Will Malaysia Protests Bring Election Reform?
May 2, 2012
On April 28, Bersih 3.0 – a movement in Malaysia that is supported by 64 NGOs as well as the opposition party components – organized what turned out to be the largest street demonstration in Malaysia in a decade. Bersih in Malay means clean, and tens of thousands of Malaysians thronged the streets near the Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, demanding that the government clean or reform the Malaysian Electoral system, which Bersih 3.0 claims to be manipulative and fraudulent.
Disappointed with the government’s lack of response to Bersih 3.0 demands for electoral reform, Bersih 3.0 chair Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, former president of the Malaysian Bar Council, said that time for discussion on these issues is over and Malaysians must now peacefully take their demands to the streets to get their government’s attention.
The support for Bersih 3.0 was massive. Ten other states in Malaysia organized their own rallies on the same day. Malaysians overseas also joined in, with rallies from Sydney to London. While the rallies outside Kuala Lumpur were much smaller in size, they were significant. This is the first time since the 1957 independence movement that Malaysians at home and abroad have organized themselves for a single cause in such force. To that end, the Bersih movement is considered very successful. Nevertheless, critics are questioning Bersih’s close proximity with the opposition parties. It’s no secret that the opposition party components mobilized their supporters and went on a national tour urging their members to attend Bersih’s rallies. A high-ranking opposition party member even made an open statement that he sponsored people to attend the Bersih 3.0 rally, on top of his party’s statement that they will help organize Bersih 4.0 and pledged 1 million people to be on the streets in months to come. When the crowd turned unruly on April 28, viral videos revealed that the first group of protestors who broke the police barriers were from the opposition party.
In Malaysia, there is a dearth of discourse around its electoral system. A serious review is badly needed and long overdue. Lately, as Bersih has generated more public attention around this issue, the government itself has showed positive signs toward election reform. In July 2011, the government formed a bipartisan panel, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform, which consults with civil society and the public on their concerns about the Malaysian electoral system and makes suggestions to the Parliament on areas for reform. The committee met 13 times from October 2011 to March 28 of this year, and has set up five sub-committees headed by PSC members to refine issues that came up at the public hearings that were held in six states: Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Penang, Kota Bharu, and Johor Bharu. From these public hearings, 106 associations, registered organizations, and individuals put forward their views and suggestions to the committee.
On April 2, 2012, the Committee presented a report to Parliament outlining 22 recommendations for reform. Recommendations ranged from auditing and cleaning the voter roll to extending the campaign period for elections. Of the eight recommendations that Bersih had put forward to the Committee, seven were included in the report. Bersih, however, remains dissatisfied. First the recommendations require action by the Elections Commission (EC), and Bersih regards the EC as incapable and unwilling to undertake reform. Second, Bersih wants the reforms implemented now, before the 13th General Elections likely to be held in June 2012.
A major obstacle to electoral reform moving forward is the lack of effective communication between the EC and Bersih, which stems from distrust between the two parties. While Bersih cannot continue to deny the influence the opposition parties have in their movement, the EC on the other hand must seriously take note of the demands made by the citizens in Malaysia and beyond who were on the streets on April 28. Both the EC and Bersih must now take a stand for Malaysia.
Herizal Hazri is The Asia Foundation’s program director in Malaysia. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
About our blog, In AsiaIn Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.
In Asia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ContactFor questions about In Asia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to email@example.com.
The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223
HIGHLIGHTS ACROSS ASIA
Dr. Richard Haass and Ambassador Kathleen Stephens Address The Asia Foundation at New York Board Meeting
May 24, 2017
Airport Congestion in the Philippines Sees Improvements
May 24, 2017
Asia Foundation Experts Participate in ADB Yokohama 2017 Annual Meeting
May 17, 2017
Asia Foundation Hosts APEC App Challenge to Help the Asia-Pacific Region’s Small Businesses Expand
May 16, 2017
Cambodia’s Online Reform Initiative Inventory
Asia Foundation Releases Report on Disaster Preparedness During Political Transition in Nepal
April 24, 2017