Mandeep Singh was one of the longest-serving staff at The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH). He was a key driver of the BERSIH Secretariat during a critical period in the movement’s history, especially in the run-up to the Bersih 3, 4 and 5 rallies. Since moving on from BERSIH after the 2018 General Election, he has held various roles in the political, consultancy, and international NGO sectors.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and brought up in a small town called Kalumpang in the district of Hulu Selangor. My primary school was in Methodist Tanjung Malim. Secondary school, Methodist Tanjung Malim. I did my Form 6 in SMK Khir Johari, Tanjung Malim. And then I continued my Bachelor[‘s] Degree in Universiti Industri Selangor, back then; now it is Universiti Selangor. I studied Industrial Management. And my first job in 2009 was with CityBank Malaysia. After I graduated, I did my internship in Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad. And then I started working on 7 September 2009; I joined CityBank Malaysia Berhad in Jalan Ampang, where I joined as an Executive Officer, and then I was promoted to an Assistant Manager, before I left my corporate life in February 2012. I worked there for about 3 years, basically about 29 months. I left February 2012 and then in 1st of March 2012, I officially joined BERSIH 2.0 as a secretariat member.

But throughout that journey, I was actively involved in political activism. I was [in] a campaign for the anti-ISA movement (Gerakan Mansuh ISA, GMI). It all started when I got two friends who were detained under the ISA, back then. And that’s how my activism [got] triggered. Among my early days in activism was campaigning against ISA together with SUARAM. I got to know about human rights, democracy, and all this political stuff. I was not that active as a student activist but we did campaign here and there, of course political campaign, you know.

You mentioned two friends that were detained under ISA, who were they and why were they detained?

This was [when] they were detained in, I think, July 2007. They were not political activists or not politically linked. They were detained for allegedly being involved in international spy. There was a case if you look back, 2007, I don’t know how many of them were detained, but one was my really good friend. They were detained as ejen perisik asing for some alleged kidnapping of people from Malaysia and sent back to Thailand. Because if you know, after what happened in Tak Bai, a lot of the wilayah pemisah activists, they ran to Malaysia. So the allegation was their involvement in that bringing back this Thai nationals, sending them to Thailand back. But again, ISA… it’s all allegation, right? So, friend of mine who was tortured till (almost) paralysed, but now sudah okay lah. But when he was detained, he was really a tough guy, a mechanic guy, but when he walked out from Kamunting (Detention Centre) door, he was on wheelchair. He was literally on wheelchair, tak boleh angkat tangan, kaki, semua, but touch wood, you know? He has recovered over time. So, that was the beginning of my political awareness. Later, I got to know some student activists like Adam Adli, Syukri (Razak), Adam, Haziq (Abdul Aziz), Ehsan (Bukhari), Hilman (Idham), Khalid Ismath. Some of them were protesting at my hometown, Tanjong Malim and I went to support…Me and Adam were detained in the same room at Tanjung Malim lokap for 17 hours, that’s how we got to know each other.

Mandeep Singh with activist friends at a solidarity virgil for the then BERSIH chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah who was detained under SOSMA.

Was your family political?

There was an interview in Malaysiakini where I shared about [how] I came from an MIC family. My mom and dad come from a village where it was MIC. Both my parents was actively involved in the cawangan level, but I became a rebel boy in the family, because I think my political awareness started as young as 12 years old, when the detention of Anwar Ibrahim. I was Standard 6, 1998. And how I used to read Siasah newspaper, I used to buy Detik magazine. So, politically I was always aware, but I grew up in a MIC family, but that didn’t ever- I think I’ve never once had the interest to support MIC or to get involved in that, you know? Never.

So, your first protest, was it the one in the Tanjong Malim, or the ISA?

ISA. If I’m not mistaken [it] was 2009, right? The 1st of August, I think. That anti-ISA protest (GMI) was the big one lah; the one with the tear gas, all. If you have heard the name, Cikgu Laila (Norlaila Othman), all the old timer. Nashitah (Md Nor), Nalini. These are the people who I know in my early days of activism. The UPSI one would be later around 2011.

Can you walk us through your decision to transition full time into working in civil society?
Basically I think I joined corporate after my studies because of the responsibility that I have. My siblings were studying, and I had some responsibility, so I needed to do that. But then, I think I felt that my heart doesn’t belong to what I was doing. And I think my heart, my interest, my passion, was always on this side, until I left and came here. I joined the 2011 BERSIH protest on July 9, I did not know anyone. In between there was, if you remember, before that was the EO6. I was there actually, at that police station, where I witnessed the arrest of EO6. They were all detained, about 30 of them, but 6 were released, and immediately arrested, outside the police station, that afternoon. So, I witnessed that in Kepala Batas Balai Polis.

What was your experience like at the Bersih 2 rally?

I think at that time, if you remember, the rally was banned. 89 people were barred from entering Kuala Lumpur. As long as you wear yellow, you will be detained. I always remember this numbers of 967, if I’m not mistaken, 900 over canister was shot, 1,000 over people were detained, police brutality, you know. But again, that is experience on the ground, and I was a very young person, and it was fun. It was fun running around with the tear gas being shot, water cannon being shot.

But again, if you look back, that was how protesters was treated. Demanding for free and fair election also is a crime. People were beaten up, etc. But as the experience, one thing I saw was unity, solidarity. When I say solidarity and unity, [it] means that because if one gets shot by tear gas or water cannon, in particular tear gas, your breathing like literally stop for a few second. You get choked and the remedy on how to recover is always salt. And you will see that when tear gas being shot, it’s no more about “dia [orang] Cina, dia [orang] Melayu, dia [orang] India. We are Malaysians, we are protesters”. You will see that, you know? Whether it’s a woman, a guy, different ethnicity, different race, different whatever, they will immediately give you salt, and help you with water, and rescue you. I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s about endless solidarity, it’s about holding each other, and marching together. How many people get to become friends because of this kind of protest? And it showed the Malaysian identity. It was regardless [of] race, religion, we all came together.

I guess that resonates with a lot of people because protest space can be a point of convergence, meeting point for those who come from very different, parallel education systems. Some were telling us that it’s really their first genuine interracial punya interaction.

Yup. Because if you see, [for] the anti ISA protest, I think the majority was Malay. I cannot remember much, but also because most of the political victims were at the time, I think quite a number of them were PAS as well. But the BERSIH one, we can see multiracial Malaysia. It was fun, running around…

For Bersih 2 rally, you’re a participant, then BERSIH 3, 4, and 5, you were working with BERSIH as a staff?

