17 July 2011

Clean and Fair Elections in Malaysia

I didn't pay much attention to media reports of Bersih's calling for electoral reform in Malaysia until a few weeks ago, when authorities there detained 30 individuals under section 122 of Penal Code, and accused them of conspiring to overthrow the Government and to revive communist ideologies.

Apparently, reviving communism is tantamount to waging war against the King, a crime for which the punishment is imprisonment for life or a term not exceeding 20 years, and a fine.

Isn't communism effectively dead and buried?

Certainly, many countries are ruled by autocratic regimes that deal harshly with political opposition, but they hardly practise communist philosophy or principles.

China may be governed by a Chinese Communist Party, but its economic philosophy and policies are hardly communist or socialist.

Russia has long given up communism.

Maybe Cuba?

So, communism in Malaysia? Who wants it? Who will support it? Surely not Ms Ambiga Sreenevasan, the former president of the Malaysian Bar Council and leader of Bersih.

Bersih, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, comprises civil society organisations which have come together to campaign for clean and fair elections in Malaysia. It says it is non-partisan, although opposition parties naturally yearn for cleaner and fairer elections.

Bersih's calls for electoral reform include inter alia cleaning up the electoral roll, reforming the postal ballot, using indelible ink, having at least 21 days of campaigning, allowing free and fair access to the media, strengthening public institutions, stopping corruption and stopping dirty politics.

Bersih planned a rally on 9 July 2011 in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Perkasa, a Malay rights group, and the youth wing of the ruling UMNO planned rallies of their own on the same day in an attempt to counter Bersih's rally.

After the King intervened, Bersih accepted the Government's offer to hold the rally in a stadium, instead of on the streets.

Then the Government said that Bersih was an illegal entity because it was not registered, and needed a permit from the police to hold its rally in a stadium. In the end, there was no agreement and no compromise, and the street rallies proceeded as planned.

Perhaps, the Government should have let Bersih proceed with its rally in a stadium, with the police standing by to ensure that there was no violence nor unruliness.

The police met Bersih's demonstrators with tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons. About 1,700 of them were arrested.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that the Bersih protesters represented a minority of Malaysians but even more people opposed it. UMNO could have called up one million of its 3 million members to conquer Kuala Lumpur, if it wanted to. He said that he enjoyed the support of most Malaysians.

Mr Najib advised Malaysians to shun street demonstrations, and use the ballot box instead if they were unhappy.

Bersih's objective is electoral reform, a precursor to the next general election.

Why would anyone not want clean and fair elections?


1. Malaysia Protest Backers Accused of Communist Plot The Straits Times (Breaking News) (27 Jun 2011).

2. Bersih Rally to Move from Streets to Stadium TODAY (6 Jul 2011).

3. Merdeka Stadium Rejects Application for Bersih Rally TODAY (7 Jul 2011).

4. Police to Bar Rally Organisers from KL TODAY (8 Jul 2011).

5. Najib Slams Bersih TODAY (11 Jul 2011).

6. Najib Calls Malaysians to Shun Street Demonstrations TODAY (16 Jul 2011).

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