Malaysia

Bersih not looking for an Arab Spring, Ambiga tells CNN’s Amanpour

Ambiga stressed that Malaysians don’t take to the street so easily unless it is for a very good reason. — File picAmbiga stressed that Malaysians don’t take to the street so easily unless it is for a very good reason. — File picKUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6 — The Bersih 2.0 movement does not want to cause an Arab Spring in Malaysia, Datuk Ambiga Sreenavasan told CNN in a rare interview on international television aired here this morning.

She stressed that the election watchdog group she heads only wants a clean polls process to ensure a democratically-elected government.

Ambiga told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour during the New York interview that Bersih 2.0 is not opposed to the possibility of the present government returning to power after the next polls, provided that its leaders are elected fairly.

“Well, let me tell you where we’re coming from. We don’t want an Arab Spring,” the activist said to the renowned CNN chief international correspondent.

Ambiga was being interviewed alongside another pro-reform fighter, Ukraine’s Eugenia Tymoshenko, the daughter of the jailed former prime minister Julia Tymoshenko, on “Amanpour”, the nightly foreign affairs programme on CNN International which Amanpour anchors for.

Both were described by Amanpour as “brave women” and “brave voices for democracy”.

“We want to choose our leaders through clean and fair elections. We want to do it through the ballot box, which is why the government really, if they want peaceful transition of any sort — it can be the same government,” Ambiga said, according to a transcript of the interview available on CNN.com.

Amanpour had asked Ambiga if she felt that Malaysia would witness the same uprising seen over the past two years in the Middle East, pointing to the three pro-democracy protests that Bersih has organised since 2007.

To be honest, as far as our movement is concerned, we’re not — we’re not worried about who wins. We’re worried about the process.

“The process is important because what it needs to reflect is the will of the people. It’s about legitimacy. It’s about honouring the right of the voter to vote,” she said.

The Arab Spring or the Arab revolution has seen rulers forced from power in several countries across the Arab world including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, in a wave of anti-government street demonstrations.

“It can be the same people coming in,” insisted Ambiga, stressing again that Bersih 2.0 does not want a Malaysian version of the Arab Spring.

“They have to allow it to happen through clean and fair elections. That’s what we’re asking for. We want to bring change through the ballot box, if there is to be change at all,” she said.

Ambiga has so far led two of the three Bersih demonstrations held in the capital city, amassing a crowd of thousands in a march for free and fair elections.

The first rally in 2007 was partly credited for the colossal losses suffered by the ruling Barisan Nasional government during Elections 2008, where it failed to recapture its coveted two-thirds parliamentary majority and even ceded four states and Kelantan to the opposition.

But every Bersih protest had resulted in scenes of chaos as the government deployed riot police to stop protestors from marching on the streets of the capital through the use of tear gas and chemical-laced water.

Since the protests, Ambiga and her fellow Bersih 2.0 steering committee members have been the target of attacks by pro-BN hardliners, some of whom have even held mini protests outside the leader’s home and hurled threats and racial slurs at her.

But asked if she was afraid, Ambiga told Amanpour that she had little choice in the matter.

“I mean, the choices are this: you either give into the intimidation, which means you undermine the whole movement, or you stand up to it.”

She pointed out that such “oppressive conduct” by those in power was a clear indication that the government saw the Bersih movement and the crowd of thousands it had amassed for the rally as “a threat”.

Ambiga also made it a point to correct Amanpour on the size of the crowd at the last Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur on April 28, saying some 200,000 had attended, instead of the 20,000 that the correspondent had earlier suggested.

“Malaysians don’t take to the street easily. So if they have, there is a good reason for it.”

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