Yeah. I joined on 1st of March 2012, and 28 April was the Bersih 3 rally. It was a lot of learning for me, within eight weeks. But when I came in, somehow the decision by the Steering Committe have made already. It was more coordinating stuff, running here and there. It was my first learning in terms of major rally, which we mobilised 250,000 people. There were about 3 staff and about 20 SC members. Maria was Head of Secretariat at the time..Bersih’s (internal) election started only in 2013 so at the time there was no deputy, no secretary, it’s just co-chairs. During Ambiga’s time, it was just chair and co-chair. That’s it.

Right. Let’s move to the Bersih 3 rally then.

I think BERSIH 3, if I remember, the date we decided to announce the rally was 4th of April. That was the time how I understand and learn how to organise protest, since now you are not just a participant, but part of the organising committee, where you need to build the sub-committees. From medical, security, media, programme, fundraising, logistic, roots and mobilisation. Back then, you need to remember that the usage of social media was not like now. And then you need to organize road shows throughout the whole country, organise ceramah, and then you need to have meetings with political parties to ensure you get the numbers, gathering points, etc. I think it’s always teamwork. But as a staff, you need to attend all the meetings. Because as a secretariat, you need to answer to the Steering Committee. You need to give an update [on] what has taken place, [and] what has not taken place. Meetings at odd hours, where you have meetings at 2 o’clock in the morning, 2.30 in the morning, because all the people go out for ceramah at night. So, after the ceramah, they have meetings at about 2 a.m. After ceramah, come back, update [on] how’s the ground, how’s the support that people attend, how many buses have we secured, how many participants we have secured. So, that was the daily stuff until 27th of April. And then, we went hiding. Quite late, because banyak kerja.

I mean the lesson learnt is go hiding early lah. Of course, you also need to handle the authorities, the state. And mind you that the Peaceful Assembly Act was enacted on 24th of April 2012. It was brought in, I think one of the reasons was because so much uprising was happening. It was protest after protest. It was HINDRAF, it was PPSMI, it was BERSIH 2, before that it was BERSIH 1. But it (PAA) came in just before, for this. If I’m not mistaken, at that time, BERSIH 3 was again declared illegal.

I regret never writing all these years ago. I was young, 12 years ago, and you tend not to think these are all historical stuff happening. Sp what happened was Bersih 3 it was decided to “Duduk and bantah” kind of protest. But leading up to it, there was a lot of intimidation. Police were – I think this time around, we were not raided, but our office was always fully packed, because people would come and purchase t-shirts. We were selling t-shirts and merchandise, but I think we are frequently visited by police as well. And came to the day of the event, where again, it was huge, it was all calm, it was everything under control, until the authorities started shooting tear gas at the participants. Remember that [everything was] peaceful and in order, until provocation happened. When I say provocation, it’s because of tear gas. When it’s full, crowded, compact. The whole KL [was] full, [and] crowded. And BERSIH 3 also was a joint protest because Himpunan Hijau also mobilised. So, it was yellow and green. And two weeks before that, it was the Mansuh PTPTN. The students were already camping there. So, it was a continuous building momentum.

Why BERSIH 3 took place is because of the PSC Report. Because after BERSIH 2, there was a parliamentary select committee, was formed to look into the tuntutan. To be fair, I will always defend that document, if I’m not mistaken, it was 22 recommendations[s]. [It] was quite a good recommendation, but the issue was there was no implementation timeline. So, it’s no point [in] just publishing a document without a timeline. BERSIH 3 was a reflection towards that particular document.

And going back to the event day, it was peaceful, colourful, beautiful day, but it went chaotic when tear gas was shot. Mind you [that] Dataran Merdeka was sealed, so we were in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka. But when tear gas was shot, people started budging into Dataran Merdeka. Removing the barbed wires, etc. Because when you read back the SUHAKAM inquiry document, where I think experts came to give testimony, it was like if you go to perang, you use the kind of barbed wires. Those were used. Because I was in the crowd, it was like shoulder-to-shoulder. So, if you shoot in, where [are] people gonna run? And anyway, the crowd was dispersing already at the time. And not only that, the police became so brutal because of a fake SMS going around that “participants sudah pukul and killed a policeman” or something. And the police went crazy, started beating up participants really, really badly.

So, there was this human chain by the police, like they built their own laluan. So, whoever kena tangkap, they will bawa lalu sini tau. Bila you bawa sini, I think like 30 police one side, they whack you like gila. I think (Wong) Chin Huat was beaten up as well massively. They beat you until you bleed. And in BERSIH 3 also, when the canister was shot, because to shoot tear gas, you need to shoot up. But they were shooting directly, one of our participants got blind, because the canister hit the eyes. Azrul, if I’m not mistaken, the name of the victim. I think around 512 participants were arrested.

Were you around the incident of the overturned car?

I saw it happening in SOGO. TThe car was overturned because there was a massive crowd, the police car was coming in, people started throwing water bottles and cones. And I think the driver, the policeman, lost control of the car, went and hit the participants, and into the wall. And participants thought that somebody was pinned under the car. But truth to be told, post-rally, BERSIH was sued over a hundred thousand ringgit for the damages, etc. But BERSIH won the case.

And if I’m not mistaken, Chin Huat counter-sued the government and won. BERSIH was not touched under criminal offence – it was a civil suit, which we won. And the irony was, the lead council was Tommy Thomas. It was a long journey. And one thing that over the years, BERSIH has been sued, BERSIH activists were charged in court, all the way we won. BERSIH t-shirt was banned, we filed a judicial review, we won. Everything, whether it’s a criminal charge or civil suit, we won.

Do you think that testify to the fact that either BERSIH was very well-prepared in terms of this strategic litigation, or that some institutions were strong enough to uphold the right to protest?

I think [more to do with] BERSIH as a movement. [It] was one of the biggest, strongest and had extremely huge support, by the people, by the professionals, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s rich people, whether it’s lawyers, all. And of course, fortunately, the co-chair of BERSIH was a former Bar Council president. So, we always have a legal team, and an urgent arrest team. We always have that. so, we’re always prepared. We always have a legal team with us. And the good thing is about Malaysians, about BERSIH, you had ground supporters, you had silent supporters, and you had legal supporters. I mean, look at the lawyers who came to, look at the firm who defend us…it’s a big firm. And we didn’t pay anything, it was free because they contributed to the cause as well.

Approximately, how many lawyers were deployed or on standby to help BERSIH participants during the rallies?

