LETTER

To Bersih or not to Bersih?

A Concerned Malaysian

Published
Modified 29 Jun 2011, 11:31 am

Frankly, the above title is just a smart-ass title to get your attention. Indeed, "To Bersih or not to Bersih?" is not the question.

Before we even venture to consider such a question, let us be very clear what Bersih is.

Even in the newer version known as Bersih 2.0, it is still a coalition of non-governmental and civil society organisations that are collectively campaigning for clean, free and fair elections. (It is not a movement to defeat the incumbent government or one to support the election of the opposition.)

If I may put it in more concise terms, Bersih is a non-governmental-civil society coalition working towards electoral and political reforms in Malaysia.

I prefer this description simply because it's less value-laden than the official line, which presumes that Malaysian elections are unclean, unfree and unfair.

Out of the three adjectives, I can only honestly say, with clear evidence, that the third is obvious.

To me, and most rational people, a fair contest includes giving all contestants equal access to the judges via all legitimate channels; and, in the case of Malaysian elections, it is only fair if candidates and/or political parties are given equal access to voters via the mainstream and alternative media.

Indeed, to me, the single most important factor in any clean, free and fair election is the information that is made available to the voters, and it's very obvious that the mainstream media, which is under the Federal Government's regulations, is key.

Unfortunately, any party that is not a member of the current government coalition does not seem to have any chance whatsoever to be given publicity by the mainstream media except to cast them in a negative light.

Fair comment?

Now, before I come to the question of whether our nation's elections are clean and free, let me digress a little.

Most Bersih advocates and activists will talk about the electoral roll, the postal ballots, the use of indelible ink and the campaign period. Before I even go there, I'd like to ask the following basic question first:

Are the parliamentary and state constituencies delineated in a transparent and fair manner, which allows constituents to elect their preferred representatives and also enable their elected representatives to work effectively for their constituents?

To help you answer the basic question above, consider the following specific questions: Does it make sense to have constituencies where the areas covered do not have any real communal connection with each other?

And does it make sense that some constituencies have 20 times more voters than others? Further, is the ‘first past the post' electoral system really the most effective way to provide voters with a meaningful election result?

I leave it to you to answer the above questions yourself. Whether you like it or not, these are questions that are critical to the fairness and effectiveness of our current electoral system, which - if answered honestly and objectively-will lead us to the logical conclusion that it needs to be reformed.

An acknowledgment that our electoral system needs to be reformed is not an admission that it is not clean, not free and not fair.

Like it or not, the current administration inherited the system from the previous administrations.

If the prime minister of the day wants to be seen as responsible and proactive, he should implement much-needed reforms before they are demanded by the people.

Having said that, it's not too late to do something about it. It's not how we start but how we finish that matters.

At the same time, the Bersih rally organisers must realise that their mandate is not simply to organise a rally but to achieve the so-called eight Bersih demands, which includes strengthening public institutions, stopping corruption and stopping corruption (apart from points covered above), by any effective and peaceful means.

It is very clear to me that Bersih's mandate is a long term one, which imposes on the leaders of the coalition a duty to not only address the Election Commission (EC) and the government of the day but also all participants of the political process in Malaysia.

It is very obvious that the EC cannot strengthen the judiciary and/or stop corruption in the police force. And it is also obvious that the EC cannot stop politicians from ‘playing dirty', irrespective of whether they are BN, PR or independent.

If we, the People, represented by Bersih, want the government to reform, we must also be reasonable in our demands and expectations.

If we are sincere and serious about electoral and political reforms, let's work towards it with open minds, not with pre-conceived notions about BN, PR or the EC.

If there is a chance to hold public and/or televised roundtable talks with the EC and/or any interested party, why are we not accepting the offer?

If people want to get together to show their support for Bersih (or electoral and political reforms) and also to celebrate democracy, why can't we do it in a suitable place (read "safe place") instead of on the streets where our boys in blue don't seem to be able to control crowds in a friendly, professional and effective manner?

I am not saying what I am saying to stop people from walking for democracy.

On the contrary, I am saying what I am saying to encourage people to walk for democracy in a safe and effective manner.

Whilst it is the government's responsibility to promote and protect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, we cannot exercise them and expect the government to undermine the exercise of the same rights by Perkasa and Umno Youth.

However, we can choose to work together with all parties in a fair and transparent process to enjoy the exercise of those rights in a safe, dignified and meaningful manner.

If we, the People of Malaysia, want the Government of Malaysia to change, the real question is, "Are we ready, willing and able to change first?"

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