Thursday, 30 June 2011

What's wrong with bersih?

The events of the past few weeks have left me rather confused. I've been hearing so much about the coming Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur on 9 July 2011 and how it is being opposed by certain segments of our society, mainly the federal government and certain extremist non-governmental organisations.

Now this is the part that is confusing me. Why is the federal government opposing Bersih? Don't Najib & Co believe in the ideals being promoted by Bersih?

According to what I know, Bersih's objectives are eight-fold but the primary one is to demand for a clean and fair election. Obviously, for Bersih to demand this means that this organisation has no confidence in the Election Commission to ever do a good job. So, Bersih says our electoral system has weaknesses and thus, is open to abuse. Why is the fedral government against closing up the weaknesses? This, I don't understand.

Bersih is also asking for voting rights for all overseas Malaysian citizens who are registered voters to cast their postal votes during the general elections. Presently, I believe this privilege is only available to the Police and armed forces as well as the Malaysian missions (correct me if I'm wrong) but if countries like Singapore and the United States can allow their citizens to vote while posted overseas, why can't this be implemented here too? Why is the federal government refusing to allow overseas Malaysian registered voters their right to cast their votes? this, I don't understand.

Bersih wants indelible ink to be used during the election process. Presumably, this will eliminate election fraud, such as, preventing any one person to vote several times in different constituencies. The Election Commission came so close to using indelible ink during the 2008 General Election but chose to withdraw its use at practically the last minute. Why did the Election Commission choose to foresake a practice that is accepted in democratic countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines? This, I don't understand.

Bersih's fourth point is they want the Election Commission to extend the campaign period to no less than 21 days in order that the candidates have more time to disseminate information and reach out to the voters in the rural areas. Granted that many of our constituencies are large and it may take days to reach their interiors, and the people living there are basically ignorant of their national rights, this seems to be a reasonable request. So why won't the Election Commission do this? This, I don't understand.

Then there is this issue of free and fair access to the media for all political parties. Seems to me that the parties in the ruling government have all sorts of unfair advantage when they get access to the mass media: the television stations, the radio stations and the newspapers. They highlight favourably everything that the ruling parties say. And everything that the opposition parties say are blanked out or given only a token mention. Anyone reading the mainstream media would think that everything is hunky dory with the world. There is little room for alternative viewpoints in the mass media, even when the opposition viewpoints may be balanced and are in the public interest. Why is the mass media's coverage so lob-sided? This, I don't understand.

Bersih asks for the public institutions to be independent. By public institutions, they mean the Judiciary, Attorney-General's Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC), Police and of course, the Election Commission. The public perception is that these institutions are not independent. Every decision they make are purposely skewed in the interests of the ruling federal government. Our civil law system is based on English legal system where the independence of the judicial system is jealously guarded. But it does not seem like that any more. Why has the third arm of government - the Judiciary - seems to have become less independent? This, I don't understand.

Bersih wants corruption to be arrested at all levels of society. Don't we all want to see that? Corruption is the cause of the unabated outflow of billions of ringgit from our shores. Corruption is turning the country into a laughing stock. According to Bersih, current efforts to eradicate corruption are mere tokens to appease public grouses. I agree. I'm already predicting that the ex-dentist with the palatial RM5 million house will get off lightly when his court case is through. Yes, I'm sure he will be found guilty but the fine will be a mere tuppence, not enough to even see him suspended from the Selangor state assembly. Mark my words, it will come to that. Why is the federal government so reluctant to weed out corruption from among its people? This, I don't understand.

And finally, Bersih is against dirty politics. I think we are all rather tired about the gutter politics that has the unspoken support of the federal government. The federal thinks that by dragging the opposition figures through the mud, they can humiliate them in the public eyes. But I believe that is wrong and very dishonourable. As a citizen and voter, I want to see a level playing field between any ruling party and opposition. Why is the federal government refusing to allow this? This, I don't understand.

So you see, these are the eight demands that Bersih is making, which are all rather simple and straightforward as far as I'm concerned. But why is the federal government so afraid of meeting Bersih squarely on these terms, if these are the demands any right-minded democratic society would make? Not unless there is really something to hide or fear.

They claim that the Bersih rally is supported by the opposition parties. So what? The federal government have had their chance to support Bersih when the rally was first mooted and they blew it. So don't complain when the opposition parties take up the cudgels instead. Why blame the opposition for what the federal government has failed to do?

Before I go, there is this opinion piece whch everyone should read. It's from a man I admire, a man with guts, a man with conscience.

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