PUTRAJAYA, July 28 — Two weeks after the Bersih rally, Umno Youth has called on Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to work together in pushing for electoral reforms, saying there were similarities in the changes both coalitions want to see in the current electoral system.
Datuk Zaki Zahid, who is Putrajaya Umno Youth chief, told an audience last night during a public dialogue with PKR’s Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad that Umno too wanted to make sure electoral reforms are properly carried out, but stressed that it could be done through public dialogues and debates and not through “street protests.”
“Umno Youth also wants the electoral roll to be cleared... we agree that the system within the Election Commission (EC) needs to be relooked, but all this can be done without street protests.
“We have things in common... let us work together, we are actually heading in the same direction,” he said last night.
Nik Nazmi, PKR’s communications director, responded by stressing that electoral reforms group Bersih had no intention of “toppling” the present Najib administration as it only wanted electoral reforms to be implemented.
The Seri Setia assemblyman charged that Bersih had approached the government and the EC “many times” prior to July 9, but that no pro-active efforts had been taken to address Bersih’s concerns.
“I think that’s why Bersih went to the streets, to keep up the political pressure for electoral reform,” he said.
Nik Nazmi added that the government’s actions — using the police to arrest Bersih supporters as well as media censorship of Bersih-related stories — did not give Barisan Nasional (BN) a very inspiring image locally and internationally.
“A strong government is a government which is not afraid of democracy.
“I think that’s the concern here, where you have two teams on the field, but there is no level playing field, and you doubt the referee’s (impartiality),” he said.
This led Zaki to respond in kind, stating that Umno was not afraid of competing in free and fair elections.
“Umno has never been afraid of elections, and we can accept the results of elections with grace and an open heart,” he stressed.
Both Zaki and Nik Nazmi agreed that more public forums and dialogues were needed to reduce the societal rift between those against and those who supported Bersih’s demands.
The ruling BN coalition has been put on the defensive over the Bersih rally for the past week as the international community, from Singapore to the UK, criticised the government’s handling of the public dissent.
Bersih estimated that 50,000 people showed up at the July 9 rally for free and fair elections despite efforts to prevent it from taking place while police have said there were only 6,000.
The protest turned chaotic when police fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of demonstrators, resulting in nearly 1,700 arrests, scores injured and the death of ex-soldier Baharuddin Ahmad, 59.
The government has promised to investigate allegations of police brutality while the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) will hold a separate public inquiry into police conduct during the rally.