Source: The Malaysian Insider
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — Polls watchdog Bersih 2.0 has warned political parties not to claim Putrajaya as theirs as they start to gear up amid heated speculation of snap polls being held within the next six months.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders have frequently used the catchphrase “the road to Putrajaya” in their bid to ride on the political tsunami of Election 2008 that robbed Barisan Nasional (BN) of its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament.
“Putrajaya does not belong to any parties, but it belongs to the people of Malaysia,” said Bersih 2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan last night at the launch of the movement.
“We the people will decide who can administer Putrajaya,” she told a 600-strong audience. Bersih 2.0 was launched yesterday as a civil society movement independent of any political parties in contrast to its inception in 2005 as Bersih that included non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and opposition parties.
Bersih had then held a massive demonstration in the city in November 2007, which was estimated to number some 40,000 people, to protest for clean and fair elections.
“Civil societies, that is us, now take over as Bersih 2.0 knowing that Bersih 1 was a tough act to follow,” said Ambiga.
Bersih 2.0, led by human rights group National Human Rights Society (Hakam) and women’s group Empower, is a coalition of 62 NGOs, she said.
The former Bar Council president listed several issues that the revamped movement was fighting for: a clean electoral roll, automatic voter registration, reduction of the voting age from 21 years to 18 years, the use of indelible ink to prevent fraud, reforms in postal votes, free and fair media access, a 21-day minimum campaign period, impartial constituency redelineation, election finance reform, neutral administration of government bodies, and the rights of students to participate in politics.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration has refused to implement an automatic registration system for voters, with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz claiming that the government could not “force” voters to exercise their right to vote.
Ambiga said automatic registration easily enabled eligible voters to vote in view of the 4.2 million eligible Malaysians who had yet to register themselves as voters.
“Merely registering someone does not mean that person is forced to vote. You are giving easy access to every eligible voter to vote,” she said.
She also pointed out that the voting age should be reduced to 18 years as Malaysians could join the army and the police force, as well as obtain a driving licence, at that age.
“You can shoot and get shot on behalf of the country at 18. You can join the police at 18. You can get a licence at 18. So why can’t you vote at 18?” she asked.
The widely-respected lawyer noted that several countries in the region allowed 18-year-old citizens to vote, while Indonesia’s voting age was 17 years.
“In Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Timor Leste, the voting age is 18. In Indonesia, it’s 17,” said Ambiga to murmurs of surprise across the multi-racial crowd.
She also said the Election Commission (EC) had told her, during a meeting on Tuesday, that it has advised the press to give election candidates free media access.
“The EC said they do write to the press and tell them to give all candidates free access to the media. If that’s the case, what’s stopping the media from giving fair coverage to all candidates?” she asked.
The EC, however, refused to use indelible ink during the voting process, according to Ambiga.
“They won’t consider indelible ink, but they’re looking at other alternatives that involve technology,” she said.
She added that the EC was also looking into reducing its four-month period to register voters as well as cleaning up the process for postal voters.
The EC has also expressed its willingness to consider a 21-day campaign period.
Meanwhile, PAS MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad stressed that Bersih was not about ensuring a victory for PR in the next election.
“It is my conviction and belief that Bersih is not about making sure the opposition wins the election,” said Dzulkefly.
“What we want in Bersih is that finally, a mature democracy can be institutionalised here,” he added.
In between speeches on electoral reform, the launch of Bersih 2.0 was punctuated with musical performances — a post-harvest dance by some Orang Asli and a drum and percussion piece by the Tugu Drum Circle — as well as stand-up comedy by writer and activist Hishamuddin Rais.
Siti Zaidatul Akma Mohamad, who was among the visitors to the launch, said the launch had strengthened her stand for democracy.
“I feel more energised. I feel more confident in what we stand for,” said Siti Zaidatul, a 42-year-old manager.
“To get a fair country, we have to fight for the correct terms of democracy… like when Datuk Ambiga read what Bersih fights for,” she added.
Financial consultant Gopalan Narayanan echoed Ambiga’s call for the voting age to be reduced to 18 years, pointing out that 16-year-old Malaysians could get married.
“I support 18 as a voting age. After all, people can get married at 16,” said Gopalan, 51.
“If they are matured enough to marry at 16, are they not matured enough to vote at 18?” he asked.
On the other hand, electrical engineering student Eric Sim demanded that EC prove that it was an independent body.
“The way they (the EC) delineate the constituencies is biased towards BN. They must show Malaysians that they are truly doing their job as a free commission instead of being biased towards any political party,” said Sim.