I got a lot of queries from college/university students and schoolkids about the recent Bersih 20.0 demonstrations. Therefore, today I would like to provide my point of views and hopefully the most definitive guide for those who want know what Bersih 2.0 is all about.
So guys and girls, here it is. Astound your family and friends with these facts:
What is Bersih 2.0?
BERSIH started out as the Joint Action Committee for Electoral Reform, which was formed in July 2005, and the coalition’s objective was to push for a thorough reform of the electoral process in Malaysia. This committee thought that the election process in Malaysia is unfair and not free from the influence (imaginary or otherwise) of current ruling government of Malaysia. Hence they established this committee to look into these electoral processes.
The formulation of the Joint Communique
The Joint Communique was a result of an ‘Electoral Reform Workshop’ held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2006. The Joint Communique defines the long-term objectives and the immediate working goals of the coalition. One of it is the establishment of the steering committee below.
BERSIH Steering Committee
The Committee comprises members from the political parties, as well as representatives from the following NGOs: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Women’s Development Collective (WDC) and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI). Note that most of the NGOs are led by people actively involved with the opposition or known to affiliate themselves with the opposition. Although most of the NGOs are legitimate, the coalition itself is illegitimate as it did not register itself as a unit with the Registrar of Society.
The Beginning of BERSIH
BERSIH was officially launched on 23 November 2006 in the Malaysian Parliament building lobby. It was attended by political party leaders, civil society groups and NGOs, including PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, PKR vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah, DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng, DAP National Publicity Secretary and MP for Seputeh Teresa Kok, PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, PAS Youth chief Salahudin Ayub, PSM Secretary-General S. Arutchelvan, Malaysian Trade Union Congress Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, WDC executive director Maria Chin Abdullah and SUARAM executive director Yap Swee Seng.
Thus with names cited above, the opposition friendly BERSIH was formed.
Bersih’s call for FREE AND FAIR ELECTION is summarised in the following 8 points:
1. Clean the electoral roll
The electoral roll is marred with irregularities such as deceased persons and multiple persons registered under a single address or non-existent addresses. The electoral roll must be revised and updated to wipe out these ‘phantom voters’. The rakyat have a right to an electoral roll that is an accurate reflection of the voting population.
In the longer term, BERSIH 2.0 also calls for the EC to implement an automated voter registration system upon eligibility to reduce irregularities.
2. Reform postal ballot
The current postal ballot system must be reformed to ensure that all citizens of Malaysia are able to exercise their right to vote. Postal ballot should not only be open for all Malaysian citizens living abroad, but also for those within the country who cannot be physically present in their voting constituency on polling day. Police, military and civil servants too must vote normally like other voters if not on duty on polling day.
The postal ballot system must be transparent. Party agents should be allowed to monitor the entire process of postal voting.
3. Use of indelible ink
Indelible ink must be used in all elections. It is a simple, affordable and effective solution in preventing voter fraud. In 2007, the EC decided to implement the use of indelible ink. However, in the final days leading up to the 12th General Elections, the EC decided to withdraw the use of indelible ink citing legal reasons and rumours of sabotage.
BERSIH 2.0 demands for indelible ink to be used for all the upcoming elections. Failure to do so will lead to the inevitable conclusion that there is an intention to allow voter fraud.
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
The EC should stipulate a campaign period of not less than 21 days. A longer campaign period would allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on their choices. It will also allow candidates more time to disseminate information to rural areas. The first national elections in 1955 under the British Colonial Government had a campaign period of 42 days but the campaign period for 12th GE in 2008 was a mere 8 days.
5. Free and fair access to media
It is no secret that the Malaysian mainstream media fails to practice proportionate, fair and objective reporting for political parties of all divide. BERSIH 2.0 calls on the EC to press for all media agencies, especially state-funded media agencies such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama to allocate proportionate and objective coverage for all potlical parties.
6. Strengthen public institutions
Public institutions must act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy. Public institutions such as the Judiciary, Attorney-General, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC), Police and the EC must be reformed to act independently, uphold laws and protect human rights.
In particular, the EC must perform its constitutional duty to act independently and impartially so as to enjoy public confidence. The EC cannot continue to claim that they have no power to act, as the law provides for sufficient powers to institute a credible electoral system.
7. Stop corruption
Corruption is a disease that has infected every aspect of Malaysian life. BERSIH 2.0 and the rakyat demand for an end to all forms of corruption. Current efforts to eradicate corruption are mere tokens to appease public grouses. We demand that serious action is taken against ALL allegations of corruption, including vote buying.
