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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bersih rally – chill down BN’s spine

By Jeswan Kaur | FMT

There is something about the July 9 rally to be held by election watchdog Bersih 2.0 that has left the Barisan Nasional (BN) government shivering in its pants. Otherwise, there would be no reason for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his bandwagon of cronies to become jittery over what is planned to be a “Walk for Democracy”.

The squirming by BN, Perkasa and Umno Youth is self-explanatory – after all, it is this very government that has all along been squashing democracy in this country, manipulating election results, be they by-elections or general elections.

So, the government is instead using business entities in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and also taxi operators to vehemently protest against the rally, claiming it would bring losses to their businesses.

The many police reports lodged against the rally by Najib’s cronies is another attempt at stifling the coalition’s attempt to redeem the tainted image of the electoral system.

Meanwhile, Perkasa, the ultra Malay wing, and Umno Youth have both announced that they too would hold their rallies simultaneously with the “Walk for Democracy”, purportedly, as a form of damage control and to mitigate the harm Bersih 2.0 would do on July 9.

For the uninitiated, Bersih or the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections was established in 2006 by opposition parties and civil society organisations to pursue clean and fair elections. However, the leadership decided to transform the coalition into a purely civil society movement, doing away with political involvement, renaming it Bersih 2.0.

The coalition comprises 62 non-governmental organisations, with Empower (Selangor Community Consciousness Society) and Hakam (National Human Rights Society) taking the lead role.

Bersih 2.0 chairperson, lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan, has assured the government that the rally’s objective is to champion electoral reforms in a peaceful manner. The walk would end with the handing over of a memorandum to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

But Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has warned the public against participating in rallies organised by both Bersih 2.0 and Perkasa.

However, before jumping the gun, could Hishammuddin explain why Ambiga, the former Bar Council president, was barred from entering Sarawak to observe its state election held on April 16?

She was among several activists who were denied entry into Sarawak and forced to return home from the airport, on orders of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Predictably, BN won the majority in Sarawak and Taib, president of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) , was once again sworn in as chief minister, having ruled the state for 30 years, that too no less as a dictator.

Prohibiting Ambiga from setting foot in Sarawak has left little room for BN to deny claims of corrupt practices. Otherwise, what valid reasons did Taib and BN have in sending Ambiga and the other activists back home?

BN’s skeletons no longer hidden

The BN government under Najib is having sleepless nights after Bersih 2.0 announced the “Walk for Democracy” rally because BN’s corrupt ways of running the country is now being questioned by the people.

Najib’s insecurity comes from knowing the threat Bersih 2.0 poses to BN in trying to wrestle back power from the opposition. The hard truth on how corruption is deeply embedded within BN as exposed by Bersih 2.0 has jeopardised Najib’s chances at the ballot boxes.

When BN won the Sarawak state election in April, revelations came about that it was achieved via money politics.

A FMT reader commented that during the Sarawak state election, old folks from Kampung Long Luyamg were enlisted as Rela members and given RM50 as allowance and “reminded” to vote for BN.

Just as disturbed over the wrongdoings taking place during the election is Aliran (English language news medium).

Commenting on Taib’s high-handed approach in barring Ambiga and other activists from observing the Sarawak state polls, Aliran president P Ramakrishnan said: “This undemocratic act of the authorities patently criminalises the right of a Malaysian citizen to conduct legitimate political activities in the country. It frowns upon any citizenry’s attempt to ensure a playing field that is as level as it should be. It demeans the democratic process and vilifies people of good character who mean well for the country.

“It also suggests to what extent a desperate regime under threat will go to in order to protect its narrow vested interests even if it means having to violate basic democratic and constitutional rights of the citizenry.”

Ramakrishnan urged the Election Commission (EC) to investigate the blatant disregard for a free and fair election and the free movement of the people.

With all this arm-twisting undertaken by BN, dare Najib say that democracy is alive and kicking in Malaysia?

Bersih has no hidden agenda

Bersih 2.0 does have an “agenda”, but unlike BN, it is not hidden. For this coalition, its coming rally is a move to counter the BN government’s inertia against its 11 demands for electoral reforms.

They include complete revision of the electrical roll; using indelible ink in elections; reform of postal voting; free and fair media access to all contesting parties; minimum campaign period of 21 days; and fair and professional constituency redelineation.

The other demands are: automatic registration of all eligible voters; lowering the voting age from 21 to 18; reform in electoral financing rules to ensure transparency; administrative neutrality of all levels of government and affirming the political right of all students, 18 years and above.

For the first time Bersih 2.0 is demanding better scrutiny of election financing and reduction in the voting age. Ambiga said Malaysia was lagging behind countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Timor Leste where the voting age is 18. For Indonesia, its voting age has gone to as low as 17.

Ambiga had said in April that Bersih received overwhelming complaints on the alleged discrepancies that took place in the Sarawak state election. Yet, the EC failed to carry out its responsibility accordingly.

The obviously annoyed Ambiga then asked the top EC officials to resign for failing to deal with the irregularities in the Sarawak election.

“I believe it is the personal responsibility of each commissioner to search his conscience and see whether he… should resign as a show of protest,” she told a press conference held then.

Polls observers and opposition leaders had claimed that bribery and intimidation were rife during the April 16 Sarawak election. They claimed the EC had failed to curb them and were partial towards the ruling coalition, often overlooking “blatant abuses and violation” of election laws.

Calling a spade, a spade

In her unequivocal stand, Ambiga said public confidence in the EC was fast eroding, with the people perceiving the commission as a political tool of the ruling coalition.

“Under the Federal Constitution, the appointment of top EC officials is made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and it has to be composed of people with impeccable credentials.

“In other words, you must be courageous, you must be independent, you must be prepared to call a spade a spade, you must be prepared to speak whether it is in relation to the party in power or the opposition,” the gutsy Ambiga said.

The EC expectedly denied any wrongdoings and claimed that its conduct was professional and done “by the book”.

Ambiga has reassured Najib and his “henchmen” that as far as Bersih 2.0 is concerned, all would go well during its “Walk for Democracy” on July 9.

If riot erupts on July 9, one could bet that the troublemakers would be from the BN fold, out to stop Bersih 2.0 from raising public awareness on how severely maligned EC is and the manipulations, cronyism, nepotism and corruption that serve as tools for BN to secure victory, both in by-elections and the general elections.

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