Reuters: Najib Razak may still call elections as early as June

April 30, 2012

Reuters: Najib Razak may still call elections as early as June

by Stuart Grudgings & Siva Sithraputhran, Reuters

Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak appeared today to have weathered the weekend’s violent electoral reform protest and may still call elections as early as June.

Running battles between protesters and Police in Kuala Lumpur highlighted growing tensions in the South-East Asian nation as it prepares for close elections that could threaten the ruling coalition’s 55-year grip on power.

Najib has been seen as leaning towards an election in June – well before his mandate expires next March – but his appeal to middle-class voters may suffer if accusations of Police brutality against  250,000 protesters gain traction.

However, any political fallout appeared to be limited because protesters were at least partly to blame for the violence, which resulted in hundreds of arrests.

NONEOpposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (right) gave a speech at the rally organised by the independent BERSIH movement for election reforms and was accused by some ruling party members and state media of inciting the crowd to break through police barriers.

“That proves that BERSIH was hijacked and that Anwar was trying to use it as an election tactic,” Nur Jazlan Mohamed, a member of parliament for the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), told Reuters.

He said Najib would still be inclined to call elections early, possibly in June.Najib’s approval rating, at a lofty 69 percent in the most recent opinion poll, tumbled last year after a heavy-handed police reaction to a previous BERSIH rally for electoral reform.

Since then, he has reached out to middle-class and younger voters by abolishing some colonial-era security laws and pushing limited reforms of an electoral system the Opposition says favours his long-ruling National Front coalition.

He is due to announce Malaysia’s first national minimum wage for private sector workers tonight – the eve of Labour Day – in another sign that elections are approaching four years after historic opposition gains in 2008.

Government sources told Reuters last month the wage would be set at between RM800 and RM900 per month.

Blame game

The government and state-controlled media were quick to put the blame on protesters for the clashes, which began after some demonstrators broke through police barriers blocking them from entering the city’s Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square).

“A Show of Hooliganism,” read a headline in the pro-government New Straits Times, which carried pictures of yellow-shirted protesters throwing sticks at police and kicking Police cars.

Najib said that Police had been the main victims of the violence, but that any allegations of police brutality would be investigated. Protest leaders and the country’s Opposition blamed the Police for an overzealous response and dozens of witnesses gave evidence of Police brutality after officers fired tear gas and chemically-laced water at the unarmed protesters.

NONE“When I walked passed a pack of police officers on both sides, they punched and kicked me,” Wong Chin Huat (right), one of the leaders of the BERSIH electoral reform movement, told the news website Malaysiakini.

“I fell down. When it looked like I was going to faint, they stopped hitting me.”

Anwar, a former Deputy Prime Minister who was acquitted on charges of sodomy in January, denied inciting the protesters, saying the government was trying to deflect the blame for not fully addressing demands for electoral reforms.

Rahul Bajoria, a regional economist with Barclays Capital in Singapore, said the chaotic weekend scenes in Kuala Lumpur were “a short-term negative but not a game-changer” and had not changed his view that elections are likely to be held in June.

“One should not get distracted by what’s happening on the political front,” he said. “There’s enough momentum in the economy both from an investment perspective and from the reforms perspective.”

– Reuters

Post 428 BERSIH3.0 Rally: Sympathy and Stridency

April 30, 2012

Post 428 BERSIH3.0 Rally:  Sympathy and Stridency

by Terence Netto @ an Undisclosed Press Bunker@

COMMENT There you have it: Within a day of perhaps the biggest political demonstration ever held in Kuala Lumpur, the three horsemen of the government’s early response system have spoken – two opting for sedation and one for stridency.

radzi razak najib 290412Press reports capture Prime Minister Najib Razak, on a sympathy visit to the injured, leaning close to a recovering journalist to whisper a variation of what he must have told Teoh Beng Hock’s family when he empathised with them after the tragedy of the young DAP aide’s death three years ago.

His cousin, the Home Affairs Minister, who possesses a disconcerting ability to mix bizarre logic with bromides, joined in the tranquilising mission.

But Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stayed true to his right-wing image, taking a strident stance towards all and sundry. He squarely blamed Ambiga Sreenevasan, the BERSIH co-chair, for the violent incidents that marred the tail-end of the demonstration on Saturday, and generally took an expansive view of the responsibility he would otherwise reject if, by extension, it were suggested that the onus for the catastrophic national cattle-breeding project is his because he held the watch at the Agricultural Ministry when the scheme was approved.

Playing the blame game to the hilt

However, it was not just two parts, sympathy and one part stridency that summed up the government’s initial response.

