KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 — As the list of unmet demands continued piling up, newly-appointed Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah warned that another mammoth street rally was “guaranteed” if the Election Commission (EC) did not deliver the electoral reforms sought.
Already dubbing it “Bersih 4.0” after the series of street rallies that first took place in 2007, Maria Chin rattled off a list that has since grown from the original demands for free and fair elections the polls watchdog had started with in 2011.
“Reforms such as the 15 demands submitted to the Election Commission in 2011; the PSC 22 points recommendation; the final recommendations from RCI Sabah, need to be implemented immediately without fear or favour,” she said, referring to a parliamentary select committee’s 22 points and a Royal Commission of Inquiry’s (RCI) expected report on illegal immigrants in Sabah allegedly given citizenships and voting rights in return for electoral support.
“And let this also be a promise – if reforms are not in place, Bersih 4.0 is a sure guarantee,” she told The Malay Mail Online in an interview prior to winning the election to lead Bersih uncontested yesterday.
Despite the call, however, Bersih did not appear to have faith that the EC could meet the demands. Shortly after the election for the polls watchdog’s new line of leaders was concluded yesterday, the group announced a petition to seek the intervention of the Yang diPertuan Agong to install an entirely new set of commissioners to head the EC.
“The present EC members have to be sacked en bloc and immediate steps to be taken to ensure that the next batch of EC members are people of high integrity, respectable, independent and unbiased,” she said ahead of yesterday’s announcement.
She said that a “lack of genuine reforms will only incite the wrath of the citizens”, stressing that Bersih 4.0 rally remains a “possible option”.
Bersih, which until yesterday was jointly led by prominent lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said, had organised two massive street rallies in a bid to pressure the government to reform the electoral process that it insisted was lopsided.
The rallies – “Bersih 2.0” on July 9, 2011 and “Bersih 3.0” in April 28 last year – saw an unprecedented tens of thousands of Malaysians pour onto the streets of the national’s capital here to demand for voting reforms, and joined by other groups gathering throughout the country and the world.
Although the rallies began peacefully, they eventually descended into chaos, with the third instalment being the largest and most tumultuous of the series.
What began as a peaceful sit-in surrounding the Dataran Merdeka in the heart of Kuala Lumpur on April 28 last year, later became a scene of violence as riot police acted with force after protesters breached a cordon around the iconic square.
An earlier “Bersih” rally took place in 2007, and is considered the spiritual predecessor to the movement, but the organisers then are unaffiliated to the later events.
Prior to her exit as co-chairman, Ambiga previously declared that a Bersih 4.0 rally could take place if the EC continued to ignore the coalition’s demands.
Despite the vow to carry out a mass protest if the group’s demands were not met, Maria indicated that Bersih was still open to discussions with top government leaders, the EC and the National Registration Department (NRD).
“Yes, provided they are willing to engage with us. We are more than ready,” she said.
When asked how she would counter the perception that Bersih was more friendly towards the federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) than the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), Maria said the group had always maintained that it was not pro-opposition.
“Bersih is about reforms and instituting democratic processes and any party who violates our trust will be called to task,” she added, later saying that the group will continue to monitor the government of the day.
“We have to soldier on as the challenge is not about getting a new government but to continue to remind those in power that citizens’ rights and freedoms are not for sale, they are here to stay.
“It is the government who needs to be on tip-toes to serve the people’s needs, interests and protest their human rights,” she said.
While the group yesterday saw a change in leadership, Maria said Bersih’s approach and vision will remain the same, with the movement to continue talking about “electoral reform and instituting democratic policies, laws and processes into the system”.
“With a less centralised Steering Committee and greater participation from civil society outside the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor hub, I believe that we will be better-placed to demand the strengthening of public institutions and a stop to corruption and dirty politics, which are part of Bersih 2.0’s mission,” she added, referring to the steering committee that will now have six regional members to ensure greater representation of the whole country.
“We believe that institutions such as the Election Commission, MACC, and the police need to be strengthened to be independent and bold enough to defend citizens’ rights and freedoms, as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution,” she said.