BERSIH's rebuttal in AWSJ

From Asian Wall Street Journal:
Two Views on Malaysia’s Street Protests
December 19, 2007

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) would like to respond to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s recent op-ed (“Malaysia’s Democracy is Strong,” Dec. 7), in which the Prime Minister alleges that police had offered us an alternative venue for our rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 10.

I am unaware of any such offer. Upon the advice of the police, Bersih representatives met with the Chief Police Officer of Kuala Lumpur and 14 other senior officers on Nov. 1. No options for an alternative venue were discussed. We submitted an application for a permit on Nov. 3. On Nov. 5, we met again with the police to discuss our program — and again, no change of venue was offered. The next day, our application to protest was denied. We filed a written appeal, as provided for under the law. On Nov. 9, a day before the rally, the appeal was turned down by letter.
Bersih reiterates its right to public peaceful assembly, which is enshrined in the federal Constitution. Malaysian law requires a police permit for any public gatherings of more than five persons. But it is also a given in Malaysia that under most circumstances, a police permit is almost never issued for demonstrations or protests organized by opposition political parties or non-governmental organizations that are critical of the government.
Bersih is composed of more than 70 organizations, including civil society groups and political parties, all of which are campaigning for electoral reform. Malaysian elections are rife with abuse and irregularities, and, in our view, the government uses political pressure such as the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publication Act, the
Police Act as well as the Universities and University Colleges Act to stop discontent from being voiced in the public sphere.
Bersih welcomes the concessions that the Election Commission will introduce in the next general election, such as the use of indelible ink and installing observers at polling stations in military bases.
But much more needs to be done.
Sivarasa Rasiah
Steering Committee Member, Bersih
Kuala Lumpur

Mr. Abdullah makes a strong case in favor of Malaysian democracy, which he argues is fair, transparent and open.
Indeed, a recent TNA and Gallup International survey, “Voice of the People,” illustrates that the vast majority of Malaysians shares his view.
In the independent poll, Malaysia ranked above all Asian nations, with 74% of those asked having full faith in free and fair elections. Sixty-nine percent also felt they were well represented by the
government. Malaysians’ faith in their democracy is the highest in the region, with 88% of correspondents satisfied with their democratic system.
Malaysia has a long and proud democratic history, one in which opposition parties have consistently won seats in national and state elections. Several states have in fact been under opposition control.
Kelantan has been ruled by the Islamist party PAS since 1990.
Of course, the system is not perfect. No system is. The improvements that have been announced by the government are indeed overdue. Other areas need to be looked into too. But changes can be proposed without having to resort to street demonstrations.
Memoranda can be made public and submitted to the government by a small group of representatives if necessary. There is no need for street demonstrations. Malaysia’s darkest hour was the race riots in May 1969. It was precipitated by street processions. We want no more.
Jawhar Hassan
Chairman and CEO
Institute of Strategic and International Studies
Kuala Lumpur

* Read PM Badawi’s op-ed here. Read BERSIH’s press statement on 9 December here.