Bersih 2.0 and Elections- the need to be clean and fair

This week I have been pondering the need to respect the fundamental freedoms of assembly, to use speech in a none hateful way and the rule of law. My appreciation for the term ‘good governance’ has grown leaps and bounds in the last fortnight, despite having advised on governance projects over the last 3 years. The need to have free and fair elections so that the public voice is heard and respected underpins a mature society that takes into account the needs of its people (elites and grassroots) .

Not all elections are free and fair, as demonstrated in Zimbabwe in 2008 when local elders called out their village members by name to vote and cameras were installed over voters’ shoulders to incite fear of voting anything but the incumbents. This is why Zimbabwe’s coalition government’s (of Zuna-PF ruling party, Mugabe’s party and the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC- Tsvangirai‘s party) decision on Sunday 12 June 2011 to postpone elections is so instrumental to their peace process. Until structural issues are resolved and people are educated so that they can willingly vote without fear, peace is unsustainable and structural inequalities will remain.

This is why I am very pleased and proud of the recent developments in Malaysia. The Bersih 2.0 rally on 7 July 2011 calls for ‘clean and fair elections’, seeking 8 electoral reforms to ensure that justice is served. My pride is not so much due to the fact that the rally is happening but the responses of people to this event.

Firstly, civil society is gaining momentum and mobilising the public to act in areas of concern. Malaysians are gaining a voice and articulating what matters to them rather than settle for the outdated racial politics. Secondly, civil society and political parties are involved (whether they choose to be or not). The relationship between civil society and political parties are crucial to ensure sound representation at the political level. This rally has presumably caught the attention of leaders and hopefully this translates to better leadership. Thirdly, integral institutions to good governance are thinking through the issue of rule of law.

Of course it should be said that the people’s voice does not always translate to a corrupt free government. As many yellow shirt Thais claimed, the 2007 elections in Thailand brought in the People’s Power Party (which is Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai under a new name) and a new Prime Minister who had to eventually resign due to conflict of interest (he was hosting a cooking show on Thai TV and this conflicted with his duties as PM!!!). I am no expert in Thai politics, but suffice to say that the democratic voice need not always be equated to rule of law but at least in that case the Thai people respected the results initially.

Turning back to Malaysia, the fact that the police was not happy with the Bersih 2.0 rally in Malaysia suggests a fear of people power. This begs the question WHY? If the claim was the fear that people would turn to violence, that would be another matter. Police fears were targeted not so much at violence but at the fact that people were congregating to voice out their views. Thankfully, the Malaysian bar council has thought through the implications of this rally and reminded the police and public that:

“It should be recalled that it was the United Malays National Organisation led by Onn Jaafar, the then-president of Umno, who is the grandfather of our present Home Minister, which led the public to the streets nationwide to protest the setting-up of the Malayan Union [as planned by the British].”

The Bar Council then reminded the public that subsequent leaders have led public rallies leading to independence, some rallies being as big as 15,000 people. The freedom of assembly is a fundamental human right entrenched in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, of which Malaysia is a signatory. If Malaysia is to become a more mature country, we must ensure people have the right to participate in how the country is run. This requires clean and fair elections.  It also requires the respect of human dignity.

It strikes me as odd that Malaysia’s position in international affairs is so advanced when in domestic politics, we fail to reach the mark. Yesterday on 22 June 2011, Malaysia was elected as chair of the Third Committee for the forthcoming 66th session of the United Nations’ General Assembly. The Third Committee deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs. Malaysia’s new permanent representative to the UN, Datuk Hussein Haniff noted in an interview with Malaysian newspaper Bernama that the committee discusses the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedom through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the promotion of the right to self-determination. Moreover, it addresses important social development questions such as issues related to youth, family, ageing, persons with disabilities, crime prevention, criminal justice, and drug control.

Hopefully, the fact that Malaysia will be playing such a critical role in international affairs will mean that we look critically at our domestic treatment of such issues and give the above issues the necessary attention long over due. Malaysians need these economic, social and political rights just like everyone else in the world. Everyone in Malaysia, rich and poor, Malay, Chinese or Indian has the right to be part of building a stronger Malaysian nation. And only then can we confidently claim we are part of  1Malaysia.


One Response to “Bersih 2.0 and Elections- the need to be clean and fair”
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