|Unfinished business of Bersih 3.0|
|Tuesday, 12 June 2012 01:30pm|
©Malay Mail (Used by permission)
by Terence Fernandez and Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
BERSIH co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga tells Terence Fernandez and Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani about the worrying trend of political intimidation and rule of law in this conclusion of a two-part interview. Part One appeared last Friday.
The Malay Mail: How much is the attack against you been based on racism and prejudice?
Datuk S. Ambiga: It is racist, sexist, you name it! It fits every bill.
TMM: Does it reflect how Malaysian politics have come down to?
Ambiga: This is part of the larger issue of political violence that really has to be addressed. But what they were trying to do was punish me.
What is horrendous is that they can say and do anything. They can insult my religion, my ethnicity, they can say and do anything and get away with it.
And they only do it because they know they can get away with it. They can do it at my door-step and that to me is horrendous. Whoever says that this is a peaceful assembly is completely wrong. Peaceful assemblies are held at public places. This is not a public place so the deputy inspectorgeneral of Police set a very bad example by saying there is no offence. I can name many offences, starting with criminal intimidation.
I was under siege in my own home! I was shocked to see Mat Rempit. Do they think this is acceptable to do to a person in their own home?
TMM: The authorities could have done more to protect your neighbourhood?
Ambiga: I am not blaming the cops and City Hall officers on the ground who did a good job. I am blaming those that gave the orders because they really could have prevented this from happening, but they deliberately did not want to.
I want to know if this happened outside the prime minister’s house, would they have allowed it to escalate to this stage?
My quarrel is with those in authority because they could have nipped it in the bud instead of making statements like “there is no offence”.
They allowed it to escalate to a point where this area became a war zone. Is that fair to the neighbours? Is this the kind of Malaysia you want? Is this is the kind of Malaysia you want to create?
TMM: Who do you think gave the orders?
Ambiga: Well, ultimately who takes responsibility? It should be the top cops and ultimately the home minister. But there is not even a single comment in respect to this.
What does that tell you? And it is not the first time this has happened. It is the same response to the political violence that took place in Lembah Pantai and Johor.
Same type of lack of response and it is very irresponsible. The people have to teach our leaders what it means to have a sense of decency. People have shown so many signs of support. I had flowers, people just turning up to show support.
So I am afraid standards in society are not coming from those at the top. They are not setting the right standards for the society. It is coming from the people.
TMM: Despite the condemnation by MCA and Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, do you feel it is a case of double talk?
Ambiga: It came all too late. They started panicking when they realised that people on the ground were not happy and they don’t like racist attacks.
In Malacca for example, they adulterated my name and they put the word babi (pig) inside.
As you know, my name is a name of a Goddess. So I am sorry, but those sorts of things you have got to come out immediately and respond. Still those in charge acted like it had never happened.
I have decided that it is really for the people to judge and it really has to translate to votes. What they have done is that they have outsourced their thuggery to others and I am confident in saying that because of their lack of reaction.
TMM: So you don’t think Barisan Nasional has succeeded in shifting focus from Bersih?
Ambiga: The more they attack me, the more Bersih is in the news every day. If they don’t want Bersih to be in the news, they should stop talking about us. They should stop this sort of things. To me actually, it is keeping Bersih on the front page which is a good thing because when you say Bersih it is eight demands. So even when you attack Bersih, it is talked about every day. So they have done us a favour.
TMM: Is there going to be a Bersih 4.0?
Ambiga: We haven’t decided yet because there is a lot of unfinished business with Bersih 3.0, one of which is getting justice for those who were injured. That is top priority.
We are collecting all the information for the Suhakam inquiry and assisting everybody with medical aid. The other priority is helping those who the government is gunning for. They are going after some of these participants. We have concerns for them because one of them has reported they had been beaten up while in police custody.
The other priority is a twopronged approach to the elections, which is voter education — encouraging voters to come out and vote through our popular “Jom 100” campaign.
The second is, working with Tindak Malaysia and NGOs in voter education in relation to polling day.
We also have a “Jom Pantau” campaign where members of the public become election observers themselves. So that if they see in the run-up to elections, for example, that posters are being put up when it shouldn’t be happening, they will take pictures and send it to a website. We are training the public so they know what to look out for.
