For the past few weeks, Malaysians had been fed with only one sided news from the alternative media. Not one of the alternative news portals gave a thorough exposure on what the Election Commission had brief the media yesterday. Below are excerpts from The Malay Mail on the interview.
Mail Q&A: Only so much we can do, EC says of Bersih’s demands
“SOME of the eight recommendations by the Bersih 2.0 rally organisers are up for discussion and would be good to implement and some are not within our power to carry out,” says Election Commission of Malaysia (EC) deputy chairman Datuk Wira Wan Ahmad Wan Omar.
“We are only an election management body, not a political party and we are answerable to the law and the Ruler.”
Wan Ahmad said this during a luncheon talk yesterday organised by the Institute of Mind Development (INMIND).
It is understood that recommendations up for discussion were on cleaning the electoral roll, reforming postal balloting, use of indelible ink, and minimum 21 days campaigning period.
The other four recommendations the EC are apparently unable to carry out were free and fair access to media, strengthening public institutions, stopping dirty politics and stopping corruption.
The upcoming Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9, organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, has been touted as an acid test for Malaysian democracy, where the “freedom and right to assembly” as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution has been put under scrutiny.
While the Home Ministry has called it an illegal rally, and the police have warned the public against taking part, Bersih 2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the rally will go on.
Bersih2.0 is a “sequel” to the Bersih rally on Nov 10, 2007, where a memorandum was sent to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, with the intention of seeking electoral reform in the country.
Here are the highlights of a question-and-answer session during the luncheon talk.
MM: Have the recommendations made by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Bersih to the EC during closed-door discussions been forwarded to the government, and what is the status?
Wan Ahmad: There have been various efforts towards improving the election system. We have revised and re-checked the laws with the help of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AG). A lot of issues were brought up to Parliament with regards to the election management process, but people sometimes tend to forget that. It is true that there are a few things where the Federal Constitution needs to be amended, but the amendment of the constitution must be the last resort as the constitution is our reference point.
Just because we want to fulfill our demands, we should not disregard the efforts made by the people who formulated the constitution over five decades ago, where a lot of pros and cons, cross-checking and checks and balances were done before it was implemented. EC is not looking for temporary measures, we listen to the civil society, responsible bodies, NGOs, political parties and AG before we make any decision, especially with regards to constitutional amendments. EC is not a law-making organisation, we can only make recommendations, but it is up to the government to bring the matter to Parliament for debate.
A lot of changes have been made. Previously, no political party agents could be in military camps during postal voting sessions, but it is allowed now. These changes have been made and explained to political parties and NGOs. We did not close our door to negotiations because these were people who gave their feedback to us. We would continue to meet them for the betterment of the democratic process in our country.
What can be done will be done, but those that cannot be implemented will take some time to allow a study to take place so that we can find a solution that would serve all parties. But we cannot hurry and expect overnight changes, especially if it is made just because of the upcoming 13th general election.
MM: What has hindered the EC from implementing cleaning the electoral roll, reforming postal balloting, use of indelible ink, and minimum 21 days campaigning period?
Wan Ahmad: The voters’ registration issue has been done in accordance with the Registration of Electors Regulations 2002 which are bound with the Federal constitution. For example, a registered voter at a certain address will have to request the EC for address change as we cannot simply change their voting place because they are no longer living at the address stated on their MyKad. We cannot do that, as it would lead to power abuse. Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Azmin Ali had been telling people there are six “phantom voters” at his house address.
But these six people were registered in the 1990s, and the new law which required voters to register in accordance with MyKad addresses was only implemented in 2002. Prior to the new law, there was no system that regulated people to register at their place, and not to their fancy. That is what happened and we have successfully handled the issue. It is within one’s rights to vote at the place they registered, even if they no longer live there. EC is forbidden by law to change the voting place of registered voters unless it is upon request by the voters’ themselves.
As said earlier, changes have to be made to postal voting. The police and army have to vote earlier as they have to serve the country during election day. We have allowed the political party agents to monitor poll stations for postal voting, and we cannot simply change this method without considering the rights of the army, police and even full-time students abroad. With regards to indelible ink, it is used among countries which have no identification system, such as Africa and India.