Saifuddin Abdullah, for some time now almost alone among the UMNO leadership cohort in willingness to engage with the issues, could not play the ostrich against the salience of BERSIH 3.0.

“BN must be very careful in addressing this,” counseled the urbane NONEintellectual Deputy Higher Education Minister yesterday, obviously unable to avert his gaze from the magnitude of the BERSIH crowds.

However, Saifuddin has not been known to take the unconventional thinking he occasionally squirts beyond a certain point. Though he appears to possess a willingness to engage with issues impliedly raised by the size, multiracial diversity and relative youth of the throngs at the BERSIH 3.0 protest, an innate caution tempers his spirit.

It is a safe bet, then, that the government will play the blame game to the hilt, rounding-in on responsibility for the skirmishes between protesters and Police that occurred at the end of last Saturday’s protest.

BERSIH will be blamed and Ambiga will be made the scapegoat because her stature as a former Bar Council chief and her gender have helped to engender that other striking feature of the BERSIH crowds: the high prevalence of women.

Sheer size of the protest

The crowds’ multiracial diversity, its youth and its high female composition, not to mention the overall magnitude of the throng, in combination, made the third edition of BERSIH’s now five-year push for electoral reform a spectacle on the scale of the packed amphitheater from Roman times.

In other words, BERSIH 3.0 was not just an escalation in the physical scale of its predecessors, BERSIH 2.0 in July 2011 and BERSIH 1.0 in November 2007, it was an agglomeration of the streams of open public discontent that have been welling up over a long time in the Malaysian body politic.

NONEFaced with the protest public theatre of this scale, a government that tetchily focuses on incidents that were sporadic rather than characteristic of the occasion is one that is out to evade rather than grapple with the underlying issues.

When you configure into the Kuala Lumpur spectacle of BERSIH 3.0 the simultaneous organisation of protest gatherings in several cities in the country and in the rest of the world where Malaysians are domiciled, and consider the peaceful conduct of all the protests bar one (and that too at its fag end), it is stupefying to play the blame game over responsibility for the violence of a straggling few.

But that seems the intent of the Deputy Prime Minister who if he persists with the blame card will only transform the public relations disaster for the government that BERSIH 2.0 was last July into the catastrophe that BERSIH 3.0 has still the potential to be.

A government that only wants to treat with the symptoms of the multiple problems it faces and not with its underlying causes is one that is dangerously exhibiting a sleepwalker’s insulation from reality. It is not a helpful attitude at any time, least of all when an election impends.

Remembering Professor Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train

Najib’s Reaction to BERSIH3.0 Rally: The Police were Victims!

April 30, 2012

Najib’s Reaction to BERSIH3.0 Rally: The Police were Victims. What a Joke!

“We must look at the proper perspective. In general, the Police were the victims. Violence was aimed at the Police”–Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak

Malaysiakini reports:

Despite injuries on all sides, Police were the victims at BERSIH 3.0 rally on Saturday, says Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

“We must look at the proper perspective. In general, the Police were the victims. Violence was aimed at the Police,” he told a press conference late last night after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Najib was responding to a question on allegations that several journalists who were covering the protest had been targeted by Police.

“The problem is when facing mob psychology, the Police are also under pressure. Their colleagues have been beaten and their car overturned. It is not just you (journalists), the Police have also suffered,” he said.

Adding on, the Premier assured that if the Police had crossed the line in their handling of journalists who were covering the rally – the biggest in recent history – its Internal Affairs Department will take due action.

“If Police had overstepped (in dealing) with journalists, we will investigate and we will take action.We will not cover anything up, I am also concerned about the journalists who had worked during the BERSIH protest,” he said.

‘Wrongdoers will be charged’

Asked who should be responsible for the protest which saw scores of injuries in clashes between police and protesters, Najib declined to assign blame.NONE

“Investigations must be done first. We cannot simply take action, rule of law must take place. There has to be a fair and objective investigation and the attorney-general will take action without resorting to emotions,” he said.

Responding to BERSIH co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan’s call for an inquiry by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), the Premier said it would be best to wait for police to complete its investigations.

Najib lamented that ‘certain quarters’ were trying to influence public opinion through the recounting stories of arrest and police brutality, be they truth or half-truth, on social media and the Internet.

As such, the Prime Minister said the Police must move to explain what had truly happened on that day.”There is no reason for us to cover up. Tomorrow, the Police will hold a press conference and they will inform the public about (releasing) their (video) recordings because the rakyat want transparency. We will reveal what happened so the people can judge for themselves,” he said.