Every time when there’s a rally, 24 hours or 48 hours before the rally, KL Legal Aid Centre (it’s normally our strategic partner, who handles urgent arrest), they will deploy. And BERSIH 3 was held in 7 places: Penang, KL, Melaka, Johor, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Miri, Sibu, kind of thing, all. It was held literally [across] the whole country. Ipoh as well. So, we had legal teams throughout the whole country. So, I’m saying approximately about 100 lawyers. It was not only in Kuala Lumpur.

Was there somebody coordinating this in the secretariat? Or there’s a committee?

Yeah, we will coordinate. If I’m not mistaken, Maria and Ambiga. I think we split through endorsing NGO, or the Steering Committee. Like Sabah and Sarawak, there was a Sabah Steering Committee and Sarawak Steering Committee. I think Penang, if I’m not mistaken, was Dr Toh (Kin Woon), Johor was Thomas (Fann). Thomas was not a Steering Committee yet…he started in organising BERSIH 3 in Johor.

I do have one more question about BERSIH 3. But before that, maybe you provide us with a bird’s eye view, how has your role in protests changed over time?

For BERSIH 3, I would say it was a learning process. More of being a ground soldier from one place to another place. Mostly being an assistant to Maria, and of course, learning lah. And also, taking care of the office. For BERSIH 3 rally, Maria and me gathered at Petaling Street. We only could reach McD, and the tear gas started lah.

Okay one more question on BERSIH 3. You mentioned some participants removed the barricade, kan? I was there [during] BERSIH 2, 3, 4, 5 as a participant and sort of remember… is this the same moment as the videos showing like Anwar and Azmin nodding to each other giving a “go ahead” sort of?

The same moment, but again, it’s all different theories of what Anwar signals to Azmin, or what Azmin signals to Anwar. And I think they were charged in court, if I’m not mistaken.

How did BERSIH manage differences of opinion, particularly those who like to take a more direct action/confrontational approach with the police? How do you take the criticism where BERSIH are seen as more like a carnival/pesta, instead of a political rally?

I think it’s a fair comment. Hitting the barricade, being too radical. But look, let’s go back to why we go to the street. I always say that going to the street is for showing of force, showing of solidarity, showing of dissatisfaction, because all the doors of negotiation have been closed. When I said all the doors, I’m not talking about the authority, I’m talking about the government. In particular, [for] BERSIH, [it] was the election commission, until BERSIH 3. The movement changed [for] BERSIH 4 and 5. It moved beyond electoral reform.

Why did we went to the street? Because there was no discussion- we ask for discussion, we ask for negotiation, we ask for talking, but tak ada. So, why we go to the street and go back? Because we just wanted to show that we have this much of people, and you better listen, or you do something. But people say that we are pesta, it’s true. That actually explains that we are not violent people, we are peace-loving people. We didn’t come with weapons, we didn’t come with stones. We came with our t-shirt, with our placards, with our mouth, shouting, reform. It actually explains how peaceful and how behaved the people [are], and when you ask people to disperse, people actually go back.

The supporters who came, never want to destroy the country, never want to torch down the building, never want to destroy the economy. No. But [they’re] saying that enough is enough. We need reforms, we need change. And being radical, of course. Because I think Malaysia has never witnessed this huge of demonstration. I mean, BERSIH 4 [goes on for] 34 hours, never once [has] this country witnessed that [before]. BERSIH 5 is the longest ever protest in the country. 50 days, and it extended 11 more days, when Maria was in detention. And BERSIH 5 was the first time in history, where we came out from our comfort zone, we traveled the whole country. We made it [so that] corruption has a national issue and national discussion.

What about internally? Were there discussions, in the heat of the moment, on the eve of the protest [saying “No, we should stay on.”, or was it unanimous to disperse?

It was always unaniomous that we will go for two hours, and then we will go back. Duration for BERSIH 3, it was pukul 2 sampai pukul 4. For this question of being not radical enough, again we are clear, we had an agenda. We are going [there], to this [particular] time, to show that it’s not only 20 people, but 250,000 people. We come, which we announce our demand. We come in peaceful manner, and we go back in a peaceful manner. And we are not there to destroy anything semua, tak ada. Because the protest was just one of BERSIH’s activities. Because being radical is also going to the grassroot to educate people, being radical also is coming out with material and education, being radical also [means] getting more groups involved. Mind you [that] back then, I remember [there] was 84 endorsing members; you had women groups, you have student groups, you have workers group, you have union group, you have professional group. Many different groups…

Back then, what else do BERSIH do on a day-to-day basis during the non-rally period or “off-season”?

The off season is actually [when we are] going from town-to-town, from state-to-state, to conduct… I mean, we do a lot of voter education. Remember, a lot of people forgot [that] BERSIH played a major role in terms of voter turnout. BERSIH has played a major role in making elections important to the people. 2013 election, GE13, the highest ever voter turn out in the history of Malaysia then, 84.84%. GE 14, 82%. And this all is because of the awareness that BERSIH has done. We did training for voter education, re-delineation, capacity building for the youth. We go down like every other week to the communities. I mean, I have travelled [a lot] in my 6 and a half years in BERSIH. From Arau to Kota Bharu, Kuala Terenganu, Johor Bahru, Sabah. I went to the interior area with Jannie Lasimbang and I was kicked out from Sarawak. So, it was just not about BERSIH being [only a] protest. The protest was just one of the activities. But it was really about bringing people to the ballot box.

At this point, maybe we can talk about resources and how you folks sustain the momentum during the off-season?

Over time, after Maria became the Chair, so moving on from BERSIH 3, [in] 2013, [there’s a] change of leadership. We move on to our own office now, and we then democratise BERSIH. After BERSIH 3, we realised that we cannot be KL-based only. So, we then democratise BERSIH, where we split BERSIH into six regions. So, we have the northern region, we have the southern region, we have Sabah, Sarawak, east coast and central. So, we then started having Steering Committee that takes care of the northern, [and] southern [region]. And then, we also had an office in Penang and Sabah. That’s how we democratised BERSIH. And we added resources, from 2-3 to 8-9 staff.

