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Monday, June 20, 2011

BERSIH Must March On

Any attempt by police or any quarter to disrupt a peaceful rally of such noble intention will be construed as a serious breach of the Constitution and will not be taken kindly by peace-loving Malaysians.

By Kim Quek

A peaceful rally calling for electoral reform would have gone down as almost a non-event in any democracy, but not in Malaysia. Here, the news of such an impending rally has virtually caused the incumbent ruling power to go into a state of panic.

Ever since the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections – a civil society movement known as BERSIH – calls for a peaceful rally on July 9 to press for electoral reform, hardly a day goes by without some bigwigs pressing the panic button, as if calamities will befall the nation if such a rally were to take place.

Home minister has warned of dire consequences to political and economic stability, Umno’s ultra-racist wing Perkasa has called for a rally of its own to crush the BERSIH rally, police chief has warned BERSIH of preventive arrest, and hundreds of reports have been lodged with the police by Umno and its associated bodies to oppose such a rally.

And now, the latest, Deputy Prime Minister Muyhiddin Yassin called the BERSIH rally an opposition plot to topple the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government when he officiated a local Umno annual meeting in Beaufort, Sabah on June 18.

(BERSIH had earlier extended invitation to all political parties including ruling BN and opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (PR), as well as NGOs and activists to participate in this mass movement to restore integrity to the Malaysian electoral system, which has been hopelessly corrupted to favour the incumbent ruling coalition. While PR component parties have accepted the invitation, BN has not.)


Muhyiddin debunked BERSIH’s agitation for reform by citing opposition’s impressive electoral gain in the 2008 general election as proof of the electoral system’s fairness.

He asked: “If it is not free and fair, how could they make such electoral gains? If they win they keep quiet, and if they lose, they claim unfairness. I think their motive is to have a short cut to Putrajaya.”

Equating opposition’s electoral win as proof of the system’s fairness has become BN’s standard answer to fence off rising condemnation of BN’s massive abuses that have gone from bad to worse.

But such argument is as illogical as it is laughable. Whether an election is fair should be determined by the conditions under which the election is conducted, factors such as the presence or absence of an impartial the election commission and the existence or non-existence of a level playing field. It should never be determined by whether a contestant has won or lost.

Malaysian elections are so notoriously unleveled that one should have no hesitation to conclude that PR would have been swept to power in the 2008 election if there was free and fair election, considering the fact that the popular vote was virtually split at 50-50.


How can anyone consider Malaysian elections fair when the election commission is unabashedly acting as ruling coalition BN’s virtual agent, and the entire mass media of the country (with the exception of the Internet) serve as BN’s propaganda machines to the complete exclusion of PR?

Since the 2008 election, BN’s election bribery has gone from covert to overt, famously dramatized by none other than Prime Minister Najib Razak himself when he publicly attempted to buy votes by offering instant cash aid to the tune of millions of ringgit subject to a BN win in two successive by-elections (Hulu Selangor and Sibu).

Strangely, or rather shockingly, while the video clip of this drama had been watched by a worldwide audience via Youtube, the presiding judge (Azahar Mohamed) threw out a subsequent election petition to nullify the Hulu Selangor by-election result on the ground of “lack of evidence”.

When even the court sanctioned such open bribery committed by the top leader of the ruling coalition, the floodgate for all kinds of corruption, intimation and abuse of authority was virtually thrown wide open to work in BN’s overwhelming advantage. And this is exactly what happened in the recently concluded Sarawak state elections, where BN swept to a landslide victory on the twin strategy of bribery and intimidation.


Under these circumstances, BERSIH ought to be commended for its gallant and timely move to call for a mass rally whereby a petition will be delivered to the King to put a stop to the election system that has been turned into a complete mockery of democracy.

Among BERSIH’s reform proposals are: prohibition of vote-buying of any form, restoration of independence and impartiality to enforcing bodies on election offences, fair media access to all contesting parties, reform of the current dubious postal voting system and cleanse the electoral roll that is fraught with irregularities and phantom voters.

It will be seen from these proposals that the current BERSIH move is not only not a threat to national interests, but a most reasonable and logical proposition to save democracy and restore justice and decency to a country where the state institutions have been pervasively perverted by BN’s prolong autocratic misrule.

With regards to police’s avowed refusal to grant permit to the rally, we have to respectfully advice the police that they have no authority to obstruct such a peaceful rally. Freedom of assembly is a constitutional right guaranteed to all citizens, and the role of the police in such an event is to ensure that peace prevails throughout the rally.

Any attempt by police or any quarter to disrupt a peaceful rally of such noble intention will be construed as a serious breach of the Constitution and will not be taken kindly by peace-loving Malaysians.

Be assured that Malaysians will not back down or compromise on such important principles as the right to have free and fair election and the right to have freedom of assembly.

Kim Quek is the author of The March to Putrajaya. The book was banned by the Home Ministry and Kim is now suing the government to get the ban lifted.

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