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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BERSIH led by the opposition?

The Singapore Straits Times has a report in its edition today captioned “Activists in KL threaten more marches". Significantly, the sub-caption reads: “Opposition-led group warns of protests if ‘biased’ head of election body is not removed” (Malaysiakini has the story too, under the the caption "Bersih activists warn of further protests").

I say significant because though BERSIH was conceived as a civil society initiative in which political parties participated (as opposed to lead) on the basis that political parties, and by this I mean, all political parties, are a part of civil society, it appears that the initiative may have now evolved into a political vehicle. Judging by the article in the Singapore Straits Times, it would appear that this is a perception that some have.

The call for electoral reform is a reasonable one. It is apparent that the system is not a perfect one, both institutionally and in the way it is managed. After the last General Election, Keadilan applied to the High Court for declaratory orders as to how the Election Commission should conduct elections in general. This proceeding was prompted by a desire to clear ambiguities that had become apparent during the last General Election and which marred the public dimension of the General Election. Despite a clear representation that the declaratory orders were not intended to challenge the result of the elections, that being the province of the Election courts and election petitions, the High Court dismissed the action for that reason.

A significant amount of empirical evidence of irregularities and perhaps even improprieties as to the electoral role has been collated. This at the very least warrants close scrutiny of the electoral role as well as aspects of the process itself, and, following that, a public accounting. I believe that this is necessary for the Government to say that Malaysians have sound basis for confidence in the electoral system and for a belief that there are in fact Free and Fair Elections in Malaysia.

It was a desire for such an effort that prompted civil society to found BERSIH.

Being a civil society initiative, BERSIH could say with reasonable certainty that it was a citizens’ movement. The participation of opposition parties in itself ought not be seen as being negative or undermining of the nature of the initiative. The experience of these entities is invaluable for an understanding of the electoral process. Further, I believe that initiatives like these must be inclusive and not exclusive.

Having said that, to allow for a situation where political parties lead, or are perceived to lead, the initiative is then to allow for the creation of a political dimension that is undermining of the objectives of the coalition. This is for two reasons. Firstly, by allowing for political parties to be seen as leading the initiative, it would be natural for some to assume that the initiative is geared towards assisting these parties. If they are, as in this case, political parties that have not been significantly successful in the last elections, it would not be unnatural for some to think that the assertions of irregularities and improprieties are to an extent a manifestation of the frustration of these political parties at losing. The validity of these assertions would then be undermined or even compromised.

We have in fact heard suggestions of this nature from the Government already. This does not augur well for the initiative, especially when it is the political parties that make up the Government that were successful at the last elections.

Secondly, and this more the case in countries like Malaysia where opposition political parties have only limited means to reach out to the rakyat, every opportunity for public positioning of the opposition’s agenda is invaluable. It would, as such, not be unreasonable for some to conclude that the initiative is then being utilized for a political end distinct from the objective of electoral reform. It would not be unreasonable to even form the view that the initiative has been hijacked by the political parties as, in general, a political agenda and methodology are by the nature of the political process distinct from those of civil society.

At the press conference held last week during which a joint memorandum was issued asking for an appointment for a discussion with the Prime Minister, civil society representatives emphasized that their aims were to be distinguished from those of the political parties present. It is apparent to NGOs involved in the issues arising that that there are matters of concern to citizens that require urgent attention and due consideration. It is also apparent that there are those who feel that their cries for reform or help are being summarily dismissed, ignored or blocked out. The willingness of ordinarily placid Malaysians to march is indication enough of a sense of frustration. Independent of the political dimension, these are matters that need to be addressed constructively.

The meetings that have been held between Indian NGOs and the Prime Minister is, I believe, a constructive process. I am grateful for the fact that the Government has not seen it fit to dismiss the grievances of the Indian community after having condemned and acted against HINDRAF. I had expressed a concern as to the possible ‘chilling effect’ of the Internal Security Act detentions (to which I am opposed) on the process of airing these grievances. I am hoping that the Government will approach the question of electoral reform in as constructive a fashion.

Seen from this perspective, the perception that BERSIH is being led by politicians for, possibly, political gain is worrying.

Civil society has much to offer and its value should not be permitted to be undermined. The limited space that civil society has been successful in carving out for itself should be jealously guarded. The effects of the potential damage to the initiative by reason of a perceived political agenda will linger far longer than the political usefulness of the initiative.

