Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bersih and the inane responses

JULY 6 — This present government has developed one distinguishing characteristic not unlike the previous administration. If the previous administration was maligned as being uninspiring and sleeping through its job, this present government isn’t that far from being similarly aspersed. How so?

It has shown it has a knack of being inept at handling small shocks to the system. Many of us for example are not supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, but the manner the government handles the Anwar affairs — whether it’s the sodomy 2 charge or the recent video clip showing a person resembling Anwar in a sexual tryst, the administration has shown its ineptness and incompetence.

In the video clip affair for example, people see the court as being a manipulated instrument to serve the interest of the sitting government. The court has allowed itself to be the pulpit for making political statements; lawyers representing the three people accused of possession and distribution or broadcasting pornographic material, used that occasion to declare the authenticity of the video and its main actor. How was it relevant and moreover we heard it through a secondary source- i.e. regurgitation from the defence lawyers. That become hearsay evidence and can be contested.

Its Anwar again this time having his hands tied behind and walloped defencelessly. Last time it was the physical black eye. This time it is the legal black eye. The last time, it nearly cost the loss of Najib in Pekan, this time it could probably cost more to Umno as a whole.

The current shock to the system — a system made merry by numerous announcements of projects by the

PM and his chief major domo in this field of auta-mania, Idris Jala, is how the government handles the Bersih NGO.

This is an NGO led by a Malaysian Indian lady by the name of S Ambiga. This lady has managed to rattle almost all the top guns in Umno and those wishing they were part of Umno.

Ibrahim Ali is responding mindlessly justifying his conduct as an answer to his interpretation of Bersih as being a movement to (1) unseat the government and (2) attacking the position of Malays. So he steps in as the self-appointed warrior defending the position of Malays. He says he is willing to be murderous and warned the Chinese to stay away. But he hasn’t asked his Chinese business backers to do the same.
Bersih was a godsend re-invigorating Ibrahim Ali from an otherwise political stupor. He now has an issue and Ibrahim Ali lives.

But why is Ibrahim Ali defending the Umno led government? Ibrahim Ali is not even an Umno member. Two, has Umno not got enough warrior politicians to defend it in its hour of need? Umno does not need Ibrahim Ali to speak for the party. If it does, then the warrior politicians in Umno have since become eunuchs.

The other reason for attacking Bersih as a movement to endanger Malays and Malay interests is too far-fetched to be dignified by answering it.

Who is the right mind will entertain the idea of unseating the government through undemocratic means? The only one that did, were the Umno politicians who engineered the downfall of the Perak PR government.

Already there are signs that the Perak government will be retaken by the PR forces.

Ambiga and the Bersih people must be absent minded or must have suffered a bout of spontaneous amnesia to not be aware that Governments can be unseated only though democratic means, that is by way of free and fair elections. Therefore to seriously suggest that Bersih is a copycat version of the mass movements in Tunisa and Egypt is not acceptable.

Our response becomes more bizarre when the discovery of the portrait of Shamsiah Fakeh among Bersih rally paraphernalia is taken as proof that Bersih is communist inspired! The whole handling becomes even more macabre with the ‘discovery’ of weapons said to belong to Bersih would be participants. Oh yes. Oh yes — more of the incompetence. The discovery is a miracle to happen just before the planned rally. I hope the people masterminding the discovery will also be ready with some creative answers to tell the PM, how the weapons were ‘planted’ there. How convenient! The gods must be smiling at the politicians and police.

And now the investigation into the finances of Bersih shall be used as proof that Bersih is a Trojan horse for foreign subversion. That would probably provide an aphrodisiac for the recuperating Dr Mahathir who is a well-known opponent of any form of colonialism.

People may get inspired by those movements but were probably so without seriously entertaining the idea of unseating a government by undemocratic or violent means. Public opinion will certainly go against Bersih if that is the case. Ambiga will be lynched for that.

But the aims of Bersih are not that. By asking the elections commission to conduct itself properly shows that
Bersih accepts that the means to unseat a government is through the voting system. But the voting system is in need of better supervision and that’s where the demands on the election commission come to the fore.
This aim should be supported. Some people will show their support by participating in the rally. Some will not do so. It’s a matter of choice.

The right to express their wishes must be upheld by the government. If Perkasa and other groups supportive of the sitting government are allowed to gather and demonstrate, that right must also be given to others. If the Bersih planned rally is wrong in law, then the same judgment applies to the rallies carried out by supporters of the sitting government.

Our laws are clear. If people break the law, irrespective of who they are, they must be brought to before the forces of the law. We have the institutions to deal with that and we certainly don’t need a third line of defence. Can any secret society and gangster organisations apply to be a bona-fide 3rd line of defence?

The problem here is that the elections commission is seen as a pliant tool for one side of the contestants. It doesn’t answer questions with solutions but gives all sorts of excuses. People accept the principle of elections as a means to establish governments. But they also want that means to be above board. They accept they are powerless unless they act collectively and speak as a voice. The powerless are striking back demanding that competition to get power to form governments be carried out fairly and in even handed manners.

The body that oversees elections is conducted fairly and transparently is the elections commission. We mustn’t lose sight of the object of the current disputes now. Bersih’s objective is to call upon the election commissions to conduct itself as it’s chartered to do. This isn’t a rally threatening the sovereignty of the Agong or to strike fear at Malays.

The election commission is an independent commission. It’s not just another government department answerable to the Chief Secretary or even to the PM. It’s the custodian of fair and transparent conduct of elections and it must guard this role jealously. It does so jealously from the meddling and intervention of interested parties. It must also rid itself of any perceptions of being a submissive tool for those holding power at the moment.

Its responses to criticisms therefore mustn’t be evasive. It has to avail itself to the latest methods and technology that upgrade the participation of people in an electoral process. If the use of indelible ink is good for participatory democracy it must adopt the method as a natural development without having to be at pains defending its non-usage. If making voting compulsory and its cost effective doing so, then it must do so.
People are now diverting their attention to debating whether the planned assembly of people in the Bersih Rally should be allowed or otherwise. The real issue has and is always the conduct of the elections commission.

The watching majority must be dismayed at the response of our police. The police with all the sophisticated instruments of crowd control and other suppressive means appear to have admitted that they are powerless to control the crowds. What have we spent public money for then? The idea of a police is to keep the peace. In keeping the peace, it must conduct its business in a professional manner and be fair minded. If Bersih is not allowed to hold rallies, then other parties must also be disallowed.

In Penang, the police have given permit for some people to hold a rally? In Rembau, some people consisting of ex policemen were given permit? Ibrahim Ali was even given a permit to denounce a rally that has not taken place. He is a clairvoyant extraordinaire who can see the future. In ancient times, people like Ibrahim Ali got burnt at the stakes. Shall we roast Ibrahim Ali then?

Let’s not forget the object of the issue. It’s the election commission. It answers to the Agong and therefore should not be seen as working for an interested party. What’s the problem with clearing the electoral registers off dead people? How can it apply its resources and time to restructure how postal votes can be seen to be fair and transparent? How can it monitor and apply strict rules to election spending and election funding etc.?

These are important issues to those looking at elections as a means to exercise their democratic rights to elect a government of their choice. This isn’t an issue whether public demonstrations or going on a march as practices that are good only elsewhere but not suitable in Malaysia. The need to express publicly the collective wants and demands is part and parcel a democracy. —

* Sakmongkol AK47 is the nom de plume of Datuk Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz. He was Pulau Manis assemblyman (2004-2008).

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