Until I left, we mostly sustain through public donation. Fundraising dinner, projects we get- okay, another biggest activity of BERSIH was election monitoring. In 2013, when we started election monitoring, we had 3,000 observers throughout the whole country. I tell you, it was crazy. And post-election, the May 5th Election, when we got back the thousands of forms, Maria and me didn’t know what to do. But we had volunteers, who were experts, data analysts, who took two weeks unpaid salary, came to us, and told us: “Can you mobilize volunteers? I need 30 volunteers, for 2 days, to key in data”. And that’s how we sort it out. So, we always had a program, we had election observation, which take a lot of time training people every weekend, we had “Keluar mengundi, lawan penipuan” campaign. I mean, going for forums, ceramah, we always tumpang political party [punya] ceramah. So, one thing about BERSIH, [for] every campaign that we launch, we actually send letters to all political parties, despite being government, [or] opposition. All we ask is, if you got a program, ceramah, or forum, please invite us, because we want to talk [about] our program. MCA invited us once, and Ambiga attended. They thought [that] they could bantai her, [but] she went and tapau all of them.

Back then, social media was not like now – you really need to go to the ground. I remember I went with Maria and Syukri to somewhere lah. We went, [but] we couldn’t come back at a night, because it’s 4 hours journey, in one [whole] FELDA, to do voter voter education. So we did voter education, election, observation training, that took us like 6 to 9 months, leafleting [etc.]. And then Zoe (Randhawa), as our advocacy officer, she was doing a paper on parliamentary reform, so we always had research. So, we always had research, we always had outreach. So, from the advocacy, how we democratise a research document, into a one flyer, to reach a layman. So it was a continuous series of activity. Going to the pedalaman Sabah, going by boat. One day to go in, one day to come out, program 3 jam je.

That era is so different. [People felt] it is an important movement at that time, to topple the regime etc, everybody [counts] on this movement. This movement brought hope for Malaysians. And most importantly, going back, we could design our own programs based on how we want. Because we’re public funded, and we can create our own programme. So, if we try this, [and the programme] tak berjalan, we can change; this is the positive side. The negative side of what we [have to face] at the time was, we could run out of funds. Organising dinners, [and] all, it takes time, convincing funders, all. Fundraising dinner take about four months to plan, mobilise, semua. So, in a year, you spend three months [in] raising money for certain activities.

Onwards to BERSIH 4, what led up to it? Walk us through from the beginning to the rally.

At one point, people became fatigued. We were thinking, exploring what to do? How to bring back? Because this is after losing the (2013) elections. People start going back to their normal life, two years after the election. But then, in that two years we had, people’s tribunal, very academic document. But what triggered BERSIH 4, we changed it from just electoral reform to an anti-corruption, good governance, people’s movement. So, we came out from there. We changed our demands as well. It was the big scale of 1MDB corruption. It was June, when the bombshell coming about 1MDB.

But before that, in that year, in February, Anwar was jailed for the second time. And [during] that time, I was fully involved in the Kita Lawan protest. When Anwar was jailed, we started the Kita Lawan protest. We kick off on the 14th of February, four days after Anwar was jailed. And it went on for 10 weeks, every week without fail. And in that 10 weeks, I think I was detained [for] 4 times.

[At] that time, the 1MDB was not an issue yet, until the 2.6 billion thing came out. And then, there was a political crisis in UMNO, where I think [it’s about] the sacking of Muhyiddin. And there was also a story about there being a move to arrest Najib. It was a world scandal. And we told ourselves that we can’t keep quiet. Because he was ruining the institution; from the police, from the SPRM. And basically, whoever fights Najib, will be kicked out. Then AG Gani Patail was removed, MACC chief was removed, senior police officer Hamid Bador, was brought to. So, we thought that [this situation] cannot [be happening], we must mobilise. In June, we gave an ultimatum, we wrote a letter to the Prime Minister. We said that BERSIH 4 is on the cards, if things are not being resolved. But then, we saw how Najib was ignoring, demands were not met. And actually, he was cleared [of the charge], the AG cleared him. And we decided that we need to mobilise the people. And BERSIH 5 was the longest ever mobilisation. We spent two months for mobilisation. And this was the first time we changed our demand, to democratise, to make people understand the demand. It was pilihan raya bersih, selamatkan ekonomi, hak berhimpun, reformasi institusi, perkasakan Sabah dan Sarawak.

The change in demand, mobilisation semua ni diputuskan oleh SC meeting or BERSIH NGO meeting?

NGO meeting. So, every time there’s a major decision, like change of policy decision, you go back to the endorsing member. You must get the buyin from the endorsing member first. The Steering Committee was more on the bigger decision making. Basically, the Steering Committee is the implementation of the governing body to the secretariat. But the major decision making one was Endorsing NGO members. To certain extent actually, we open to even non-endorsing member to come in, to give your view, but you don’t have voting rights. It’s also how we democratise the movement, that make it to be own by civil society as whole. Because BERSIH was [for the] people’s. mind you, there was also political crisis in Pakatan Rakyat. There was no more opposition coalition. The young people I was involved with, Adam Adli, also came together, to organise this rally called Tangkap Najib. I was detained for 6 days. This was 3 weeks before BERSIH. So, that year was a crazy year. I went through so many detention, I was charged, I mean I was detained, under [Section] 124B, detrimental to parliamentary democracy. I was detained on 31st July. I think the announcement was mid-July when Zoe and me was in Brussels, attending an international conference on free and fair election. Announcement was made when we were there.

Going back to BERSIH, we need mobilisation. We need people to come out because [of] this political crisis. And we thought that we could play a role to unite the people, and to put opposition into place lah; to show that there is a unity among the people. And we were inspired [by] what happened in Hong Kong, and we thought that we should test the water. We went for 34 hours.

How did the idea come about?

We wanted to do something different. And this is a very big scandal, involving billions of ringgit, and is taxpayer’s money, Malaysian people[’s] money. And we thought that we need to shake, we need to do something. And that was the first time we took an openly partisan for democracy stance to call for the PM to step down. I mean, why we took the approach for PM to step down [is that] when people ask PM to step down, [the] meaning [is] that you’re saying the change of government. Our answer, and for me in particular was like who is involved in the corruption is the number one. And you see how Najib has strengthened his power. So, it’s only all yes man, and you need to remove Najib. No reform is going to come. Only by removing Najib, reforms can happen, and Najib should be prosecuted lah. There was unhappiness, but for us, [it] was like we must come out from our comfort zone. It was discussed in the endorsing meeting, but I think the Steering Committee came and justified to the endorsing member.

Was there any concern that any of the endorsing [member] might be spying or leak information to the Special Branch?

None. But I always believe that there’s always people who leak out information. There’s always [a] mole or probably phone tapping. But again, we were never worried of information get leaked. Because we were not a terrorist group. We were not planning to go and burn down the street, we were planning to just bring down this one man.

But you guys weren’t worry about preemptive arrest?