The steering committee of BERSIH must therefore take steps to urgently address those factors that have allowed for a perception that it is being led by the opposition if in fact it is not. If it is, then civil society may wish to reconsider the level of involvement of political parties in BERSIH.



Anonymous said...

Host & Guest!
Minimum courtesy to respect!
Basis for HR to work!

Civil Society to promote Fairness & Equalities, HR in short.
in all levels to be seen and worked.
Any party should come to support
and learn how they can work in their walk
so together it works!

Political party should learn to set up a scheme to put HR in their daily practice
and not to take only an image
if they do not work.

Independency will make it grow
not with politics to show!

So independently they can promote fairness in every works,
including GE to come!

"NO FRILLS" on Civil Society!

Umran Kadir said...


You've reflected my worry in this piece.

The best way to firmly establish that the majority of BERSIH supporters on the streets that day were not linked to Opposition parties is for BERSIH itself to come out with a statement and evidence to that effect.

Raja Petra has also made a similar suggestion and I am wholly in agreement with him on this matter.

On a personal level, simply in view of the level of organisation and logistics that must have been involved, I find it hard to believe that most of the 40,000 people there that day were not affiliated with the Opposition. Adding to this is the fact that the marshalling was organised by PAS.

Despite the founding objectives of BERSIH, if the majority of BERSIH supporters are indeed primarily Opposition supporters rather than non-partisan Malaysians then the Opposition have de facto taken over BERSIH.

Irrespective, I remain a steadfast supporter of calls for freer and fairer elections.

Old Fart said...

Singaporean anathema to even the word "Opposition" is well known. In that sense I do believe tht the "opposition" in Malaysia are given far better regard as well as space to function than the "opposition" in Singapore. Obviously nopthing nice can be and should be said about the "opposition" who forever shall wear the devil's mask about him as tht is all they are supposed to be good for.

But then the devil might just sneak in in sheep's clothing and constant vigil has to be kept. The association of the "opposition" to Bersih is unfortunate. I was at the Istana and when I heard it was Anwar and the opposition leaders who had delivered the petition to the palace, it was a disappointment to me.

But Singapore, in pursuit of its attitude towards "opposition", cannot sanction one of their actions in Malaysia while at the same time demonising them in Singapore. To them "opposition" must be bad everywhere else as well. How they will deal with the new Autralian Prime minister and their Parliament is a wonder considering only not too long ago they would have also been the demon of Australia as Singapore's "opposition" are to them.

The unfortunate stickkyness of the Opposition's membership with Bersih, will therefore, in Singaproe's eyes have to mean them not commending Bersih. Bersih surely, therefore, is discredited in their eyes if only because Opposition parties and their members are involved.

How they, both Singapore and Malaysia, reconcile this attitude of theirs while at the same time defending the credibility of some of their own regulatory bodies which actualise, regulate and legalise these opposition parties is a dichotomy I have always had a problem with. The same guys with all the power to do just about anything give life to the opposition parties through their own regulatory institutions that they control and yet leave no stones unturned in condemning them and curtailing them and jailing them and in Singapore's case, bankrupting them.

So what really, one has to wonder is the real objective of allowing or licensing "opposition" parties? Is it because, now that these parties are permited, and therefore, words such as dictatorships, regimes, despots, authoritarian and so on are not applied to them? Fair enough, these words do not go down well with Armani suits and our Baju Melayu.

But then, the economic and the real world, especially America, I suppose gets pleased when the word "democratic" applies to your country and you do conduct elections at least once in 7 years maybe. The pretense of even a demonised opposition is always better than none at all. And most importantly they got to guard against organisations like Bersih into which these demons may filter in like the devil does in an idle mind like mine!

Anonymous said...

It is form over matter - it is a war tactic where the opposition will infiltrate all organizations, not just Bersih but also supposedly loose grouping like Hindraf. Just look at those key persons caught so far. Any method is game for the opposition, with the sole objective of undermining the incumbent. The other followers are merely exhibiting mob behavior, whish the opposition takes advantage of.

Anonymous said...

Bresih does not need to come out with any statement to prove or disprove affliation with the Opposition. The problem with some Malaysians is that they have been conditioned by Barisan physchological conditioning to think that the Opposition is some kind of axis of evil.

