BERSIH Demands Electoral Reforms to Defend Constitutionalism

Released on 13 November 2007 at Parliament Lobby:
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) stresses that the People’s Gathering on November 10 demanding electoral reforms is part and parcel of a larger struggle to defend Malaysia’s constitutional democracy.

The police’s violation of the citizens’ freedom of peaceful assembly and UMNO’s subtle attack on the Monarchy indicate that not only that the electoral process is flawed, but the Westminster-style democracy with a Constitutional Monarchy has also come under attack by the ruling coalitions.
In response to the massive misinformation and disinformation campaign by the ruling coalition, BERSIH stresses the following points in principle:
1. BERSIH is pro-Constitutional Monarchy. Is UMNO anti-Constitutional Monarchy?
BERSIH submitted its memorandum to HM Yang DiPertuan Agong because the King has a constitutional duty to defend the democracy. Under the Westminster-style political system, he is in fact one of the three components of the Parliament alongside the elected House of Representatives and the appointed House of Senate. The people appealed to the King, under the Article 40(2) of the Federal Constitution, to withhold his royal consent for the dissolution of the Parliament until the four immediate demands of electoral reforms are granted.
By accusing the pro-Constitution BERSIH of “dragging the palace into politics”, UMNO is implicitly questioning royal consent, a Constitutional mechanism which also applies to the appointment of Chief Justice and had worked in the interests of the people in that case.
BERSIH challenges UMNO to make clear its plan to reduce the King into a complete figurehead and undermine the Constitutional Monarchy so that the UMNO’s One-Party Oligarchy can rule with absolute power.
2. People’s Gathering was not illegal. It’s the ban that was unconstitutional!
BERSIH rebuts the claim that the People’s Gathering was illegal as Article 10(1)(b) has granted every citizen to peacefully assemble without arms. It was the ban by the police that was unconstitutional.
BERSIH wishes to praise all brave Malaysians who took part in the gathering, including the physically-challenged like Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita and Amri from Shah Alam. They have defended our constitutional right. Special thanks also go to the Unit Amal marshals and others who ensured that the gathering took place in an orderly manner.
The UMNO President arrogantly spoke like a despot when he vowed that he “pantang dicabar” (will not tolerate challenge). BERSIH’s advice is that he should not challenge the people (Rakyat jangan dicabar!).
3. Demonstration is Malaysia’s political culture, or UMNO is foreign in spirit.
BERSIH also wishes to remind UMNO that the exercise of freedom of assembly is very much an essential part of Malaysia’s culture. UMNO itself was born in 1946 after Malays protested en masse against the Malayan Union. The party continued to hold various protests in the following years, including the one led by Khairy Jamaluddin during the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If UMNO insists that demonstration is against Malaysian culture, then the party itself is un-Malaysian in spirit. In order not to be seen as a hypocrite, the party should just dissolve itself.
4. The Police’s partiality and dishonesty underlines the need for reform
BERSIH maintains that the police should bear the sole responsibility for the traffic jams that paralyzed parts of Kuala Lumpur and disruption to the socio-economic life of citizens.
As the Bar Council points out, the blockades and use of force were not necessary. “The gathering despite being attended by tens of thousands was disciplined and peaceful contrary to recent statements by Ministers and the Inspector-General of Police. It proves once again that Malaysian citizens are rational and responsible people capable of exercising their rights of expression and assembly with mature restraint.”
Had the police acted constitutionally and professionally, they should have given the permit. The excuse that BERSIH was an illegal organization is lame as the OCPD Dang Wangi Mohamad Zulkarnain had written to BERSIH to request a permit application on October 29 and BERSIH had applied accordingly.
BERSIH also condemns the police for its dishonesty in underestimating the size of the protesting crowds. BERSIH estimated that 50,000 have gathered before the Palace and altogether 100,000 have taken parts to join the People’s rally including those who were stopped from entering the city centre by road blockades and disruption to public transport like LRT. The underestimation at 4,000 by the IGP Datuk Musa Hassan has only sunk the police credibility further.
While the police claimed the arrest of 245 people, only 36 cases could be substantiated by lawyers and civil society groups providing legal assistance. Seven of the detainees were injured by the police, contradicting the claim by KL Police Chief Datuk Zulhasnan that there was no casualty. BERSIH challenges the police to issue the names of the remaining 209 detainees to prove that this is not just a scare tactic.
The partiality and dishonesty of the police underlines the need for a law on administrative neutrality which governs all state agencies, a reform which BERSIH has called for since it was formed.
5. The Media’s misinformation validates BERSIH’s fourth demand
Another institution alongside the police whose credibility has sunk to a new low is the media. Shamelessly, the mainstream media have failed to inform about both the gathering and its demands. The focus had been on the traffic jam or the condemnation by the ruling politicians. With the exception of Kwong Wah Jit Poh, no photos of the yellow wave were shown. We wish to praise the internet media and international media especially Al-Jazeera for giving accurate and balanced reporting.
Such misinformation by the local mainstream media is testimony to the relevance of BERSIH’s fourth immediate demand of reform: fair and equitable access to the media. If a 50,000-rally in the capital city (before elections) can be blacked out, what can we expect during elections? BERSIH calls upon the members of public to send protest letters to the media.
6. Siva Subramaniam should resign to save Suhakam’s remaining credibility
BERSIH calls upon Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner
Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam to resign for defending the police’s violation of human rights.
Not only Suhakam has failed to defend the right of citizens to assemble peacefully, Mr Subramaniam had claimed that “the police only moved to quell the protests when the crowd got rowdy”, according to The Star on November 12.
More shockingly, Mr Subramaniam told NST (November 12) that “he found that police did not use violence to control the crowds.” He claimed that “I saw that the police did not even use their batons to disperse the crowd. So if there is any allegation of police brutality, it would not be true. …..The police have acted professionally on the matter.”
Anyone who has seen the rally video clips on can see the water cannons and teargas being fired at the crowd. Mr Subramaniam is either completely incompetent or utterly dishonest in making such a statement. He has brought further shame to Suhakam which has failed to investigate the police shooting of civilians in the BERSIH gathering at Batu Buruk. He must go, in order to save Suhakam’s remaining credibility, if there is any left.