They have not reached our level yet. We only have 12 million voters. Why should we turn our system backwards when we have reached this level of technological advancement? The reason there is a push for the use of indelible ink is due to fear of double-voting, but we have an adequate system to handle voter identification and it is nearly impossible for people to register twice.
We only have one identification number, and one identification card. That is why we are seriously considering the biometric system. Explanations have been given to people concerning the campaign period. We simply cannot compare our country with others that have longer campaigning days. Look at how big the number of voters is in countries such as Indonesia or Thailand.
The situation in our country is different, with various media exposure, mainstream and alternative, and people already know the policy of the government and the political parties. Hence, I do not understand the need for a longer campaigning period.
MM: The Bersih 2.0 organisers said the EC had only made a few changes since the first Bersih rally in 2007. Why can’t automatic voting registration be implemented for those who have turned 21 without having to register with the EC?
Wan Ahmad: Automatic registration, for now, is contradictory to the constitution. If it were to be implemented, we would have to amend the constitution first. It is not within EC’s power to change it, as it is under the provision 119, where it is stated that one has to request to register as a voter with the EC.
This is done with respect to one’s freedom of choice. It is up to an individual to choose to register and become a voter. According to a survey conducted by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), the reason there are 3.2 million unregistered voters is due to laziness. We cannot force them if they do not want to be voters.
MM: Why does EC seem to be “jumpy” with regards to demands made by certain quarters like Bersih? How can NGOs prevent this from happening and deal with EC directly?
Wan Ahmad: To be fair, we have to listen to all parties for feedback. If an NGO seeks to meet EC, we welcome them but an official letter must be made. There is no problem with that on our part.
MM: Instead of a longer campaigning period, why can’t a cooling-off period be implemented?
Wan Ahmad: Indeed we have a cooling-off period. All political parties know that campaigning must stop by midnight before the polling day. We have laws but not everyone will adhere to them. We see how some political talks were played via compact discs until the wee hours in the morning. There was nothing we can do about those who disregard the law. We cannot simply arrest people during polling day when we have other things to handle as well.
MM: Apart from the army and police, is there a possibility for media practitioners to be allowed postal voting as most of them have to work on polling day too?
Wan Ahmad: We are looking into the matter. This is one area that has been in our discussions too.
Online weed-out of ‘phantom’ voters now available
STARTING today, a new system to weed out dubious voters will be available on the Election Commission’s (EC) website at http://www.spr.gov.my for voters to check their status.
EC deputy chairman Datuk Wira Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said the system would allow voters to check the voter list according to their home addresses.
“Heads of households are encouraged to check online and report to us if there are other names within the address.”
If there are discrepancies, the EC would be able to make the necessary changes under Rule 25 of the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002.
On the criticism that foreign observers have been denied access to observe elections here, Wan Ahmad said: “The foreigners’ understanding of our constitution and culture is different. The same is applied to us. When I visited a foreign country to observe their electoral process, I was not allowed to question the transparency of the process.”
An individual that everyone loves to hate, Datuk Ibrahim Ali went with guns blazing during an interview with The Malay Mail today.
Mail Q&A: I am a fighter, says Ibrahim Ali
DATUK Ibrahim Ali is staying defiant. Just hours after Malay-rights movement Perkasa received a stern warning from the police that action would be taken against them if they took to the streets in retaliation to the upcoming Bersih rally, its controversial president reiterated that its members would march as planned.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar had yesterday cautioned Perkasa secretary-general Syed Hassan Syed Ali that there would be a crackdown if the organisation didn’t call off its plans. But Ibrahim has other ideas.
Labeling Bersih as an “emotionally unstable” group, Ibrahim said as long as Bersih didn’t call off their march, Perkasa would take to the streets on July 9, as he believed that Bersih’s demand for a free and fair election is only a political ploy.
He said if Perkasa did not go against them, Malaysia and the global community might think that Bersih had the support of the country. Ibrahim however stressed that Perkasa’s march will be a peaceful one.