8. Stop dirty politics
Malaysians are tired of dirty politics that has been the main feature of the Malaysian political arena. We demand for all political parties and politicians to put an end to gutter politics. As citizens and voters, we are not interested in gutter politics; we are interested in policies that affect the nation.
BERSIH 1.0 in 2007
In 2007, BERSIH launched it’s first ever demonstration on November 10th 2007. The original BERSIH was led by led by a group consist of PKR President Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, PAS secretary-general Kamaruddin Jaffar, Wong Chin Huat, DAP publicity secretary Teresa Kok, MTUC President Syed Shahir Syed Mohamad etc.
Most of them are members of the opposition. The rally was epic. Some estimated that up to 40,000 people gathered in the streets of Kuala Lumpur to deliver the Bersih Memorandum to the King.
Upon delivery in Istana Negara, Anwar Ibrahim and PAS President, Abdul Hadi Awang were also present to lend a credence to the memorandum.
Launch of BERSIH 2.0
BERSIH issued its first joint communiqué on 23 November 2006.
At its formation, BERSIH comprised civil society organisations and political parties with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia.
BERSIH’s journey thus far has been both monumental and memorable. The public demonstration of November 2007, which saw thousands of ordinary Malaysians take to the streets in support of clean and fair elections, was a critical juncture in our nation’s electoral journey.
They believe that after almost 3 ½ years later, the aims of BERSIH continue to be relevant.
They wanted to continue its crusade for clean and fair elections independent of any political party. BERSIH is thus re-launched as BERSIH 2.0, a coalition of like minded civil society organisations. However their claim to be unaffiliated with any political party remains untrue. But of course, their aim is to effectively monitor both sides of the political divide.
The Steering Committee members of BERSIH 2.0 are as follows :
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, Chairperson – (She was the Bar Council President during the tenureship of our 5th Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Hj. Ahmad Badawi)
Andrew Khoo – (Bar Council member)
Arumugam K. – (President of Suaram)
Farouk Musa – (President of of the Islamic Rennaisance Front)
Maria Chin Abdullah – (Executive Director of Empower)
Haris Ibrahim – (President of Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM), a splinter political party of PKR)
Liau Koh Fah – (Chair of the Civil Rights Committee, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall)
Richard Y W Yeoh – (Pakatan Rakyat’s Councillor of Petaling Jaya, Selangor)
Toh Kin Woon – (ex-Gerakan leader who quit the party to join the opposition)
Wong Chin Huat – (Chair of Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI), a very active opposition activist)
Yeoh Yang Poh – (Former President of Bar Council)
Zaid Kamaruddin – (President of Jamaah Islah Malaysia, a PAS affiliate)
Faisal Mustaffa – Coordinator of the Secretariat (also member of PKR, Kelana Jaya division)
Events prior to 9 July 2011
Dato’ Ambiga took over the leadership of BERSIH to continue the pursuit of electoral reforms with the EC. On 27th November 2010, Ambiga and the BERSIH committee met with the EC and discussed the 17 demands for electoral reforms.
The 17 demands are:
1. Investigation of Election Offences
2. Obstruction to voters registration
3. Automatic Registration
4. Lowering of voting age from 21 to 18
5. Absentee voting for all.
6. Indelible Ink
7. Minimizing gerrymandering
8. Minimising malapportionment of constituencies
9. Meaningful campaign period of 21 days minimum.
10. Free and fair media access
11. Control of party expenses
12. Public Finance of Party Expense
13. Right to contest election after resignation
14. Administrative neutrality
15. Restoration of Local Government elections
16. Full Judicial scrutiny on Election Petitions
17. Right to observe elections
As the result of the meeting, BERSIH cut down the demand into 8 points as stated above and all the 17 demands above became redundant. The reason for the decrease is due to the invalidity and irrelevance of the other 9 points and the inability of BERSIH to find proof of the concerns. For example, point number 12 above – Public Finance of Party Expense which is translated as public money to finance political party’s expenses. A bit dumbfounded don’t you think? Why would our tax money be used to finance politicians?
Another one is the obstruction of voters registration. It was dropped because they could not find any evidence on the obstruction.
The rest of the demands are either not connected to the EC, or the EC is already implementing them or it is beyond the powers of EC to deliberate.
