employed to disperse what was a peaceful march until the water cannons and tear gas were deployed.
Bleeding protestors were carted off by police personnel, while a man spotted on the ground with a fracture and his wrists bound in police-issued plastic handcuffs.
He had boot marks on his pants and claimed that several police personnel had pinned him to the ground and kicked his leg.
The police brutality will remain fresh in the minds of many over the coming weeks and would likely undermine many of the government’s transformation policies which are gradually being rolled out.