TMM: Are you happy with the Independent Panel headed by former inspectorgeneral of police Tun Hanif Omar?
Ambiga: Why must you get a former police chief? Isn’t there anyone else?
TMM: But Hanif is known as a no-nonsense cop. In fact, the police force started deteriorating after his retirement.
Ambiga: Yes, but the fact that he made adverse remarks about Bersih disqualifies him! This is what I am saying, all these panels of inquiry is a mere reaction … a pathetic attempt at damage control.
TMM: One accusations that have been against Bersih is that you have yet to engage the Election Commission.
Ambiga: We want them to resign. We don’t want to talk to people who we think should not be there. There is nothing to engage. We have engaged them before and it is a waste of time.
You see, there is also an issue of them being Umno members which have been swept under the carpet. There is no total disclosure on when they joined and left. Don’t forget there is the old Umno and new Umno so that filing of the form took place in the old Umno, what about the new Umno?
So for me there is no full and frank disclosure on that issue in relation to the truth and everybody is just not talking about it.
Whatever it is, let’s have the record. Surely, (Datuk Seri) Nazri Aziz saying that the chairman is no more a member is not good enough. When was he a member? There is a real issue. So I don’t think there is any point any more at all because look at the comments they make about Bersih.
Look at how they attacked the Opposition? Does that immediately tell you that they are not independent? They have shown very clearly where their loyalties lie. So my own view is that it’s a waste of time.
TMM: What is your suggestion for the EC? Complete overhaul?
Ambiga: Yes. The constitution says that the Agong should appoint members of the EC that enjoy public confidence.
This latest survey shows that they do not enjoy public confidence. So how do you go into an election when the public have doubts about the integrity of the system?
I think it is Bangladesh that delayed the polls until the whole electoral roll was cleaned up. We suggested an independent panel after Bersih 2.0. We said bi-partisan, all of us work hard to clean up the electoral roll. They refused.
They don’t want to do it, why? My issue is this, if you have nothing to hide, why are you so against an independent panel looking at the electoral roll?
If you have confidence in your system, bring in the foreign observers. Bring them in now and not only during the elections!
TMM: The EC keeps harping on the fact if they are not independent, BN would not have lost five states.
Ambiga: I think the Opposition won despite the flawed process! For me, it is not about Opposition winning or BN winning. I don’t care who wins as long as it is through a fair and clean process.
TMM: What are your views on party hopping?
Ambiga: To me actually, the best thing to do is to resign and face the electorate again but there is a problem with that because under the federal constitution once you resign you can’t face re-election for a while. That is why people are hopping. Ideally, they should be removed.
TMM: You have repeatedly apologise to the future generations.
Ambiga: I didn’t do enough to fight the rot that was setting in which is the result of what we are seeing today. We should have stood up to corruption and abuse of power much earlier. I think we have failed our next generation because it is the responsibility of everyone to make sure that things go right.
TMM: Is that what you tell yourself when you look at the mirror every day? When you ask “why am I doing this?”
Ambiga: Yes (laughter). “Why me?” I have asked myself that question many times, but it is just circumstance really. But Bersih now represents much more to a lot of people.
It really empowered the people and I think they have risen above so many divides; racial divides, religious divides. It’s been very empowering to the people and I can see that when I am under attack, immediately people rally around. Unbelievable.
People have offered to pay for my security system. I have had to stop people coming. I didn’t ask for it. It is just happening and if they, the leaders, don’t read the ground, hey are making a big mistake.
TMM: How long are you going to lead Bersih?
Ambiga: I don’t believe in staying in a place too long. I always think that we have to set the example for other leaders to come out. We have to vacate so that the rejuvenation keeps taking place.
You see this is a bottom-up movement. If leaders just stay there and carry on, it won’t work. he process will require us, the steering committee to step down and at the right moment, new group will take over.
TMM: Has the threats against you hastened your wish to step down?
Ambiga: Not because of the attacks but we have always believed in succession.
But I am human. Of course, I have had moments but you shake it off because you then see the support that you have. It is just plain wrong to give in to intimidation. We will all step down when we want to, not because other people want us to.
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