The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (better known by its Bahasa Malaysia name “BERSIH”) issued its first joint communiqué on 23 November 2006.
At its formation, BERSIH comprised civil society organisations and political parties with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia. BERSIH called for the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, the abolition of postal voting except for diplomats and overseas voters, and a complete revision of the electoral roll to ensure that existing irregularities were removed and a roll with full integrity was in place. In July 2007, BERSIH additionally called for all contesting parties in an election should enjoy fair access to state-owned media, especially television and radio.
BERSIH’s journey thus far has been both monumental and memorable. The public demonstration of November 2007, which saw thousands of ordinary Malaysians take to the streets in support of clean and fair elections, was a critical juncture in our nation’s electoral journey. Never before in our nation’s history have so many rallied in support of a fundamental pre-requisite of any true democracy – a fair vote, free from lopsided political machinations and imbalanced access to people-owned and publicly-funded radio and television. Some point to the events of November 2007 as being the critical inflexion point that led ultimately to the outcome of 8 March 2008 and the results of our country’s 12th General Election.
Almost 3 ½ years later, the aims of BERSIH continue to be relevant as our country experiences yet another Parliamentary by-election in Hulu Selangor, with a further by-election around the corner in Sibu, Sarawak.
Now that there have been changes of government in Kedah, Pulau Pinang and Selangor, and briefly in Perak, the time has come for BERSIH to continue its crusade for clean and fair elections independent of any political party. BERSIH is thus being re-launched as a
coalition of like-minded civil society organisations unaffiliated to any political party. Our aim will be to effectively monitor both sides of the political divide.
However, our immediate attention is being directed at the on-going by-election campaign in Hulu Selangor and the allegations of irregularities concerning the polling stations for voters to cast their votes on Sunday 25 April 2010. We have been given to understand that nearly 14,000 registered voters in the Hulu Selangor constituency have been re-assigned to polling centres different from the ones designated for them in the 2008 general election. The extremely brief campaigning period means that there is
insufficient time to notify each of these nearly 14,000 registered voters of their new polling centres. We anticipate that confusion and chaos will reign on polling day on Sunday 25 April 2010 when voters turn up at their usual polling centres only to discover that they will have to travel elsewhere to cast their vote. Voters will now have to endure a mad scramble to locate their new polling centres. The ensuing confusion will no doubt cause many, especially those who have to rely on public transport, and senior citizens, to simply give up and go home.
More critically, BERSIH is gravely alarmed that some 233 voters, by the Election Commission’s own admission, have been transferred out of the Hulu Selangor constituency and moved into the Selayang constituency. Any electoral delineation can only take place once every 10 years pursuant to Schedule 13 of the Federal Constitution. In between delineation exercises, voters can apply to change their constituencies when they move residence. The Election Commission cannot authorise the transfer of voters from one constituency to another on their own accord. It is not a simple mistake that can be excused by an apology. The action of the Election Commission is a violation of the Federal Constitution. They have usurped the functions of Parliament.
BERSIH roundly condemns this situation caused by the Election Commission whereby ordinary voters are effectively disenfranchised and will have been deprived of their constitutional right to choose their representative to Parliament. This has interfered with the exercise of democracy in this country. Instead of prioritising people, their actions will have caused tremendous hardship and inconvenience. Instead of accentuating achievement, there will have been abysmal failure and great frustration.