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Elections 101: Bersih 2.0 – The Simple Demands

Bersih 2.0 rally election protest

Lately, one that has been quite hot in the news recently is the Bersih 2.0 rally scheduled on 9th July 2011. I have been busy with an assignment lately and I have been travelling too but as much as possible, I do try to keep abreast with the latest news at home.

It is amazing that 500 – 600 police reports have been lodged against Bersih 2.0 todate and it has gotten Perkasa and UMNO Youth into the act as well although their objectives may differ from what Bersih 2.0 is standing for.

No doubt, public rallies in Malaysia have always been chaotic and not in all circumstance, we can say that the blame needs to be put on the shoulders of the organizers. As Ibrahim Ali of Perkasa had said it will be chaos and we agree to that but it only gets even more chaotic when there are opposing parties striven to throw the spanner into the woodworks.

Still remember the rallies by Anti ISA organizers and the Pro ISA organizers that happen at the same time. The Pro ISA rally was cocked up only after the Anti-ISA rally was announced.

And whenever we have public rallies, there is this famed “mother of roadblocks” by the police which does nothing to prevent the public rally from happening but gets into the nerve of every motorist that have to pass through these insane traffic jams that are created by these roadblocks.

It is more productive for these policemen to doing real policing work rather stand around by the side of the highway, manning roadblocks which cause 3 lanes of traffic to be squeezed into 1 and as no ones pass these roadblocks wears a large “I am Public Rally participant” signboard, the effectiveness of such roadblocks is highly questionable.

Bersih 2.0 organizer did not get the permit for the public rally but so did Perkasa – so it will be interesting to see how police will act against the two.

And why we should oppose this rally which calls for fair election practices? Doesn’t it promote the very principles of democracy? There are still loopholes in the way we conduct our elections although the Election Commission and the Government will think otherwise.

Postal votes, for example, remains a pain in the neck for the oppositions and it is no secret that gerrymandering is practised widespread by those who intend to keep themselves in power. Yes, our election process has not reached the level of maturity that we have hoped it to be.

Bersih 1.0 was unprecedented and was a great success and a couple of weeks later, the Government had another headache dealing with Hindraf rally.

Both rallies, coupled with high handed tactics by the previous Government helped to steer the nation to hand over the worst election result to BN and helped the opposition to gain control of 4 states. We have seen the progress made by the oppositions since 2008 – some are good, some are bad.

Having thousands of people on the streets will not only be a logistic nightmare for the organizers but also for the law enforcement agencies. Can they keep peace and order? The easy way out for the police would be to deny the permit for the Bersih rally in the place, mitigating the expected chaos if the rally goes through.

And that is what the police had done too but certainly, it is not going to stop the rally. And what about the inconvenience that it creates for those who are not involved in the rally but had to drive into the city for urgent matters.

Think of the traffic jams and disruptions to the daily routine for the day. And we have yet to count the expected losses by businesses that had to close their premises for the day in fear of riots and public disorder.

Thus arriving at the question that many may be asking – whether we still need a Bersih 2.0? To answer that question, we probably need to see what Bersih 2.0 is demanding. Bersih 2.0’s 8 demands are not surprisingly something new – it is something we have been hearing from NGOs and the oppositions all over the years.

1. Clean the electoral roll
The electoral roll is marred with irregularities such as deceased persons and multiple persons registered under a single address or non-existent addresses. The electoral roll must be revised and updated to wipe out these ‘phantom voters’. The rakyat have a right to an electoral roll that is an accurate reflection of the voting population.

In the longer term, BERSIH 2.0 also calls for the EC to implement an automated voter registration system upon eligibility to reduce irregularities.

2. Reform postal ballot
The current postal ballot system must be reformed to ensure that all citizens of Malaysia are able to exercise their right to vote. Postal ballot should not only be open for all Malaysian citizens living abroad, but also for those within the country who cannot be physically present in their voting constituency on polling day. Police, military and civil servants too must vote normally like other voters if not on duty on polling day.

The postal ballot system must be transparent. Party agents should be allowed to monitor the entire process of postal voting.

3. Use of indelible ink
Indelible ink must be used in all elections. It is a simple, affordable and effective solution in preventing voter fraud. In 2007, the EC decided to implement the use of indelible ink.

However, in the final days leading up to the 12th General Elections, the EC decided to withdraw the use of indelible ink citing legal reasons and rumours of sabotage.

BERSIH 2.0 demands for indelible ink to be used for all the upcoming elections. Failure to do so will lead to the inevitable conclusion that there is an intention to allow voter fraud.

4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
The EC should stipulate a campaign period of not less than 21 days. A longer campaign period would allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on their choices.

It will also allow candidates more time to disseminate information to rural areas. The first national elections in 1955 under the British Colonial Government had a campaign period of 42 days but the campaign period for 12th GE in 2008 was a mere 8 days.

5. Free and fair access to media
It is no secret that the Malaysian mainstream media fails to practice proportionate, fair and objective reporting for political parties of all divide.

BERSIH 2.0 calls on the EC to press for all media agencies, especially state-funded media agencies such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama to allocate proportionate and objective coverage for all potlical parties.

6. Strengthen public institutions
Public institutions must act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy.

Public institutions such as the Judiciary, Attorney-General, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC), Police and the EC must be reformed to act independently, uphold laws and protect human rights.

In particular, the EC must perform its constitutional duty to act independently and impartially so as to enjoy public confidence. The EC cannot continue to claim that they have no power to act, as the law provides for sufficient powers to institute a credible electoral system.

7. Stop corruption
Corruption is a disease that has infected every aspect of Malaysian life. BERSIH 2.0 and the rakyat demand for an end to all forms of corruption.

Current efforts to eradicate corruption are mere tokens to appease public grouses. We demand that serious action is taken against ALL allegations of corruption, including vote buying.

8. Stop dirty politics
Malaysians are tired of dirty politics that has been the main feature of the Malaysian political arena. We demand for all political parties and politicians to put an end to gutter politics.

As citizens and voters, we are not interested in gutter politics; we are interested in policies that affect the nation.

Certainly reforms like automatic registration of voters, for example, will eliminate the need for manual registration of voters that creates the notion of phantom voters. We have the right tools and resources, so what’s keeping us from deploying them to ensure every one of the right age automatically qualifies to vote on who will represent them in Parliament.

And if the EC and the Government are of the opinion that they have done the best to ensure a fair and just election process, just have a look at the recent Sarawak State Election where there were incidents that prevented a fair and just election process.

In the past, we have called for fair and just election process through the press statements, letters, memorandums, petitions and more but progress towards fair and just election process has been rather slow.

Sometimes, it does take a public rally with thousands of people from different background and cause to drive the point home. It happened with Bersih 1.0 and we can expect the same awareness with Bersih 2.0.

What we request in the end from the Government is a promise to allow the rally to proceed and end peacefully and thereafter to take Bersih 2.0’s demands for reforms. After all, doesn’t the needs of the nation takes precedent over the needs of political agendas?

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