When we are negotiating to improve something for the good of the country, we would usually meet and have a dialog with the relevant authorities many times. Just like in school when you are a committee member and is tasked to organise a project, your committee and the relevant bodies will meet many times to see it through.
However, BERSIH only met the EC once on 27th November 2010 but subsequently proceeded to announce that the EC will not cooperate.
The announcement was triggered due to the collapse of a 2nd meeting in April 2011. The EC were said to unable to meet them due to the hectic preparation of the Sarawak state election in May 2011.
However, instead of rescheduling for another date, BERSIH announced that they will organise a demonstration scheduled on 9th July 2011.
Election Commission’s response
The EC is an institution that reports directly to the Parliament. They do not report to any ministers or political parties.
Hence, any change in the electoral process must be done by the Members of the Parliament which consist of the Barisan Nasional MPs and the MPs of the opposition pact because they are governed by the Election Act, 1958 which are passed through Parliament. They can however make recommendations to Parliament. But ultimately, it is the parliamentarians who will pass any changes in the law.
Note that with the obvious heavy presence of opposition MPs backing the BERSIH line-up, no suggestions to reform the electoral process were presented by the MPs in Parliament since 2007. Surely this would be a good and efficient way to actually improve something? However, not one Private Member’s Bill concerning electoral reforms was tabled in Parliament since the formation of BERSIH.
Nevertheless, EC’s feedback on the 8 points presented above are as below.
1. Clean the electoral roll
One of the major concerned of BERSIH is the existence of deceased persons in the list of Malaysian voters. Since people die everyday, it is impossible to update the list on real-time basis as it is required by law that the next of kin of the deceased person to personally contact the EC to notify of the death. The EC do not, and can not have the authority to automatically wipe out the names without a formal notification by the next of kin.
Imagine if the election is today. There will still be names of dead people in the list because there are people that just died yesterday.
EC’s own improvement initiative is to continuously, and expeditiously clean the electoral list immediately after being informed of any deaths.
Another point of contention is the existence of irregularities whereby there are people registered under different address or multiple persons registered under single address.
This had also been improved by the EC when changes to the Act was made in 2002. From thereon, your place of voting is determined by your address in the IC.
The irregularities existed because previously, political parties, through agents, can register their members without the members knowing it. Hence, your voting address will be determined by the person registering it for you.
Plus, in the period before 21st century, most places in Malaysia do not have individual address to a specific home. Most mail/letters that were sent to rural or semi rural areas were sent to one specific spot and collected by the people on daily basis. These spots were mostly, some ‘kedai kopi’ in the villages, post offices, house of the village head etc.
Most people at that time have ICs that indicate addresses which have only the name of the area they live in. This was way before postcodes were invented. By the way, postcodes were only introduced in the late 80s.
Due to this predicament, the problem of specific addresses in the ICs would spill over to the problems of voters’ address in the electoral roll.
However, this was rectified in 2002 whereby voting address will have to be the same with the address appearing in your IC. Voters can at anytime check their voting status and place to vote online with the EC at http://www.spr.gov.my and is encourage to report to them should there be any discrepancies.
Another problem is implementation of automatic voter registration system.
It actually means, once you reach 21, you are automatically be registered by the EC to vote.
In the highly rigid Singapore, it is MANDATORY to vote. Any citizens who did not vote will be penalised by the government.
Malaysia is different in a way she gives you the democratic right of NOT to vote. As an extension, she is giving you the right not to register as a voter as well. People have the right to vote or not to vote. And this is enshrined in our Constitution. You can actually sue the EC and demand why have you been automatically registered when the Constitution does not say so?
BERSIH’s demand seemed to take away this right. EC has the view that, even though voting is very important responsibility of a Malaysian, they must be given the right not to discharge it.
Thus, the EC do not agree with this point. However, they continuously implement awareness programs to ensure that people would know the importance of registering as a voter. They are aware that if the have to impose automatic registration, the Constitution must be amended first before they can actually implement it.
2. Reform postal ballot
BERSIH has this idea that all Malaysian citizens should vote within the SAME DAY.
Due to the illogical manner and the improbability of this to happen, the EC have only to a certain extent, implement some of the changes to improve the postal ballot.
Police, military and other security forces which made up about 200,000 voters cannot vote on the same day with the rest of us due to the fact that they have to be on high alert during election day. If all military and police personnel go out to polling centres, then obviously there will be no proper security to guard our country at that time.
Imagine if all the policemen and the army queuing up for hours on election day. Who shall look after the streets and our borders?
