KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 — Bersih 2.0 has defended its planned April 28 rally, saying it is necessary as the government has not shown any commitment to implement the group’s eight reform demands before the next election.
The election watchdog’s chairman, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan (picture), accused the government of “showing haste” in calling for elections, which she predicted would be soon, and this made Bersih’s rally even more relevant and timely.
“As I said it is the government that is showing haste in holding the elections. No one has said that the reforms Bersih 2.0 has called for will be implemented before the 13th general election. Why is that?
“We have to do this now because the elections seem to be round the corner... I strongly disagree with what Datuk Wira Wan Ahmad Wan Omar had said,” she told The Malaysian Insider.
The Election Commission (EC) deputy chairman had described Bersih’s decision to hold a third rally for free and fair elections as “hasty and rash”.
He said Bersih should have instead accepted the 22-point recommendations presented by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reforms and allowed the commission to study the recommendations first.
He questioned Bersih’s rationale in having a third rally, and pointed out that the EC itself has yet to issue a response to the PSC’s findings.
But Wan Ahmad’s remarks appeared to have irritated Ambiga, who repeatedly asked why the EC as well as the government could not “commit” to implement all key reform demands before the next general election.
“We are of the view that the key recommendations can be implemented before the 13th GE. We have even offered the help of civil society. This is a call we have been making for months.
“How can this be hasty when it appears the elections may be round the corner? That (snap polls) is hasty. If it seems like we are rushing it is because it seems they are rushing to elections without the reforms,” she stressed.
Bersih’s third rally for free and fair elections is set to go on from 2pm to 4pm at Dataran Merdeka here.
But this time, the gathering will also be joined by simultaneous events across the country, likely adding pressure to the government to accede to the group’s demand for a total reform to the country’s election processes.
Bersih’s previous rally on July 9, 2011 turned chaotic when the authorities employed huge teams of riot police, armed with water cannons and tear gas launchers, to disperse the crowd of thousands.
How can this be hasty when it appears the elections may be round the corner? That (snap polls) is hasty. If it seems like we are rushing it is because it seems they are rushing to elections without the reforms. — Ambiga Sreenevasan
The crowd had converged on the streets of the capital from the early hours of July 9, defying earlier warnings that their participation could result in arrests.
Over 1,600 people were detained as a result, including Ambiga and scores of opposition lawmakers, but Bersih 2.0 later declared the event a success based on the number of participants and the publicity it had earned in both local and international media.
The government moved quickly to enact the Peaceful Assembly Act after the event and formed the PSC on electoral reforms, but Bersih 2.0 maintains that these moves were insufficient.
Ambiga has pointed out that the PSC’s 22 recommendations had failed to deal with specific discrepancies in the electoral roll.
These include duplicate voters, overly large numbers of voters registered to a single address, the existence of deceased voters, and a suspicious spike in the number of civilian and postal voters, among many other similar irregularities.
The former Bar Council chairman also noted that the PSC had not only failed to address issues surrounding election offences and dirty politics, but also did not expressly direct the EC to implement all 22 reform recommendations in time for the 13th general election.
She said it was Bersih’s hope that national polls are not called anytime soon in order to give the government enough time to implement the reforms.
Bersih’s first rally in 2007, also for free and fair elections, has been widely credited for the 2008 political tsunami that saw Barisan Nasional (BN) lose its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
The ruling coalition faced a stunning defeat in five states, and the historic event led to the formation of Pakatan Rakyat (PR), a loose pact comprising the DAP, PKR and PAS.