Bersih pushes back Tuesday rally plan

* Note: This article is inaccurate, insofar as BERSIH did not call off the gathering. -Ed.
Syed Jaymal Zahiid | Dec 7, 07

A rally planned outside Parliament House on Tuesday has been called off by the Coalition for Clear and Fair Elections (Bersih), which will instead submit a protest memorandum to the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat.

The coalition wants the government to withdraw the Constitutional Amendment Bill scheduled to be tabled that day which, if passed, will see the current Election Commission (EC) chairperson’s tenure being extended by a year, to the new age limit of 66.
If the bill is not pulled back, the Bersih steering committee has warned that it will hold mass rallies in the future as a mark of protest.
The coalition – comprising 67 non-governmental organisations and five opposition parties – was to have faxed a letter to the Speaker’s office today expressing its concerns, according to PAS central committee member Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi.
“There will be no mobilisation of people, placards, loudhailers… we just want to hand over the memorandum. There will be people accompanying the delegates but this is not a rally,” said Bersih’s secretariat member Faisal Mustapha.
Bersih believes that the government is attempting to bulldoze through the amendment so that EC chairperson Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman – whom they allege to be “a government stooge” – can continue to “manoeuver the EC and make decisions in favour of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition”.
“What matters is not the number (of protesters) but the memorandum itself. A constitutional amendment is a very serious matter especially when the amendment is deemed to favour those in power to maintain power,” committee member and PKR information chief Tian Chua told a press conference at PAS headquarters in Kuala Lumpur today.
He pointed out that, in other countries, any proposal to amend the constitution is often followed by a mass protest if amendments favour the government.
“Here we see the BN-led government bulldozing constitutional amendments like nobody’s business and no one even cares. This is the display of arrogance by those in power,” he said.
Kuala Lumpur police chief Zulhasnan Najib Baharuddin had, through the News Straits Times yesterday, urged members of the public not to participate as no permit has been issued for the rally set for Tuesday.
The coalition’s rally on Nov 10 – also without a permit – had attracted some 40,000 people. They defied a police cordon thrown around the capital city and braved a thunderstorm, tear gas and water cannon to march on the national palace where a memorandum was handed to the King’s representative.
‘Obstacle to reform’
The steering committee also called for Rashid’s resignation on the ground that he has failed to perform his duties effectively in several instances.
Syed Azman cited incidents in Likas (Sabah), the Ijok by-election and during the 2004 general election to back the demand.
Abdul Rashid, who was EC secretary in 2001, has allegedly ignored demands for a public inquiry into the Likas election results, despite this being nullified by Justice Muhammad Kamil Awang. He had ruled that the 1998 state electoral roll was unlawful because ‘phantom’ voters had cast their votes.
The Ijok by-election in April this year was plagued with complaints of irregularities – names of dead voters appeared in the electoral roll, according to Bersih which accused Abdul Rashid of failing to respond to this matter.
Opposition party PKR had appealed for a judicial review of the 2004 general election results because of ‘large-scale irregularities’, but Bersih has claimed that Abdul Rashid had instructed the Attorney-General to object to this.
“If Rashid is sincere in improving the electoral system, he should have set up an inquiry to investigate PKR’s claims. Instead, he instructed the AG to strike out the case,” alleged PAS head researcher Dr Zulkifli Ahmad.
“Despite conspicuous evidence that points to the unfairness of the electoral system, Rashid has ignored all calls for reform and defended the current system.”
Bersih, he added, wants Abdul Rashid to be replaced by a person of “impeccable integrity”, such as a retired judge of absolute integrity.