Next stop, the sultans

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz (malaysiakini)
Nov 12, 07   

Undeterred by the prime minister’s dismay that polls watchdog Bersih had ‘dragged’ the king into the issue of electoral reform, the organisation’s leaders are now considering petitioning all nine Malay sultans to support their cause.

Bersih’s steering committee member Syed Azman Syed Nawawi said this was among the possibilities under consideration under the next level of the struggle in seeking clean and free elections.
“After having petitioned his royal highness Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin on Saturday, we are considering presenting memoranda on the issue to each of the heads of states,” Syed Azman told Malaysiakini when contacted.
Bersih, which is made up of about 70 non-governmental organisations and opposition parties, successfully organised a rally on Saturday that saw about 40,000 people marching from the city centre to the royal palace to submit a memorandum on electoral reform.
In addition to calling for changes in the electoral system, the memorandum also conveyed the coalition’s concerns over the problem of corruption, the crisis in the judiciary and the erosion of public confidence in the police force to the king.
The Malay rulers – from whom the king is chosen among the nine sultans on a rotational basis – play a mostly ceremonial role in signing into effect legislative bills and the appointment of senior government officials.
While not wielding as much prestige as the king, nevertheless, the heads of states are seen as playing an influential role as the symbolic rulers of the people. They are also the head of Islam in their respective states.
A loud message
Syed Azman said the mammoth turnout two days ago has sent a signal to the Barisan Nasional-led government as well as the international community that Bersih’s concerns should be taken seriously.
“I myself was surprised by the turnout of the rally and the completely peaceful and disciplined manner by which the whole thing was conducted.
“It gives a strong message to the BN as well as to governments around the world that we are a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
“Other than having met with top parliamentarians from other countries who discussed with us the issue of electoral reform in Malaysia, I have received messages from all around the world expressing people’s support for what we have done,” added the PAS central committee member.
“PAS wishes to thank the king for graciously accepting our petition as well as to the Malaysian people for coming out in full force for this cause despite the acts of intimidation by the government and police,” Syed Azman added.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had defended the police’ use of tear gas and water cannons to break up the weekend protest and accused organisers of dragging the country’s revered king into politics.
The rally was “tantamount to dragging the institution of the monarchy, and the king, into politics,” said Abdullah, adding: “I believe the king is wise and mature and would not fall into their political trap.”
Another Bersih leader, PKR vice-president R Sivarasa, said state-level action may also take the form of conducting intensified awareness and educational campaigns among the people.
“By no means is what happened on Saturday the end of our efforts for changes to the electoral system. It’s only the beginning,” he said.
Concrete details of such plans, however, will be decided soon by Bersih’s secretariat members, said Sivarasa.