We were always ready. There’s always the risk of being arrested in advance. Mind you, [during] BERSIH 3, there was still ISA. But then [now], [we have] SOSMA. And of course, eventually, they will use against us. But we were always ready, we were always briefed [on] what to do, we were always told [that] arrest may happen. We always notify the police. And we always wanted to cooperate with the police. And BERSIH 4, I will say [that it] is the biggest victory of Malaysians on so many aspects: number 1, it was the biggest ever mobilisation in the history of the country. Number 2, it was so peaceful and festive, because we had the full cooperation from [police]. After the rally is a different thing lah.

I think BERSIH 4 came to give hope to the Malaysians, like you have a movement that you can hope for. We sold 38,000 pieces of t-shirt, the factory was running 24/7, people were queueing up in the office as early as 8 o’clock in the morning. People just wanna come to BERSIH’s office and buy as [if] it was an original Nike t-shirt. Every day, we were travelling throughout the whole country. In the morning, I’ll be in the office, at night I’ll be in Ipoh, or Johor, or what. We [managed to] raise, it was so ironic, 2.6 million ringgit. We didn’t plan it. Donation started pouring in. We don’t know how it happened. I think the timing was just right.. So, people were throwing support. I remember this one lady came to the office, looking for Maria and me. I went out, and she gave me a check. If I’m not mistaken, it was 50,000 ringgit. I didn’t know who the woman was. I was a bit afraid at first, but I think she collected [the money] don’t know from where, and she gave us the check.

The other side of intimidation is people who are linked to BERSIH also have paid the price. 2 of our deputy lost their job. Shahrul (Aman Mohd Saari) was removed from office, 6 hours [notice]. Sarajun (Hoda Abdul Hassan) was asked to leave his company. He was a shareholder, or founding member, or something. He was asked to leave or else the company’s project will be terminated. Fadiah (Nadwa) lost a job in UN. So, a lot of people paid their price because of BERSIH. So, companies who were afraid, because they are professional business people, right? So, we deal with them with cash. This one you can write lah. It’s always Maria and me know the cost of the t-shirt, and there was invoices but [there] was no company name, nothing. I don’t blame them because they need to survive. People were afraid as well.

So, 2015 was quite a year of protest, especially for you.

I started [with] Kita Lawan, Tangkap Najib, BERSIH 4. BERSIH 4 was the climax. So, it was all part and stage. Because remember, May Day also happened. So was Kita Lawan. After May Day, then [bulan] Ramadhan. Then, we started campaigning for BERSIH 4 already. And then, Tangkap Najib. Actually [during] Tangkap Najib, I was detained. I regretted I didn’t sue the government. I think it was illegal detention of me. Just diverting a bit, the whole idea Demi Malaysia was formed [is] because we wanted to force the opposition to unite, and we wanted an alternative. When you wanted an alternative, we were not party members, so we needed to push people, to be part of the opposition, and we didn’t wanted PAS in the coalition. That time there was no Parti Amanah yet. And remember at the time, Mahathir resigned from UMNO. I will come to BERSIH 4 and Mahathir, there was discussion, there was negotiation. So, we force that, and then we decided to have a rally, Tangkap Najib. And a lot of people don’t know why we wanted to go to PWTC? And why we choose the date, 1st of August? Because there was an ASEAN meeting. In Malaysia, foreign ministers, so we wanted to show the ASEAN leaders that we have a corrupt Prime Minister. If you look back at the photo, I was not there on the rally day. I was detained one day before. The participants were only 35 to 40, or 50 participants, but you have 500 policemen. So, you just chant Najib’s name, you get detained. But we need to do that. I was in the initial discussion, dialogues, all. But the strategy was, I will take a step back, because I need to focus on the preparation of BERSIH, so much of work, right? So, Adam, Shukri will take care of Tangkap Najib. On the 31st of July, and remember at that time, (The) Edge also was suspended. On the 30th of July, Shukri received a phone call from the police [which] says that the police want to meet on [the] 31st morning to discuss the Tangkap Najib rally. And the police mention Adam[‘s] name, [and] my name as well. If they want to talk to me, they call me. But anyway, I’m not going. I’m not interested to go, because they can do whatever they want. So, I went to Damansara, the Edge office, for solidarity event. As I was at the event, I got a text that Adam and Syukri got arrested. In that group, they say that “Don’t worry, Mandeep will lead tomorrow’s demonstration.”. And you know that through when you reading it, not in in the group lah. I said “Okay.”, next thing, BERSIH’s office was raided. Siti called me and say that there are 10 policemen here looking for you. I was with Zoe, it was a Friday, I told Zoe: just drive into federal highway because it’s heavy traffic. And back then, handphones once you remove your battery, you tak boleh detect. Now, tak boleh remove kan? So, police couldn’t reach me. They left the office, cannot reach me.

Photo from another police raid at BERSIH office on the eve of Bersih 5 rally. Police locked the door to prevent people from leaving.

They call Maria, and they call Latheefa Koya, and said, please send this fella, no matter what. So, I then surrendered myself, on that evening, at Balai Polis Petaling. So, as I arrived, I was immediately detained, and cuffed, and sent to Jinjang. And next day, I think 30 or 40 friends were detained as well. And the irony was Adam, Shukri and me, were detained one day earlier, were remanded the longest. The people who attended the rally, were detained, remanded, and released, but we were not released. We were brought on Tuesday, 4th of August, we were brought to high court of KL because Gobind (Singh Deo), Latheefa (Koya), (N.) Surendran, filed a revision, and we were released from Kuala Lumpur High Court. There’s a picture of three of us in the court, handcuffed all.

When you were arrested, I think maybe this is something that some activists don’t talk about enough often. We spoke to another one recently, like they were talking about mental health, and then sometimes you tak nak nampak lemah, because other activists [are] all strong. And you don’t want to dampen the spirit, but the fear is real. You, yourself, went through that so many times. Maybe you could share a little bit of advice for future activists?

