Putrajaya misjudged ‘right-thinking’ Malaysians, Ambiga tells Bloomberg
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 22 ― The Najib administration has underestimated “right-thinking” Malaysians by continuing to play the race and religious card, electoral reforms champion Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan told Bloomberg in an interview published today ― suggesting the move may backfire on the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in national polls due soon.
The decorated lawyer-activist has repeatedly been “demonised” by right-wing Malay groups and BN lawmakers ― especially from Malay party Umno ― in the last two years since helming civil rights movement Bersih and pushing the government to clean up the electoral rolls perceived as tainted.
“They underestimate right-thinking Malaysians,” she told the business wire in an interview published today.
“We don’t like bullying,” she added.
The 55-year-old former Malaysian Bar president has also received death threats for standing up for marginalised women whose husbands convert to Islam in Muslim-dominant Malaysia and was even accused of treason ― a law that carries the death penalty ― by an Umno lawmaker in Parliament, for pushing Bersih’s agenda for clean elections.
The Home Ministry declared Bersih an illegal organisation ahead of its planned July 9 rally in the national capital last year, while members of Perkasa, a pro-government, self-styled Malay rights group, had openly burnt her portraits and denounced her in leaflets printed with the words “Awas!!! Ambiga, wanita Hindu yang merbahaya (Caution!!! Ambiga, a dangerous Hindu woman).”
The mother-of-two told Bloomberg she believes her “demonisation” has intensified because government supporters want to undermine Bersih’s credibility.
“I’m a minority in every sense of the word and I think they thought it would be easy to do,” said the Indian Hindu woman.
Her harassment continued this year after Bersih’s April 28 rally in the capital city, with Malay veterans from the armed forces holding a “butt exercise” in front of her home while several Malay traders set up shop along the road to her home and offered the devout Hindu free beef burgers.
Hindus regard the cow as a sacred animal and eschew eating beef.
Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was reported to have warned that the next elections will be about race as Malaysians become more racial, has also weighed in against Ambiga, Bloomberg reported.
“She seems to have some grudge against the government,” the country’s longest-serving PM was quoted as saying in the Bloomberg report.
As the window for the 13th general election ― which must be called by April next year ― narrows, Umno leaders and the mainstream media have warned the country may see a repeat of the May 13, 1969 racial riots that broke out in the capital city.
Bloomberg reported Ambiga saying she did not believe Malaysia, which saw racial clashes and the suspension of Parliament when the ruling party lost support in the 1969 election, will experience political violence.
“If enough people want change, there’s very little anyone can do to stop it,” she told the business news agency.
“Malaysians are generally peace-loving ― we are nowhere near what was happening in the Middle East, Tunisia and Egypt. We are at the right point in time for positive change, and if we are going to bring change, we only want to do it by clean and fair elections,” she was reported adding.
Ambiga also told Bloomberg she planned to quit her Bersih co-chair post after the next elections to focus on her legal work, including speaking up for women’s rights.
“The ordinary Malaysian is beginning to realise that it is not acceptable to play up religion and race in politics. There is a real maturing,” she told Bloomberg.