Malaysia

Bersih wants ‘citizen observers’ to spot GE13 fraud

By Clara Chooi
Assistant News Editor

December 17, 2012
Latest Update: December 17, 2012 10:30 pm

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — Convinced that the coming 13th general election will still be riddled with discrepancies, Bersih 2.0 plans to monitor the polls process by employing thousands more “citizen observers” as their eyes and ears on polling day.

The electoral reform group has already launched its “Jom Pantau” and “Jom 100” but co-chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan (picture) said today that these campaigns will be expanded next month to keep the pressure on the authorities.

The activist and renowned lawyer insisted that the polls would not be as clean as Bersih 2.0 wants and the best way to keep the authorities in check is by increasing voter turnout and employing citizens to watch out for any hanky-panky on polling day.

“Can we expect true reform before the 13th general election? The answer to that is no,” she told a press conference with several other Bersih 2.0 steering committee members here.

“As a result, we will do what we can to ensure there will be free and fair elections,” she said.

Ambiga said “Jom 100” was Bersih 2.0’s initiative to encourage more voters to come out to cast their ballots on polling day.

She said Bersih 2.0 hopes that at least 85 or 90 per cent of the 13 million eligible voters nationwide will participate in the polls. The coming election is expected to be the most closely-fought contest to date between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and the federal opposition, which will be entering the fight for the first time as Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

“Large numbers on polling day can minimise or at least mitigate fraud to a certain degree,” Ambiga said.

Under “Jom Pantau”, the civil society leader said Bersih 2.0 hopes to employ its own observers, particularly in key constituencies, to keep a look out for any discrepancies during polling day.

“They will work the ground and report to us. I think we need to make sure that the election is peaceful, clean and fair... That’s what we all want,” she said.

Ambiga said Bersih 2.0’s latest plans were born out of frustration that despite its push over the past few years, the government and the Election Commission’s (EC) polls reform efforts have been unsatisfactory.

She continued to sound the EC for purportedly being “insincere”, pointing out to how the agency had only recently decided to set up a special unit to clean up the electoral roll.

“I think you all know that cleaning the roll is the most important demand.

“But the EC chief himself, in April this year, claimed that Malaysia’s voter roll is the cleanest in the world.

“Yet after many, many months of claiming this, finally the EC sets up a special unit to clean the roll,” she said.

But Ambiga insisted that even this effort was insincere as no representatives of political parties of civil society groups were invited to participate in the unit’s work.

“It is truly an act of bad faith to set up the unit on the eve of the polls,” she said.

Ambiga also complained that the EC had failed to fulfil other key demands of Bersih 2.0, including an undertaking that all contesting parties would be given free and fair access media, allowing international observers during polling day and a strict commitment to put a stop to all forms of political violence before or during campaigning.

“We should not vote for any candidate who supports political violence or support those who lead us to keep quiet.

“What is important to note about political violence is that it is a symptom of a flawed election, or of a bigger disease, which is what we are going to face,” she said.

Bersih 2.0, a coalition of more than 82 non-governmental organisations, had held its second rally for free and fair elections since 2007 on July 9 last year, earning international recognition when scenes of chaos and violence were plastered in the foreign media.

To recoup from the negative attention following the protest, the Najib administration moved to enact the Peaceful Assembly Act and mooted a parliamentary select committee on electoral reforms.

But the reforms proved unsatisfactory to Bersih 2.0 and a third protest, called “Bersih 3.0”, was held on April 28 this year.

The “sit-in protest”, which was meant to be peaceful, however resulted in violence when tens of thousands of people clashed with armed riot police after barricades surrounding the historic Dataran Merdeka were breached.

The police had earlier erected razor-wire fences and plastic and steel barricades around the venue to stop protesters from using it for the rally.

Since the event, scores of reports have been lodged against the police, alleging brutality, while the government has had to fend off negative publicity for its alleged mishandling for the otherwise peaceful event.