I think I always believe in this one thing, I always tell the young people- but before that, to answer your question, it’s true. I never come out to scare activists. We never want to share much about what we go through inside, because we don’t want to lemahkan semangat. But I always tell people, the moment you get arrested, the moment you get questioned by police, you already know the process, and you will be more motivated to do things. Of course, going through detention, it’s not a joke. There is so much you can sleep, there is so much you can rest, but mentally, must be very strong. I mean, there are times that me and Adam, in one cell. Okay, no problem. But there’s also a limit [on what] we can talk [about] because we’re also housemate. So, we were housemate, we were cellmate, we were working colleague. But the point is, you must be mentally strong for the future activists or the upcoming activists, I know a lot of people now[adays], kena siasat je, mental health breakdown. I think I got question by police about 50 times. There are days that Monday, in the police station, Tuesday, in the police station. There are times [when] I can just call the IO. So, I just go to police station, they will just do the tangkapan, take photo, I can come out within half an hour. [At] the time, I don’t need lawyer also, already reached the level. But to the young activists, this is all actually a process to break you. It’s all intimidation, to put fear on you. How to handle detention? I think different people have different way of handling. It’s not fair for me to say [that] this is the best strategy. But one thing I want to tell them is to always keep in your mind [that the] thing you’re doing is not a criminal offence. What you are doing is not a wrong thing, what you’re doing is your constitutional rights. You are not stealing, you’re not a thief, you’re not a robber, you’re not a murderer, you’re not a raper. So, you must believe in the cause, you must believe that what you’re doing is right. Only the, [you] can convince yourself. Nobody can convince you, I cannot convince you. When you are in detention, [if] you are alone, you are lucky. They put me with drug addicts, they put me with criminals. Because when they put [you] with criminals and drug addicts, [it] is to further intimidate you. But probably I was so lucky enough because being a very frequent guest in Jinjang, the police [are] already my friends. They literally, when we come in, “Hey, bro! You tahu nak buat apa, yeah?”. We literally know where to pick up the clothes, we know everything, we know what to do. And they will just tell us “Your normal [prison] cell.”. You must believe in yourself. The moment you lose the faith, or the belief in yourself, it’s all start from there.

I guess for some of them, the more difficult thing is when family members kena kacau.

Yeah, my parents went through [that], my brother went through [that]. My mom used to cry, [when I was in] detention. My photo used to come out in newspaper with handcuffed. Intimidation of police and family members, calling your mother, and ask your mother like “Is this what you send your son for to study at a university?”. Not everybody understand political struggle. It’s more difficult.

And BERSIH 4, my parents attended, my whole family attended; my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother. Everybody attended, because they finally believe. So, it’s not easy. Probably, I had supportive parents.

So, like I said, it’s like case-by-case situation, but you must convince your family. I mean, your family must be convinced, or you must find a way to explain [to] your family [those] things. I mean, bukan nak cakap besar lah, [but] what the activist going through today, and what we went through is gila. My house was splashed [with] red paint. So, there are things that you say publicly, [and] there are things you don’t say publicly. Bila my house kena simbah cat merah, I only told Maria. I never issued PR statement, I never take any photo. I did police report, but I tak kecoh, because I don’t want my parents to know, I don’t want them [to] fear. Also sometimes, bila orang serang you, they want everybody to know. And then, I cannot remember BERSIH 4 ke BERSIH 5, ugutan bunuh pun ada tau. Maria, me, Ambiga and Maria[’s] children, tiga ugutan bunuh. But I think for the young activist, believe in what you do, convince yourself. Only you can convince yourself. There’s much I can convince you.

This is a very important part. Mahathir’s side tried to reach us out, send people to negotiate. So, there was a negotiation. Maria, Wong Chin Huat and me attended, in PJ Hilton. Zaid Ibrahim was the middleman. Mahathir wanted to speak on the main stage. We knew that Mahathir will come, but we say that Mahathir cannot speak on the stage. He can come as a participant, it’s a people’s rally, and speak there, not on the main stage. And of course, there was some differing views. Some people are saying that, boleh you can speak on the stage, but Maria made it very clear, if Mahathir gonna speak on our stage, she will resign as a BERSIH chair, immediately. It was a principle decision made.

He attended, and he didn’t speak. He just came, he said that he is here not because of BERSIH, he doesn’t support BERSIH demand. He came for two days, not one day. He came on the first day, and he came on the second day with Siti Asmah. He came, it was a big thing, but we stood on our ground.

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, a longtime opponent of street demonstration, taking ‘instruction’ from longtime street demonstrator Mandeep at a BERSIH rally

We never allow him to speak. The only 3 politicians who were allowed to speak, on the main event, was Kak Wan, as opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, and Mat Sabu. We allow because they are also people representative, and there’s a people’s movement, and the opposition always endorse the BERSIH demand. At the time, lah. They were committed on the demands. And they went on the stage, they committed to the people. So, it’s actually as a way of them accountable to the people. So, we allowed them. But most of the time, [it] was always civil society representative [who] was on the stage.

And BERSIH 4, the 34 hours, I was one of the key negotiator with the police, from it started until it ended. And we had the best, I would say that BERSIH 4 is a proof that if any ever protest was the most successful one, and to be made as a role model, it’d be BERSIH 4. For the police, and for the people, for the organisers. I was negotiating with the CPO of KL, and Dang Wangi OCPD. Every two hours, we had a five minutes discussion. And I was basically one of the key negotiators lah. And because of so much of frequent detention until all the police sudah kenal me.

So, how the negotiation happened, this is our stage, here there is no people zone, we put our own barricade, the police put their own barricade, and the police was there. So, anything, I remember there was incident ,you can find the video. There was a drunkard person masuk our crowd, started to create some havoc. I communicated with the police, to come and arrest this person, and take him away. And the police, to be fair to them, that part was done beautifully. They came quietly, tangkap dia, boom. So, by the time the media nak come semua pun kan, tak ada kecoh. And we were negotiating very well. And I remember the second day, the eve of Merdeka, we ended at 11:59, but we told the police, we need two hours, to disperse, because [there’s] 500000 people. And the police gave us the two hours, dispersed peacefully, and the whole street was clean. We had our people. And again, when you have a good corporation, that’s how we could handle our logistic so well. Participants were in order, they were dancing, drawing, whatever, you just name it. And we could control our crowd so well. There was no rubbish, no public property was damaged. It was so clean, so it’s BERSIH means it’s really bersih. And this proves that if there is no water cannon, if there is full cooperation, things can go so well. And the opposition today, Perikatan Nasional, enjoys the right to descend, the right to protest. When PH was in the government, PH 1.0. Remember they went [to] anti-ICERD rally? And it was so peaceful. They got it because of what BERSIH have achieved. I’m always proud to say that BERSIH played a big role, in terms of democratisation of Malaysia, bringing down the regime, some reforms, the major reforms was what the opposition benefited in 2019, if I’m not mistaken. They came, of course the demand, I don’t want to talk about the demand, I’m talking just of the part. And it’s because of what we have achieved.

