malaysia

Bersih repudiates foreign Christian funding claim

Ambiga speaks to the press after being questioned at the Dang Wangi police station, June 27, 2011.—Picture by Choo Choy MayAmbiga speaks to the press after being questioned at the Dang Wangi police station, June 27, 2011.—Picture by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — Bersih 2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan rubbished today Utusan Malaysia’s claim that the electoral reform group’s July 9 rally was funded by foreign Christian organisations, saying the money was donated by Malaysian citizens at home and abroad.

“The funds for the rally are entirely from public donations and the [sale of] Bersih t-shirts... I have never even heard of those [foreign] groups,” she told The Malaysian Insider over the phone today after being questioned by the police over the controversial July 9 street demonstration that has triggered two other groups, Perkasa and Umno Youth, to call their own counter rallies.

She added that the Selangor state government has also pledged financial support for Bersih’s July 9 rally.

Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia claimed in an editorial today that Bersih is being funded by some 11 foreign Christian organisations that have donated millions of ringgit to underwrite the group’s rally. It named German think-tank Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF) and the Canadian Allied Foundation as among them.

KAF is associated with Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and  aims to further the “promotion of freedom and liberty, peace, and justice” through “furthering European unification, improving transatlantic relations and deepening development co-operation.”

Little is known about the Canadian Allied Foundation named in the Utusan article.

Demonstrators march during the Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur, November 10, 2007. — Reuters picDemonstrators march during the Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur, November 10, 2007. — Reuters picAmbiga admitted to Bersih receiving some money from two US organisations — the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Open Society Institute (OSI) — for other projects, which she stressed were unrelated to the July 9 march.

The NDI describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan organisation “working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government”.

According to corporate information on its website, the OSI was started by financier George Soros in 1984 to help countries make the transition from communism, and has grown to include not just the US but more than 70 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Fellow Bersih steering committee member, Maria Chin Abdullah, explained that both NDI’s and OSI’s funding were specifically for to the electoral watchdog’s delineation projects.

“It’s got nothing to do with the rally. The funds [for the rally] are entirely from public donations. A lot of them are from Malaysians overseas. A lot of people donate anonymously into our bank account,” she told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.

Chin Abdullah said Bersih’s rally fund to date amounted “close to RM30,000”, but added the group needed double that figure to pay for its campaigning, which included carrying out nationwide roadshows and the cost of the yellow Bersih t-shirts priced at RM15 each.

She also clarified that the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat government’s pledge was only a “verbal promise” and that Bersih had yet to receive a single sen from them.

PAS has promised to bring in hundreds of thousands of supporters from across the country as Pakatan Rakyat gears up for a second such rally in recent years.

The first Bersih rally in 2007 saw up to 50,000 people take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur before they were dispersed by police armed with tear gas and water cannons.

The demonstration has been partly credited for Pakatan Rakyat’s record gains in Election 2008, where the opposition pact swept to power in five states and won 82 parliamentary seats.