That is why, these people will vote few days earlier than the rest of us. This is called postal voting because the voting process is done at their police or army posts. Recently, the EC had changed the name of postal voting to ‘advance voting’. The process is still the same where you queue up, show your identification, your name will be crossed out, you receive your ballot papers to tick the candidate you choose and the ballot paper will be then slipped into a transparent box. All this will be done under the watchful eye of political parties’ agents.
The votes will then be counted on the same day. No mailing of the votes involved. Perhaps that is why there was a misperception. Just because the process is called ‘postal vote’, people thought the votes will be mailed somewhere else which gave rise to the perception that it could be abused.
3. Use of indelible ink
With regards to indelible ink, it is used among countries which have no IC, such as Africa and India. It is a very low-tech approach. It is as if everyone else is using Twitter or Google+ but BERSIH still wants you to use Friendster.
The countries in Africa or even India 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.
Everyone has one IC number and one identification card. This is the ultimate control system that is used to register and identify the voters. Ever heard of anyone with two ICs? No you have not.
However, to ensure even more security and to improve on voters identification, the EC is seriously considering the biometric system. This is the thumbprint scan very similar to the ones you use in the airport when your passport is scanned.
Another big risk of the indelible ink is the potential abuse. What would stop anybody from going around in rural areas with the same indelible ink and tricks some unsuspecting old grandma into using that ink BEFORE polling day? Come voting day, she will not be allowed to vote by the officers at poll centre because her finger has already been marked. It is against the Constitution to disallowed a registered voter to vote and the grandma can sue the EC for turning her away.
Hence, biometric is the way of the future because let’s face it, everyone has thumbprints.
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
Longer campaign period is the norm in big countries with a lot of population such as Indonesia and Thailand. 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 EC has the jurisdiction to determine the number of campaign days that they see fit. Remember, the longer the campaign period, the bigger costs are involved to manage the whole election period. More resources such as police and EC officers have to be on duty. This will take a toll in the EC expenses and ultimately, the tax payers will have to pay for these incrementals.
The shortest campaign period was 8 days in the general election of 2008 while the longest was 42 days (more than one month!) back in pre-Merdeka days of 1955. Naturally, back in those days, there were no internet or TV to quickly disseminate your political manifestos. Hence, the longer campaign period for the politicians to go around the country. How things have changed.
5. Free and fair access to media
BERSIH’s whole idea of existence is to negotiate the demands with the EC. However, this particular demand is beyond EC’s jurisdiction because they do not control the media such as Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, Malaysia Today, Harakah Daily Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times and The Star.
Therefore, this demand is invalid and irrelevant.
6. Strengthen public institutions
This is also not in the purview of the EC as they are not the bosses of the Judiciary, Attorney-General, MACC and the police. There is also no law for the EC to instruct any of these institutions. In other words, the EC is indeed have no power to ‘strengthen’ public institutions.
Therefore, it is simply illogical for BERSIH to make this demand in the first place. The parliament is the correct platform to do this.
7. Stop corruption
Just like point number 5 and 6 above, stopping corruption is not the responsibility of the EC. BERSIH cannot demand the EC to end all forms of corruption because simply put, eradicating corruption is not just the duty of the EC but also the duty of all Malaysians.
The Election Commission cannot be expected to apprehend people that are bribing policemen or catching some dishonest businessman who just inflated the price of his project.
Vote buying instances have been documented to be practised by both sides of the divide and those instances have been brought to courts. Again, it is not the EC’s duty to preside over fraudulent cases. That should be the matter of the courts.
8. Stop dirty politics
Perhaps the best way to stop dirty politics is for the politicians within the government and the opposition to practise a more ethical campaigning methods.
This is certainly not under the jurisdiction of the EC.
BERSIH demonstration on 9th July
Without due regards to common courtesy and decorum, BERSIH pushed for demonstrations even after the EC had responded with the responses stated above. The tagline for BERSIH is ‘Free and Fair elections’. And they wanted to handover the 8 points memorandum to the King.
Some say it is their right to show dissatisfaction and by that extent, the people’s right to have freedom of speech.
However certain quarters have the impression that the demands do not warrant a public rally since the EC are quite open for the changes and improvements (except for the ones outside their powers).
Therefore, why should BERSIH incite the people of Malaysia to rally based on the demands that are invalid or already implemented?
If they want to call for free and fair election, at least the call must be fair and also must be free from political motives.