We were sincere enough to show the police the plan, and we told them, we will disperse. They must believe in us, and they must trust us. And we must trust them, lah. Not believe lah, trust each other. And we told them that if you going to come in, into the crowd, it [is] gonna create provocation. Let us handle our people. But if there’s any provocation from our people, go ahead and arrest. And our deal is if we don’t fulfil what we promised, then you go ahead, use your power. Like kita kata pukul 12, kita tak balik, then use lah [your power]. But it’s always the two way of negotiation lah. And they say we work closely lah. You share with us, we share with you lah.

Why did you think the police change their tactics from a more confrontation approach in BERSIH 3 to a more collaborative approach in BERSIH 4?

I suspect, my own theory lah, Najib was in deep sh*t. Corruption. Probably, he thought that allowing protest to take place, it will be boring, and nobody will care about it, and people will get bored and balik. My second theory is he was in deep sh*t totally because of corruption, he may not want to ruin whatever reputation that he has. To show that, I allow protest, or right to descend, or whatever. Or probably, I don’t know, if there [is] split in the authority [maybe]? But mind you, at that time, we had a crazy IGP. But I think we must not forget how successful it was. I mean, I don’t know if [there] ever will be able to mobilize that much. And probably there was realisation from the forces.

Right. Finally, let’s go into your experience in BERSIH 5.

BERSIH 5 took place on November 19, 2016, a little more than a year after BERSIH 4. Why we are going back is again, because of there was no movement about bringing back the stolen money, and 1MDB became a joke. And delineation (review) was coming up. This time, I stole your money, I’m going to steal your election also. Daylight robbery. And we need another round of show of force. But this time around, we want to create awareness. So, the strategy of BERSIH 5 was one of the most successful ones after BERSIH 4. For the first time, we came out with a flyer. Rather than telling people what it’s all about, we make people think. And this came from a senior reporter, who was supporting for BERSIH. So, we put there a photo of a jar. From your salary, how much you spend for your rental, how much you spend for your food, and then a jar, end of the month, how much of money left for your saving? And below it, we put there how Najib stole your money, and went to his account, and look at his bank account. And then of course, some other reform things. So, we make people think. And we thought that there’s always criticism towards BERSIH that you’re just, it’s a KL, Klang Valley thingy. And it’s already arise of social media, at this time. So, we decided to travel the whole country, bringing a symbolic torch, which we have six torches, make it a symbolic thing, that people owns it. We went leafleting the whole country, creating awareness, and passing the torch from one person to another person, and bringing the reform agenda to the ground.

And that first time in the history, Printing Presses and Publication Act was used to detain Maria. And I always measure, if the authority comes to you for a publication, meaning you have a powerful weapon. And when Maria was detained for that, supposedly because of there is no “diterbitkan oleh siapa” in the flyer – I think that triggered a lot of publicity, it triggered a lot of awareness among the people. And we travel, if I’m not mistaken, we managed to travel 246 town or village, in 50 days. So, basically, every day from 1st October until. Yeah, so basically, for the 50 days, every day there was a protest. Because every day, somebody is doing something, somewhere in the country. Because you need to move the torch from one place, to another place. And because of travelling the whole country, we realised [that] actually BERSIH is being supported by so many people. But probably they were silent supporters. So, they can’t afford to come and join our activity in KL for the rally. It’s bringing BERSIH to the people. It’s no more people coming [to KL or state capitals], you know. And so, November 19 was not an event that we wanted 1 million people, because we have moved the whole country. And look at how the authority- I mean, they use non-state actors, they use the red shirt to attack us every day. Our protesters were beaten up, car was smashed, all kinds of stuff. And look at how the authorities became nasty.

It was massive planning, it was crazy. Until November 18th, at 3:12 p.m. when we were all in the office for the final preparation, when we were raided, Maria and me were taken away. And that was the last time I met Maria, until she was released. We were arrested, office was raided by Bukit Aman.

Handwritten note by Mandeep just when he was about to be arrested.

And this was the time that we couldn’t communicate with the police, we were surprised why. We were the ones [who] was calling the police when we can have a meeting, when we can meet to discuss. But there was no answer. And I think there was already a plan to arrest us.

Maria was detained under SOSMA, and I was detained under Section 147, I think? Attempt to riot or something. And I think 12 or 13 of us were arrested. But when they raided the BERSIH office, I managed to tweet, and they were just so harsh. They wanted to immediately handcuff me. And Maria shouted at them. And they took away all the documents, all the laptops. When they first raided, they took our handphones away, they took out the phone plug. We were so lucky because I managed to tweet or I managed to call Sivarasa to come in, but then Sivarasa was kicked out. They use 124C to raid the office, so they didn’t need warrant. And they took many boxes of document, all our laptops, all our handphones. And towards the end, they gave back everybody’s handphones, except Maria’s handphone and my handphone, and didn’t give back our IC. And they say that both of you, because you are the secretariat manager, you are the chair, both of you need to go to the police station to do the borang bongkar, and will be taken to the police station in PJ.

We were informed [that] we were under arrest. And around 8 o’clock, I was handcuffed and put in a different car, Maria was handcuffed and put in different car. We were told that we will be taken to IPK (Ibu Pejabat Kontinjen) KL. I didn’t see Maria. I was questioned the whole night from 9:00 at night, until literally 4:00 in the morning, in a small room, blasting a/c. I was interrogated by 10 to 15 different officers. I was asked the same question again and again. Until at one point, I told them “You know what? I’m done with you all. I’m not going to answer any more question.”, I just put my head on the desk, and I slept just for 2-3 hours.

Next morning, I was put in a van, with Safwan (Anang) and me, 10 police officers. I was escorted by balaclava police, with the machine guns, police outriders. I was taken like a Prime Minister, to Jinjang. And as I arrived [at] Jinjang, I kept on asking: “Where is Maria?”. We were not informed, I was remanded, sent back to the cell. I only got to know Maria was detained under SOSMA, on the 28th of November, [which] was my day of release. So, normally [during] release, you come out from your cell, you go down, you change your clothes, I bumped into Hisham (Rais) and Tian Chua, in the lock-up holding room. And Tian Chua told me that we need to organise another walk. And I looked at him, I said “Eh, Tian. What’s wrong with you?”. And he said that we need to organise another walk for Maria. I said “What happened to Maria?”. Maria [was] detained under SOSMA.

