Bersih leaders say vindicated by court ruling it legal
KUALA LUMPUR, July 24 — Bersih 2.0 leaders whooped with joy after a High Court ruled the electoral reform lobby group is a legal society today, overturning Putrajaya’s order to outlaw it last year in a move likely to raise further its public profile in the run-up to key national polls due soon.
Prominent lawyer-activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who co-heads the 82-member group, told The Malaysian Insider she was “delighted” by the court ruling today to quash the federal government’s declaration outlawing Bersih in July last year.
“I have just heard the good news that the learned judge of the High Court has quashed the order of the minister that had declared Bersih illegal. Naturally, I am delighted by this outcome,” she said in a text message immediately after the court decision.
“In my view, the decision accords with my understanding of the law in relation to the making of such decisions by those in power,” she added.
Instead of wasting public funds on suits against Bersih, [the government] should spend more effort and give recognition to…what the citizens who have come out to demonstrate for clean and fair elections have been calling for. — Maria Chin Abdullah
Ambiga, who is currently abroad, thanked her legal team and supporters for standing by the group, which has been persistently branded an outlawed group by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition ahead of the 13th general elections that could see a regime change in Malaysia for the first time since independence in 1957.
Ambiga has also been singled out by pro-establishment personalities and repeatedly attacked over her vocal calls for the electoral roll to be cleaned of dubious entries before polls are called, now widely speculated to take place in September after the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration.
An Umno federal lawmaker had last month suggested in Parliament that the award-winning civil rights fighter be hanged for treason, capital punishment reserved for the most serious crimes. Sri Gading MP Datuk Mohamad Aziz’s remarks drew strong support from fellow BN MPs but was widely criticised by opposition legislators and civil society groups, sparking a national furore.
Bersih co-chairman, Datuk A. Samad Said, told reporters he was relieved the group had been cleared of its “illegal” tag.
“It’s a waste of time, energy and resources and the order saying we are illegal should not be made again,” said the national laureate who attended today’s court hearing at the Duta Court Complex here, in an immediate reaction.
In her ruling today, High Court judge Datuk Rohana Yusof said the coalition of civil societies known as Bersih 2.0, though not officially registered, can be considered a society under the Societies Act.
“The minister’s order is quashed because Bersih is a lawful society,” Rohana said.
Maria Chin Abdullah, who is among Bersih 2.0’s 14-member steering committee, told The Malaysian Insider the court decision vindicated the group’s push for electoral reforms.
“Instead of wasting public funds on suits against Bersih, they should spend more effort and give recognition to freedom of assembly and what the citizens who have come out to demonstrate for clean and fair elections have been calling for.
“That would be a democratic way of responding to the court ruling and to prove their commitment to electoral reforms,” she said, referring to the federal government that has initiated a civil suit against members of Bersih’s steering committee to claim RM122,000 in compensation for damage caused to public property in the national capital during the group’s latest rally on April 28 this year.
The government’s unprecedented suit has been fixed for case management on August 10 at the High Court.
Chin Abdullah said Bersih was still getting many reports highlighting various discrepancies in the electoral roll and cited as examples voters who say their voting stations have been switched without their approval while migrant workers have been listed as voters in the roll, creating doubt over its validity.
“These issues have to be resolved before the 13th general elections,” she said.
“The SPR does not seem to be moving on these issues,” she added, referring to the Election Commission by its more popular Malay initials.
The Najib administration had agreed to set up a bi-partisan parliamentary polls panel on electoral reforms last year but is seen to be dragging its feet in enforcing the measures.
The loose coalition of civil societies has led tens of thousands in public demonstrations for clean elections, drawing the world’s attention to Malaysia’s electoral process at a crucial chapter when Southeast Asia’s fourth largest economy is attempting to break through the middle-income trap and graduate into the ranks of first-world nations amid a global economic slowdown.