That is why the King made a statement that demonstrations are not the way to solve any issues in Malaysia. He practically asked BERSIH to discontinue their intention to hold street demonstrations.
A day after that, on 5th July 2011, Ambiga and several others had met the King and agreed not to organise a street rally. Interesting to note that Ambiga did not give BERSH’s memorandum to the King at this point of time.
At the same time the government had announced that BERSIH can hold their rally in a stadium which BERSIH readily accepted the offer.
Before any chance for the police to identify which stadium with the most minimum risk to congregate thousands of people, BERSIH announced that they will hold their rally in Merdeka Stadium.
Since the stadium is situated in the middle of Kuala Lumpur the police declined to give BERSIH the permit. Instead, they told the organisers that issuance of permit will be given if the rally is held at Melawati Stadium in Shah Alam. Furthermore, the management of Stadium Merdeka could not approve the use of its stadium because renovations are currently underway.
BERSIH was adamant to use the stadium despite the inability to get permit and despite the fact that Stadium Merdeka is closed for renovations.
As the result, police deemed any illegal gathering around the stadium or in Kuala Lumpur on the 9th of July will be dealt with severely. Warnings have been issued out.
Laws in this country were made to ensure everyone can live comfortably without fear. It is just like in school when there is a rule that everyone must attend all classes.
Imagine when an illegal club in school began to incite other students not to attend classes and gather in the canteen during school hours because they claim one of the school toilets is dirty.
Most of the students have never been to that toilet and do not really know the actual condition of that particular toilet. The janitor of the school made several attempts to explain to that illegal club that the toilet was indeed not perfect or slightly dirty but it is still usable and there are efforts to clean it up even more.
But this does not warrant all the students to assemble at the canteen and break the rule of not attending the classes. The rule is there to maintain order. Students are not allowed to be just anywhere they want to be during school hours. What would the school administration do?
They will naturally penalise the people who had broken the rule. Prefects will herd the students back to the classes while teachers will administer some form of punishment. Does this fall into the freedom of speech concept. Freedom of speech must first be a a valid one. It cannot be based on lies and importantly, it must not break the law.
It is the same with the BERSIH illegal gathering. The protesters made the first retaliation by not adhering to the law of public gathering whereby any mass gatherings must apply for a police permit.
Our Constitution states that we have the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. However these rights are restricted if it is against public order or security of the people. That is why police will always supervise the issuance of permits.
On the other hand, police must practise caution when dealing with stubborn and ignorant protesters as they are humans as well regardless whether they are there with or without permit.
In order to defeat the illegal gathering, roadblocks had to be set up. This resulted in massive traffic jams all over the city. When options were available to hold the rally in a less hectic venue such as the Melawati Stadium, the police had to cordon off half of Kuala Lumpur so that thousands of protesters can be dispersed easily.
Just like the prefects in school using various methods to discipline the crowd, police used their own anti-protesters methods to drive away the crowd.
In the mean time, BERSIH leader, Ambiga had a press conference with other opposition leaders such as Anwar Ibrahim, Datin Wan Azizah, Lim Kit Siang and Hadi Awang in Hilton Hotel to announce Pakatan Rakyat’s backing over the illegal gathering.
The rally which started at 2pm, ended around 5pm. However, they still failed to hand over the memorandum to the King. Reason for this failure is not clear although rumour has it, the memorandum was lost along the way because BERSIH leaders were busy on the streets near Stadium Merdeka when in fact they should just have made a quick drive to Istana Negara to hand over the document.
The number of people that gathered that day was estimated to be as low as 6,000 and to be as high as 50,000 although the figure of 10,000 is more likely.
Results and accomplishments
1. The BERSIH organisers achieved their objective in mobilising thousands of people to gather illegally in the streets of Kuala Lumpur that day.
2. The BERSIH organisers failed to hand over the memorandum to the King TWICE.
3. Pakatan Rakyat succeeded in hijacking BERSIH’s call of ‘free’ and ‘fair elections’ and morphed it into ‘bring down the government’ and ‘reformasi’.
4. Pakatan Rakyat succeeded in painting a bad light to the government.
5. Government succeeded in giving itself a bad name.
6. Police managed to curb the demonstrations within 3 hours.
7. BERSIH managed to hoodwink the Malaysian public that the free and fair election tagline was actually not a really fair tagline.
8. Malaysia managed to be in the international media because somebody is sad that the EC will not put a permanent ink on your finger.