That actually hit me very hard. I became very emotional, I teared down. And when I was released, the first person that I met was Ambiga, at the lobby. I hugged her, I cried a lot. It hit me so much because we were taken at the same time, and Maria is just not a boss for me, Maria is not just a friend. [She] is a mentor, a boss, a friend, a mother, a sister. Basically, I grew up [learning] activism with her. And during the BERSIH days, we speak like almost every day. And suddenly when you come out, your comrade is in jail, and you don’t know whether she will be out or not. By leading up to BERSIH 5, we had 3 death threats. Maria, me, Ambiga, and Maria[‘s] 3 children, have a photo like the knife and there’s another photo of our head already been chopped off, with blood. And there was an SMS saying last warning that we will be killed if we don’t stop the rally. Better stop or we will kill you.

When I came out [of prison], I was released on 20th, I only had IC with me, because my phone was taken. And I remembered Zoe told me that tonight you got ceramah. I was like, “Where?”. We already organised ceramah, and we need to continue this battle. So, I came back to office on 21st of November, in the morning. The first thing I asked was- because we came back to office, we had nothing, we had no laptop, nothing. And I asked actually who wants to resign? Because I cannot guarantee you a future. I don’t know what’s happening next. So, I say if we’re not going to leave the battle, let’s abandon everything, let’s focus on the release of Maria.

The aftermath of Mandeep’s arrest.

I remember every night there was a vigil of like 1,000 people, 2,000 people, and we start travelling the whole country. There was vigil in Sabah, Johor, Penang, everywhere. I started going for ceramah throughout the whole country, and I think it was the people’s power who eventually brought the release of Maria. Because we honestly didn’t know that she will be released, but we filed a habeas corpus actually, at the time. And to be very honest, at that time, we already start planning for another rally. Of course, there was the tense between some of the Steering Committee and the secretariat, at that particular time. When the secretariat was taking the lead of moving things, but at that particular time for us was we only had one aim, that is to release our boss. The people’s movement leader is in jail, you don’t wait for tomorrow. And I think we won the battle.

Let’s wrap up the interview looking back, and forward, at the impact of the protest. What’s your assessment and is there anything that you feel you wish the protest would done differently?

Basically, BERSIH contributed to a few things: BERSIH showed unity, BERSIH built solidarity among Malaysians, comradery, BERSIH contributed to the regime change of the two party system in the country, BERSIH made people realised that every vote matter. So, yeah, it was like… despite all the intimidation, you see BERSIH was protest, media, advocacy, legal advocacy. We use legal, we use constitutional rights, we use outreach. So, there was a lot of fronts and strategy that we use. We democratise people’s participation for re-delineation. We brought in [the notion that] it’s okay to protest, it’s cool to protest. And actually, there was so many people [who] were inspired by BERSIH, like there was Mama BERSIH, there was student groups, and we were supportive of student groups of helping them, and ordinary community.

So, we use the legal avenue to challenge so many judicial review, despite they try to ban our t-shirt, we won the case. They try to use a court order to stop us, we won the case. So if they put legal, we fight in legal. Maria was charged under Peaceful Assembly Act, we won. And because of BERSIH, I think. So, eventually, Maria and me was charged again. The price that we need to pay, Maria couldn’t leave the country. Ambiga, Maria, me, Wong Chin Huat, Thomas Fann, and I think many others, until today, the price that we need to pay, we can’t even travel, in our own country. So, the joke that I always make is I can travel the world, except of Israel and Sarawak. But that is all the price, for every struggle you got price to pay. But I think we did it well. The people did it well, actually.

Looking back at it, I think the part that we should have done it earlier, is what we did in BERSIH 5. Coming out from our comfort zone. BERSIH was always English-speaking group, and we limited our circle. We were always [like] everything in English. But when we start going out, and speaking the language that the people understand, and the language that we should speak anyway, it’s a national language. I think we could have mobilised even more, [that’s] number one. Number two, looking back at it, I think the one thing I regret is we didn’t make BERSIH as a foundation to be remembered for its struggle. And how the future can go back and learn from here, because it was not just a protest movement, it became an institution that have achieved a lot of things. We should have democratised, localised structure by state, where it could be state and eventually, it could be a community. I think lah, it could be like a cawangan based kind of thing, or district based, or state based. We should have tried to become a political party. For me, BERSIH was never a civil society, BERSIH is a movement. The name is just an entity, it’s just a structure for me. It was a movement that when so far, we should have tested to be a political party. Because when I look back at Future Forward Party, they came from there, as a movement. And we should, could, have tried (when we had the people’s support).

There was an exodus of leadership in civil society after the 2018 General Election., including BERSIH. Many members of the SC and Secretariat left at once, creating a void. Maria went into politics, and you left not long after too. Could there have been a more properly planned succession or discussion where the movement could go next?

I think there was no discussion where this movement will go. This was end of 2017. But one thing for sure was, Maria’s term was up. The movement will stay, but the chair will go. And quite number of Steering Committee members. Me, myself, I’ve made known that this is my last election, and will move on in life. And as well as many secretariat members. But I think the mistake [is] looking back, we didn’t have a proper succession plan for BERSIH. May 9 happened, and things moved very fast.

I cannot speak for Maria, but I think for me, I wanna be part of bringing the reform. And to be a push factor. I have tried from the street, from the institution, I wanna try from the inside. Mind you, I was not a party member, when I was in the ministry (after 2018 election) under the first Harapan government. But I thought to try to bring change from within. And that’s how we brought Zoe in as well, as a commissioner. So, it was trying to bring change from inside. Personally, I did convey in my last Steering Committee meeting. If I’m not mistaken, it was May 2018, or June 2018. I wanted BERSIH to be a foundation, a place or study for elections in Asia, where you can be a foundation. If you’ve been to Taiwan, like the Taiwan Foundation for Democracry. I believe BERSIH has achieved what we wanted. No movement survived this long, like BERSIH. It’s no longer a movement. It’s now a structure, it’s a leading civil society [organisation].

Mandeep and former human rights commissioner Jerald Joseph standing among the sea of protesters dressed in the iconic yellow.

But it doesn’t have the same say now, like how it was five years ago. Of course, things have changed. So much has changed. But I think if we could have become an institution, a foundation, where for the next 10, 20 years, you are an election expert, students come to learn, you got a library, you provide solutions not only for Malaysia, but you look bigger because BERSIH is a recognised movement in the world. It’s not only Malaysia. I used to be so proud to go out, and speak on behalf of BERSIH. And we won the Asia Democracy Award, we won the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. We were recognized. I think that was the part that if we had time, we could have done. And the succession plan. I think there was a smooth, beautiful succession plan from Ambiga to Maria. But when Maria left, me left, so many of us left at one time, it became a vacuum in civil society.