by Dr Toh Kin Woon
In recent weeks, many negative, unfair and unreasonable statements have been made against BERSIH 2.0. Some of these bordered on vicious personal attacks, in particular against its Chairperson, the highly respected Ambiga Sreenevasan. These attacks arose following the announcement by, and firm commitment of, the entire Steering Committee to hold a peaceful walk to demand for electoral reform and upholding of democracy on 9 July. As a member of BERSIH 2.0’s Steering Committee, I feel duty bound to come to its defence.
Allow me first to reiterate the overall objective of our coalition, which is to help the Election Commission realise its noble goal of conducting elections that are fair and clean. All will agree that the attainment of this goal is a must, if Malaysia is to be a fully developed country. Apart from high income, a just and democratic electoral system is an important institution of a first world country.
Unfortunately, the way elections have been conducted in our country up till now leaves much to be desired. Many weaknesses in the process and conduct of elections still remain. Some of these include an electoral roll that is still full of defects; campaign periods that are far too short to allow all contesting parties to effectively disseminate their stands and positions on various issues to the voters; unequal and uneven access to the media, especially state-owned broadcasting; the refusal to use indelible ink in order to eliminate the possibility of multiple voting; and disenfranchisement of many citizens who are resident overseas. The result is that electoral outcomes may not be a full, clear and accurate expression of public will.
In a bid to help move our country towards making our elections fairer and cleaner, BERSIH 2.0 has therefore asked via its 8 demands that these weaknesses and defects be overcome and measures further strengthening the electoral system be adopted. Among these are cleaning up the voters list, the use of indelible ink, a minimum campaign period of 21 days, automatic registration of voters, reform of postal voting, equal access to state owned broadcasting and the media, wiping out corruption and the strengthening of public institutions. BERSIH 2.0’s goal is simple, which is to help install a system of elections that is beyond reproach and whose outcomes unchallengeable. It is therefore a surprise to many that this good and innocuous goal should meet with so much contest and opposition.
Some, however, would claim that they are not so much contesting and opposing our demands as the way we press for their realisation via the holding of the walk on July 9. All kinds of reasons have been put forward to stall the walk. It will disrupt business, cause massive traffic jams and even create chaos and disorder, so claim the walk opponents. For a start, we have reiterated many a times that our walk will be peaceful. If, in addition, the police come in to lend a hand by controlling and managing traffic, I see no reason why any of these concerns will happen. Indeed this was the case with some recent events, such as the holding of a peaceful protest against the putting up of the Lynas Advanced Materials plant in Pahang, which was organised in Kuala Lumpur. Likewise, countries such as Hong Kong have witnessed even more massive demonstrations and yet they are still prosperous. Besides, there is such a thing called freedom of assembly which is one of the tenets of our Federal Constitution. Opponents of the walk will do well to respect this basic right, failing which all calls for the creation of a highly developed country will come to naught.
Finally, may I appeal to all who are engaged in this discourse to look at the core matter of clean and fair elections. Unfortunately, however, many of those opposed to BERSIH 2.0’s big rally on July 9 have chosen to divert from it. Instead they have chosen to launch vicious personal attacks against its Chairperson and even blamed BERSIH 2.0 for the recent hacking of government websites. All these are clearly off the mark and are not part of rational debate that we should be engaged in.
Toh Kin Woon
Member of BERSIH 2.0’s Steering Committee
Issued on 21 June 2011.