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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

SELAK: The Review

Selak: Bersih's Journey towards clean and fair electionsBy: Faisal Mustaffa Publisher: REFSA, 72 pages

ISBN: 9789834372217

Review by V. PRASAD

THE Malaysian coffee table book is a thing of beauty is it not? Very often we are treated to a series of well-taken photographs and sycophantic text that put a gloss on a product that may or may not deserve the dazzling array of positive adjectives showered upon it.

Well, Selak is not your typical coffee table book.

There can be no doubt that over the last 12 months, public demonstrations such as Bersih, HINDRAF and the Bar Council marches have offered Malaysians an outlet for political and social expression. Last week's protest against the fuel price hike indicates that this phenomenon is not about to die down in the near future.

Selak is a book that captures the effort and co-ordination it took to paralyse the nation's capital on November 10, 2007 when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the name of clean and fair elections and sought to present a memorandum to the King.

What impact this action had on the general election that followed four months later is of course debatable, but there is no doubt that the Bersih rally was an important day in Malaysia's political history.

The very purpose of Bersih's coming together was rooted in controversy, as it essentially stemmed from an expression of a lack of confidence in our Election Commission, not just by the three main opposition parties (PKR, DAP and PAS) but by a wide range of non-governmental organisations.

The flash-points of Bersih are well-captured in this book put together under the auspice of one of Bersih's co-ordinators, Faisal Mustaffa. We see how the loose coalition built up momentum through 2007's by-elections at Batu Talam, Machap and Ijok as well as through a series of workshops and conferences.

What this book does is actually give readers an insight into the logistics of such an undertaking ... in other words, we get to see that as far as Bersih's organisers are concerned, they were not trouble-makers out to disrupt this country's operations, but concerned citizens taking proactive steps to express their frustration with the electoral process.

Whether or not one agrees with the rationale for the Bersih rally or the manner in which it was executed, its background certainly makes for fascinating reading and the hundreds of photos tell a story of their own. That the text of Selak comes in two languages (Bahasa Malaysia and English) simply adds to its appeal.

Still there are some flaws in the book, not least of which is a series of typos on page 16, and at RM60, it might prove to be a little pricey. However as a document of political activism in an era of reform and change, it makes for compelling reading.

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