COMMENT Malaysia continues to face its largest political and corruption crisis.
The 1MDB scandal was first highlighted in 2010 in Parliament, but till now Malaysians are not getting anywhere near the truth, and the silence from Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cabinet is deafening.
The civil suit by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) further revealed the repulsive magnitude of the 1MDB scandal.
The admission of cabinet minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan that the Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) is Prime Minister Najib further affirms what all Malaysians feared - fraudulent funds have been used by the prime minister to win the 13th general election in 2013.
Against this background, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) demands Prime Minister Najib to resign immediately to allow for independent investigations.
Bersih believes that not protesting is not an option. Malaysians must stand united and take a strong stand against this grand corruption and the failure of our institutions. Malaysians must demand for reforms.
Bersih will launch a nationwide Bersih Convoy on Saturday, Oct 1, 2016, which will culminate in a Bersih 5 rally on Saturday, Nov 19, 2016.
Bersih 5 demands - institutional reforms for a new Malaysia
Bersih recognises that the root cause of the political crisis and 1MDB scandal is the failure of our democratic system and institutions.
Therefore, Bersih’s demands go beyond the 1MDB issue and the resignation of Prime Minister Najib.
For a new and reformed Malaysia, we must institute changes to our flawed governance system. Specifically, the five demands of Bersih 5 are:
1. Clean elections
Our electoral system is still not free and fair. Bersih will continue to fight for electoral reform. A functioning electoral system is important to allow citizens to decide who will be the government of the day.
a) Protecting the rights and suffrage of voters, including lowering age of voting; high quality indelible ink, a minimum 21-day campaign period, automatic registration, and absentee voting that is inclusive, transparent and accountable;
b) Fair and accountable constituency delineation that abides by the letter and spirit of the federal constitution;
c) Free and fair media access for political parties and candidates, and media freedom for media organisations and journalists. For example, allocate airtime proportionately for all political parties that contest and organise a televised prime-ministerial debate;
d) Reforming election laws to strengthen the Election Commission (EC), including having a fairer representative system, restoration of local council elections, and establishing a caretaker government to oversee abuse of power during elections; and
e) Establishing rules on access to political funding, limits on contributions, expenditures, disclosures and reporting and strengthening the monitoring and enforcement capabilities of the EC.
2. Clean government
Public confidence in the government and institutions to curb corruption has plummeted, especially in the mismanagement of the 1MDB scandal.
Endemic corruption throughout the years have directly affected Malaysians through rising cost of living, the goods and services tax and budget cuts.
We need to uphold a clean, transparent, and accountable government administration.
a) A clean government includes:
- Restoring the separation of powers of the executive, legislature and judiciary so that they can deliver justice without fear or favour;
- Decentralising executive powers at all levels, including barring the prime minister from simultaneously holding the office of finance minister;
- Public declaration of ministers and senior government servants’ assets;
- Separating the attorney-general from the role of public prosecutor to prevent undue interference; and
- Strengthening institutions including the MACC, police, and others and making key commissions answerable to Parliament.
b) Enacting Freedom of Information laws at federal and state levels.
3. Strengthen parliamentary democracy
Parliament must be functional and inclusive and reforms are needed to restore public confidence.
Such reforms must ensure effectiveness, including giving both opposition and government backbench MPs a more meaningful space to not just debate on laws and public policies and scrutinise government agencies, but also to initiate legislations, so that public opinion will be better reflected in the legislative process.
a) Expanding the number and power of parliamentary committees to improve quality of both law-making and ministerial scrutiny;
b) Multipartisan and inclusive agenda-setting to ensure parliamentarians’ participation;
c) “Non-governmental business” days for opposition and government backbench MPs;
d) Reintroducing the Parliamentary Services Act; and
e) Increasing allocations for research to enhance the quality of parliamentary debates.
4. Right to dissent
The right to dissent is being criminalised and suppressed. Increasingly, more activists, politicians and citizens who are critical of the government have been or are being persecuted through repressive laws like the Sedition Act.
Reforms must take place to respect and protect freedom of expression and diverse views.
a) Amending laws that violate freedom of speech, assembly and association such as the Penal Code, Police Act 1967, Evidence Act 1950, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and others;
b) Establishing the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to curb police misconduct and uphold their accountability towards the public; and
c) Repealing repressive laws, including the Sedition Act, National Security Council Act, Sosma, Prevention of Crime Act, Prevention Of Terrorism Act, and the Peaceful Assembly Act.
5. Empowering Sabah and Sarawak
The recent Sarawak state election in May was preceded by unjustified seat increase, excessive malapportionment and gerrymandering last year and finally rigged with rampant vote-buying and abuse of government powers and apparatus.
Such unscrupulous practices may repeat again in Sabah, as we have already witnessed seat increases as the first step.
Without real democracy, the calls for autonomy in Sabah and Sarawak will be hollow, and internal colonisation and exploitation of natural wealth by ruling elites from both the federal and state capitals will continue.
a) Fair and accountable constituency delineation for Sabah;
b) Inclusive, transparent and accountable absentee voting rights for all Malaysians including Sabahans and Sarawakians who live, work or study outside their own state;
c) Campaign freedom and free media access to ensure informed choices by Sabahans and Sarawakians for the upcoming federal and (Sabah) state elections;
d) Eradication of vote-buying as well as abuse of government powers and apparatus in the upcoming federal and (Sabah) state elections; and
e) Decentralisation to enhance Sabahans’ and Sarawakians’ control on how their states should be run.
A Nationwide Bersih Convoy
On Oct 1, Bersih will launch the Bersih Convoy across the nation. The flag-off will simultaneously take place in 6 regions and they are as follows:
1. Northern peninsular (Kangar, Perlis)
2. Southern peninsular (Johor Baru, Johor)
3. East Coast (Kota Baru, Kelantan)
4. West Coast (Lumut, Perak)
5. Sabah (Sandakan)
6. Sarawak (Miri)
The objective of the Bersih Convoy is to raise awareness about Bersih 5’s demands for institutional reforms and the severity of the 1MDB crisis.
As Malaysians, we must stand up and reach out to start a nationwide conversation on these issues because our collective future is in danger.
The Bersih Convoy will take seven weeks to complete before converging in Kuala Lumpur.
Bersih torches will be passed from town to town, and from village to village in a relay format.
Various activities will be carried out including leafleting, ceramahs, and initiating conversations with citizens.
The Bersih Convoy is estimated to cover 246 cities, towns, and villages across peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak.
The Bersih Convoy will ultimately culminate in the one-day Bersih 5 rally on Nov 19 in Kuala Lumpur. Specific details of this rally will be announced in due course.
Bersih’s tagline 'Satukan Tenaga - Malaysia Baru' also marks the 10th anniversary of Bersih’s formation as a peoples’ movement.
We have come a long way but our work is not yet done. We understand the frustration of Malaysians who have passionately worked for change for many years.
But we must not give up and we must continue the struggle for reform, justice, and human rights.
We urge all Malaysians to stand united - SATUKAN TENAGA - and participate in the Bersih Convoy and Bersih 5 Rally for a reformed and new Malaysia - MALAYSIA BARU.
THE BERSIH STEERING COMMITTEE members are Maria Chin Abdullah, Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari, Thomas Fann, Ng Geok Chee, Rama Ramanathan, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Farhana Abdul Halim, Jay Jay Denis, Dr Toh Kin Woon, Ong Lai Mun, Safwan Anang, Ann Teo and Benedict Mansul.