“Only when elections are clean and fair, can citizens be real masters of their own destiny and expect holders of public office to act accountably and effectively.”
BERSIH started out as the Joint Action Committee for Electoral Reform, which was formed in July 2005, and the coalition’s objective was to push for a thorough reform of the electoral process in Malaysia.
The formulation of the Joint Communique
The Joint Communique was a result of an ‘Electoral Reform Workshop’ held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2006. The Joint Communique defines the long-term objectives and the immediate working goals of the coalition.
BERSIH Steering Committee
The Committee comprises members from the political parties, as well as representatives from the following NGOs: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Women’s Development Collective (WDC) and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI).
The Beginning of BERSIH
BERSIH was officially launched on 23 November 2006 in the Malaysian Parliament building lobby. It was attended by poitical party leaders, civil society groups and NGOs, including PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, PKR vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah, DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng, DAP National Publicity Secretary and MP for Seputeh Teresa Kok, PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, PAS Youth chief Salahudin Ayub, PSM Secretary-General S. Arutchelvan, Malaysian Trade Union Congress Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, WDC executive director Maria Chin Abdullah and SUARAM executive director Yap Swee Seng.
Bersih’s calls are summarised in the following 8 points:
1. Clean the electoral roll
The electoral roll is marred with irregularities such as deceased persons and multiple persons registered under a single address or non-existent addresses. The electoral roll must be revised and updated to wipe out these ‘phantom voters’. The rakyat have a right to an electoral roll that is an accurate reflection of the voting population.
In the longer term, BERSIH 2.0 also calls for the EC to implement an automated voter registration system upon eligibility to reduce irregularities.
2. Reform postal ballot
The current postal ballot system must be reformed to ensure that all citizens of Malaysia are able to exercise their right to vote. Postal ballot should not only be open for all Malaysian citizens living abroad, but also for those within the country who cannot be physically present in their voting constituency on polling day. Police, military and civil servants too must vote normally like other voters if not on duty on polling day.
The postal ballot system must be transparent. Party agents should be allowed to monitor the entire process of postal voting.
3. Use of indelible ink
Indelible ink must be used in all elections. It is a simple, affordable and effective solution in preventing voter fraud. In 2007, the EC decided to implement the use of indelible ink. However, in the final days leading up to the 12th General Elections, the EC decided to withdraw the use of indelible ink citing legal reasons and rumours of sabotage.
BERSIH 2.0 demands for indelible ink to be used for all the upcoming elections. Failure to do so will lead to the inevitable conclusion that there is an intention to allow voter fraud.
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
The EC should stipulate a campaign period of not less than 21 days. A longer campaign period would allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on their choices. It will also allow candidates more time to disseminate information to rural areas. The first national elections in 1955 under the British Colonial Government had a campaign period of 42 days but the campaign period for 12th GE in 2008 was a mere 8 days.
5. Free and fair access to media
It is no secret that the Malaysian mainstream media fails to practice proportionate, fair and objective reporting for political parties of all divide. BERSIH 2.0 calls on the EC to press for all media agencies, especially state-funded media agencies such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama to allocate proportionate and objective coverage for all potlical parties.
6. Strengthen public institutions
Public institutions must act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy. Public institutions such as the Judiciary, Attorney-General, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC), Police and the EC must be reformed to act independently, uphold laws and protect human rights.
In particular, the EC must perform its constitutional duty to act independently and impartially so as to enjoy public confidence. The EC cannot continue to claim that they have no power to act, as the law provides for sufficient powers to institute a credible electoral system.
7. Stop corruption
Corruption is a disease that has infected every aspect of Malaysian life. BERSIH 2.0 and the rakyat demand for an end to all forms of corruption. Current efforts to eradicate corruption are mere tokens to appease public grouses. We demand that serious action is taken against ALL allegations of corruption, including vote buying.
8. Stop dirty politics
Malaysians are tired of dirty politics that has been the main feature of the Malaysian political arena. We demand for all political parties and politicians to put an end to gutter politics. As citizens and voters, we are not interested in gutter politics; we are interested in policies that affect the nation.
Launch of BERSIH 2.0
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (better known by its Bahasa Malaysia name “BERSIH”) issued its first joint communiqué on 23 November 2006.
At its formation, BERSIH comprised civil society organisations and political parties with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia.
BERSIH’s journey thus far has been both monumental and memorable. The public demonstration of November 2007, which saw thousands of ordinary Malaysians take to the streets in support of clean and fair elections, was a critical juncture in our nation’s electoral journey.
Almost 3 ½ years later, the aims of BERSIH continue to be relevant.
The time has now come for BERSIH to continue its crusade for clean and fair elections independent of any political party. BERSIH is thus being re-launched as BERSIH 2.0, a coalition of like minded civil society organisations unaffiliated to any political party. Our aim will be to effectively monitor both sides of the political divide.
The Steering Committee members of BERSIH 2.0 are as follows :
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, Co-Chairperson
Datuk A. Samad Said, Co-Chairperson
Ahmad Shukri Abdul Razab
Maria Chin Abdullah
Liau Koh Fah
Richard Y W Yeoh
Dr. Subramaniam Pillay
Toh Kin Woon
Wong Chin Huat
Yeoh Yang Poh