EC: Bersih ‘backstabbed’ us

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First Published: 8:35am, Oct 19, 20
Last Updated: 9:19am, Oct 19, 2012


by Sean Augustin

It adds that allegations by the coalition co-chaired by Datuk S Ambiga (above) were 'hurtful'.

PETALING JAYA (Oct 19): The Election Commission (EC) and Bersih were not always at loggerheads - initially, the commission considered the electoral reform group a partner in striving for better polling process.However, the relationship soured after the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections allowed opposition politicians to shape their agenda, said EC deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar.

In a frank interview with, Wan Ahmad said he was ‘happy and excited’ when Bersih was formed in 2006.

This, he said, was because he was looking forward to input from civil society when it came to elections, traditionally retrieved from the media, politicians and their officers.

But the moment Bersih allowed opposition politicians to take part in its activities, which included street rallies, its objective as a civil society flew out of the window, said Wan Ahmad.

The group, he claimed, had evolved into a political party.

“Pity, because I admired what she set out to do,” he said, referring to Bersih 2.0’s co-chairman Datuk S Ambiga, who took up the mantle in July 2011.

(The coalition was relaunched in April 2010 as an entirely civil society movement known as Bersih 2.0, unaffiliated to any political party.) Wan Ahmad’s aversion to Bersih was also spurred by the allegations against the EC made by the group.

“I felt backstabbed,” he said, claiming that the allegations hurt more than those made by political parties. Wan Ahmad said Bersih’s allegations, including that the EC was pro-government and that it had not implemented recommendations by the Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms, damaged the commission’s reputation.

Naturally,the allegations made the EC review its “relationship” with Bersih, he said.

The commission “would not want to deal with them anymore”, especially after the street rallies and also because Bersih had turned down invitations to discuss matters raised.

“There is no point of talking to people who won’t work with us,” he said.

When contacted, Ambiga said Bersih had initially postponed its meeting with the EC ahead of the Sarawak state election last year. But as the system was “so flawed”, she added, talking to the EC was a “waste of time”.

Bersih, however, is not trying to avoid the EC. “We are still prepared to debate them publicly,” insists Ambiga.

As for opposition politicians taking part in Bersih’s activities, the former president of the Malaysian Bar said that from the outset, the group had also invited those from Barisan Nasional.

There was nothing Bersih could do, she said, if politicians from the ruling coalition did not want to take part.
“It doesn't mean we support the (opposition) political parties,” she added.

Bersih has so far held three rallies, the first in November 2007 which attracted an estimated 50,000 people,which is credited with helping to shift the political landscape in the country.

The second rally, on July 9, 2011, called Walk for Democracy, attracted fewer participants due to a police clampdown and change of venue after Bersih 2.0’s attempt to hold the rally at Stadium Merdeka was rejected.

In conjunction with the rally, the Bersih 2.0 steering committee came up with a list of eight demands to improve the electoral process in the country.

The demands include cleaning up of the electoral roll, reform of postal ballot, use of indelible ink, minimum 21 days of campaign period, free and fair access to mass media for all parties, strengthening of public institutions, no corruption or dirty politics.

On April 28 this year, the coalition tried to hold a “Duduk Bantah” protest, termed Bersih 3.0 at Dataran Merdeka over what they claimed was a lack of progress in meeting the eight demands.

Despite Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s refusal to allow them to use Dataran Merdeka, Bersih decided to go ahead anyway. Close to 100,000 people gathered in several parts of the town centre and marched towards Dataran Merdeka, which was barricaded and guarded by police.

The mostly peaceful march, however, turned violent after police, reacting to a breach of the barricades, resorted to firing tear gas and spraying water cannon to break up the protesters. A number of people, including journalists covering the event, policemen on duty and protesters, were injured.

The violence at Bersih 3.0 prompted investigations by two bodies, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and an Independent Panel headed by former Inspector-General of Police Tun Hanif Omar.