“We will go as a peaceful group, as we are peace warriors.”
The Malay Mail’s senior reporter MARHALIM ABAS spoke with the Pasir Mas MP in Parliament yesterday, and got an insight into the Perkasa founder’s reasoning and motives behind his opposition to the latest Bersih gathering.
Q: What are your thoughts on Bersih 2.0?
A: To me, Bersih is a mixed group, a group with problems, some with big ambitions and others who are frustrated. So they are a mixture of these groups who to me are emotionally unstable. I believe my reading of them is correct by looking at the Bersih committee members.
Although some are maybe academically qualified, they could have been afflicted with mental sickness, Wallahu Alam (Only Allah knows) based on what they are doing and demanding.
Q: Bersih organisers have claimed they are seeking a fair and just elections. Is asking for fair and just elections a bad thing?
A: I believe that the demand for a fair and just elections is only a ploy. We all know the credibility level of our elections. Yes, there are some weaknesses but looking at their demands, I do not believe it warrants a street demonstration.
Their demands include automatic voter registration, abolishing postal votes, using indelible ink and a campaign period of more than 21 days. These are things that can be discussed at a roundtable meeting with the Election Commission. If they cannot get their way at one time, they can keep demanding. They can submit their memorandum to the King, they can also pressure the EC via their members who are in Parliament. There are various means for them to press for their demands.
The EC had already answered some of their demands. On the indelible ink, for example, the EC has already said they will be using the biometric system which is better than putting your finger in a bottle. On the 21-day campaign period, although it is their right to demand, others may not agree. I don’t want it, 21 days is too long.
They also do not realise how much money the government spends on 11 days of elections. How much will the cost of security be for 11 days? And now they want 10 more days; these are the same people who keep telling the government not to waste public funds and save money.
They’re fond of double standards; it’s like their stand on the Internal Security Act. The Bersih 2.0 chairman (Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan) was also involved in the Abolish ISA campaign; yet these are also the same people who asked for me to be arrested under the ISA.
Q: So Bersih is not your typical NGO movement, it’s more political?
A: Yes, Ambiga is the one who is from an NGO. Others in the committee – the deputy chairman, secretary, head of information and other committee members – are all from PKR, DAP and PAS. Only Ambiga is representing the NGO or maybe in her personal capacity but she is the former Bar Council president.
By putting Ambiga as the chairman, they are in a way attempting to tell the masses that they are not a political movement, but one for the people. They can also show the world that the movement is being headed by a learned advocate, an esteemed member of the legal fraternity. This is meant to confuse people.
Q: And it is for those reasons Perkasa and Umno Youth are planning a counter march on July 9?
A: What Perkasa is doing now via my statements, public speeches and information gathering, is to explain to the public what Bersih is really about. What they are doing now doesn’t make sense.
If I do not go against them, Malaysia and the whole world might think that they have the support of the country. They do not have the support of the majority.
The reasoning is that if the ruling party goes against them, they will turn it around and claim that the EC won’t bow to their demands, hence proof that the EC is working for the ruling coalition.
The public understands that although I’m a politician, I don’t have any other agenda to promote, such as making (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim the Prime Minister. I stand alone.
As a seasoned politician, I was a former student leader. I know Anwar very well, and I myself was detained twice under the ISA. Due to that, I am able to appreciate the country’s situation.
The situation on the ground was already tense, so when Bersih was announced, my attention turned towards the situation in the Middle East.
I also noticed that several days after July 9, Anwar will have to enter his defence. (Note: July 13 is the case mention for the defence’s appeal against the judge’s decision not to recuse himself in Anwar’s sodomy trial).
I also noted that during the Sarawak elections Ambiga had stated that the people there should emulate what had happened at Tahrir Square (the site of the massive uprising in Cairo, Egypt) and she was subsequently barred from entering Sarawak.
Unlike other politicians, I like to listen when opposition leaders give speeches or talks. People like Anwar, I listen to them while sitting in my car. I want to know what they are saying, whether it’s just political propaganda or rhetoric. For example, Nurul Izzah (Anwar), when speaking about July 9, stated the public should emulate what the Egyptians did.