The Opposition are voted in by Malaysians and they are to be accorded respect if one respects the Constitution or democracy. The faulty thinking that the goverment and country are synonmous is an errorneous one. Loyalty to the country does not mean loyalty to the goverment, and vice-versa.

Barisan's demonization of the Opposition as if it is an evil is something Malaysians should get rid off. The Barisan propaganda machine and the goverment-controlled media must be boycotted by thinking Malaysians if the process of democracy is to be practised.

Bresih owes no party, whether Opposition or the ruling party for its call for a clean and fair elections. The coorupt EC with its gerrymandering, phantom vote rigging and other discreptancies should be brought to revamp its diabolical practices.

behsaikong said...

Please don't let a morally-bankrupt government divide those of us who oppose blatant malpractices including hijacking the electoral system. I have carefully read your posting and the concerns you and others have expressed. I can understand your point. In turn I hope you will also as carefully read and appreciate the views of "oldfart" and "suaramalaysia". I agree with them and add here my own take of the situation.

I dare say you won't have the 50-100,000 marchers on November 10 without the critical role of these parties. Yes, leaders of these parties were present. Others of us were gladdened because all the key leaders were there. It was a show of unity around very key democratic issues. If they did not come, there would have been severe criticism that they were only canvassing support for November 10 but went missing on that day.

So they were prominently involved in handing over the memorandum to palace officials. If this is not acceptable, then let all concerned ensure it would not happen again. You settle this internally not ask for separation between so-called civil society and poltical parties.

This morally-bankrupt government will have other points to pick on BERSIH even if politicians had stayed away. The fact is that they do not intend to say yes to the critical points of the memo because their own political survival depends on these malpractices during elections. They can readily say yes to the use of transparent ballot boxes and the indelible ink. But do you really think that they would clean up the electoral rolls and not misuse the postal votes.

In fact, the political parties in BERSIH contributed hugely to the success of November 10. PAS' mashalls in red kept the discipline of participants. Also the parties called for full attendance of their people. Despite the huge turnout of party people, did anything untoward happened? What discount did you suffer because of the participation of political parties?

The Bar Council's observance of World Human Rights Day was disrupted and arrests were made despite the fact that political parties were not part of the organising committee.This is the kind of government you are dealing with (or who deals with you).

You spoke highly about the meeting which Hindu leaders had with the PM after the Hindraf Rally. So an unsustainable "attempt of murder" charge was dropped. Be rest assured those detained in Kamunting will be released a few days before the General Elections. The government will know how to make use of us in civil society to achieve not our legitimate demands but their own objectives.

I fear that our private scruples will make us spoilers in the next elections. Obviously you who lead the civil society (and I guess I am part of that since I am not politically -alligned with any party)have your legitimate views and concerns. But you want political change without politicians. Mana boleh? In GE we elect politicians. Like us in so-called society groups, there are no known 100% right politicians. The choice is always between imperfect candidates. The choice is always between the lesser of two "evils". Jangan pula buat macam People's Parliament nak masuk calon independen even though the opposition candidate is R Sivarasa who has long before joining a party has championed human rights and willing to pay the price. Many leaders of the parties we are uncomfortable with or whose party affiliations are not to our own personal taste have personally been subjected to the evil ISA including LKS, Karpal Singh, Syed Husin Ali and Anwar Ibrahim.

The wish to distance ourselves from them will not help our cause and I dare say not in the interest of civil society. I believe that the civil society's stand should be that BERSIH is open to all political parties and politicians from both sides of the parliamentary divide. You believe in what we are fighting for you come and take your stand with us. All are welcome because the struggle is for all.

Anonymous said...

Re: Lost in Transition

The opposition lacks the best minds to put policies in place. The system is such that it is simply too dangerous and too much a gamble to be part of the opposition. Dissent (or what the rest of the democratic world calls difference) is a dangerous business in Malaysia. Intimidation, harassment, slander and even internment are risks too many for the majority. These professionals, the exact group who favors familiarity, would rather selfishly exploit their potential affiliated with the governing party or not take part in politics at all.

In short, being in the opposition is for the brave. The people should reward their valor by voting them in. Let's not be delusional- there's no chance for the opposition to be in government. Not at least in the near future. Let them grow at least, so that the best minds will see that there is indeed a chance. That being in the opposite side of the fence is alright and being different is acceptable. Only then will the best minds join the opposition and only then will they thrive.