I’m also kept informed by my friends, who are members of PAS or PKR. So either by listening or being informed by others, I concluded that Bersih isn’t simply a means to ask for fair elections. Supporters are being told to bring along food and to be prepared not to go home for three or four days. Looking at their banners and pamphlets, I am convinced the demonstration was meant to create havoc.
Based on all of this and also the fact that I was a student leader in the ’70s, I concluded that Bersih, despite its slogan of a fair and just elections, is really an illegal attempt to overthrow the government. You see, they cannot wait, as Anwar is fighting for his survival in the court case and also the sex video scandal.
Q: Are you saying that if Anwar was not called to submit his defence (in the sodomy trial), July 9 would not happen?
A: I cannot say that. But these people are power crazy, they became more emotional after Anwar was called to enter his defence. If he wasn’t, they might still call for a demonstration to create momentum until the general election is called. They want power even via undemocratic means.
Q: The police are saying that if Perkasa and Bersih actually hold the demonstration next Saturday, there will be trouble..
A: I believe the police. Perkasa has given briefings in 22 places in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. We will go as a peaceful group, as we are peace warriors. I have told everyone that no one should bring weapons or things that could be used as weapons. But you know, when a large number of people take to the streets, anything can happen. For example, in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, the army became one the strongest in the world. But even the Egyptian army couldn’t stop the violence when hundreds of thousands of people came out to the streets days and night.
The same thing happened in Tunisia. Bear in mind that in the Middle East, there is only one race so no racial issues. In our country, if the people take to the streets, they will be in groups, Malays, Chinese and Indians. As I said, even before July 9, racial tensions already exist.
So you can imagine if they gathered in the streets and start making public speeches. That is why I tend to believe what the police are saying about July 9. Unlike politicians who will have ready-made answers, the police, especially the higher-ups, will rely on surveillance and intelligence before making any statements. They know Bersih on July 9 is something different and it must be stopped.
Q: After knowing all that, you still want to press on with a counter march on July 9?
A: Well, I am a fighter and I am committed towards ensuring that my country remains peaceful. It just so happens that I have the blood of a warrior and as I know Anwar and his people, it is my responsibility. You see, in Islam we are taught the concept of Amal Makruf Nahi Munkar (To maintain the right and to forbid wrong doings) so I cannot run away from responsibility.
Q: We were told that you were supposed to meet with the IGP today (yesterday).
A: Yes, I was told about it yesterday (Wednesday) but I had already made plans to go back to Kelantan for a function. My statement was already taken on Tuesday so I told them they can take my statement in Kota Baru. Their officer later informed me that I could send my secretary-general.
Q: Have you been briefed about what had transpired at the meeting? (Ibrahim had just arrived from Kelantan about 1pm as his flight was delayed)
A: Well, the secretary-general informed me that it was not much different from what I was told at Dang Wangi. The IGP told the secretary-general to inform the Perkasa executive council that if we go ahead with the demonstrations on July 9, they would have no other choice but to act against us. The IGP also gave a briefing on the country’s security situation. As what I had said before, that if Bersih 2.0 do not go on with their demonstration or if the police cannot stop them and Bersih goes ahead with their plans, Perkasa will also go ahead with our plans (to demonstrate).
Q: Would you agree if the Bersih demonstration was held in a stadium or something similar?
A: Well, I don’t think the police will agree to the idea at the moment. If Bersih abandons its idea of conducting a street demonstration but instead hold it indoors, I will support them and ask the police to give a permit. I will support it as it will be just like what the Constitution says about freedom of speech and the right to gather.
Contrary to what Suhakam said, I believe if you need to gather, you need a police permit as mentioned in the Constitution. Why do you want to take to the streets? Everyone is complaining – taxi drivers, petty traders and even the tourist bodies. Just imagine even a small accident in the city will create chaos throughout the Klang Valley. What will happen during a street demonstration? It’s the weekend, let people enjoy their day off. Do not create havoc.
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