Malaysian Election Commission is backward, opines fact-finding group

April 29, 2012

Malaysian Election Commission is backward, opines fact-finding group

by Leven Woon@

A Pakistani member of a fact-finding mission group on Malaysia election opined that the local Election Commission (EC) is backward, which is a cause of the country’s weak democracy.

At a press conference to release the group’s interim report today, Pakistan senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo said that he is surprised to find that Malaysia, as a modern country, still has an underdeveloped electoral system.

“A country like Pakistan has introduced electronic voting long ago,” he said.He said EC Deputy Chief Wan Ahmad Wan Omar (left), when met by the group members, gave non-committal answer about several reforms raised by the members.

“The EC needs to be improved. Only if the institution improves can the democracy of the country improve,” he said.

The seven-member international group, many of whom are politicians in their own countries, was invited by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to conduct the mission from April 25 to 29.

They have interviewed UMNO secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz, Bersih steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah, Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim, Anwar and Wan Ahmad on the election system for the Dewan Rakyat.

Wan Ahmad had told the group that “no current member of the EC team belongs to any political party”, when the group questioned the neutrality of the EC.

“(Wan Ahmad) expressed his personal views that no member of the commission ought to belong to a political party,” read the report.

This is, however, in sharp contrast to his response to Sinar Harian a few days ago in which he admitted that he is an inactive UMNO member.

Ku Nan asked whether Malaysians mature for freedom’

Meanwhile, Australian academician Clinton Fernandez noted that Tengku Adnan had asked in a meeting with the group: “Are our people (Malaysians) mature for freedom?”

Commenting on political development in Indonesia, Fernandez claimed that Tengku Adnan (right) had said: “One of the problems with Indonesia is that there is too much freedom.”

“I find these comments disturbing, it reflects the authoritarian attitudes at the highest level of power,” he said.  India Today Editorial Director Mobashar Jawed Akbar also said he heard the statement with “deepest pain”.

“It is unfortunate that some voice in authority actually believes this great nation, as a template of post-colonial nations, does not deserve democracy.This is a statement that cannot be accepted,” he said.

In the report, the group has concurred with BERSIH’s demands that the campaigning period should be extended to at least 21 days and overseas voters should be allowed to vote; while it recommends that the EC constitute its own physical verification team for voters’ status and make the 240,000 election workers as early voters.

They also mooted, among others, for the establishment of a Caretaker Convention as practised in the United Kingdom. They are slated to publish a full report in 21 days.

New York Times’ Liz Gooch reports on BERSIH 3.0

April 29, 2012

Ny Times; Liz Gooch on Berish3.0 Sit Down Rally in Kuala Lumpur

Police Clash With Malaysian Protesters Seeking Electoral Reforms

By Liz Gooch
Published: April 28, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The Police fired tear gas and water cannons on Saturday at thousands of protesters here calling for free and fair elections, in one of the largest rallies in Malaysia in recent years.

Nearly 400 people were arrested during the demonstration in central Kuala Lumpur organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, a group of 84 organizations that is demanding an overhaul of the country’s election system before a national vote that is widely expected to be held in June.

The group, known as BERSIH — or clean, in Malay — argues that the electoral system unfairly favors the governing coalition, which has led Malaysia since independence in 1957.

The Police estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 people had gathered for the protest. BERSIH organizers put the number at 250,000.

Swarms of protesters, many wearing the canary yellow T-shirts that have come to symbolize the BERSIH movement, began gathering on Saturday morning at various roads leading to Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, creating a festive atmosphere.

A group of protesters chanted, “Long live the People” and sang the Malaysian national anthem under a sweltering tropical sun, their voices competing with the sound of a Police Helicopter flying overhead while police officers looked on from behind a row of barbed wire and barricades.

The demonstrators were kept out of Independence Square, the site of many parades and celebrations, by a court order issued Friday. A rally in the streets around the square appeared to have been peaceful until BERSIH organizers, who had pledged that they would not break through the barricades, instructed protesters to disperse.

A small group then appeared to breach the barriers, prompting the Police to fire tear gas and water laced with stinging chemicals at parts of the crowd, The Associated Press reported. A police spokesman, Ramli Yoosuf, said the tear gas was fired after protesters breached the barriers. “They cut the barricade, and they were barging in,” he said.

A news Web site, The Malaysian Insider, reported that protesters overturned a Police car. The report said the car had crashed after it was attacked by protesters, and hit two people.

Andrew Khoo, a lawyer and a member of the BERSIH steering committee, said the organizers were “extremely disappointed” that people ignored their requests to disperse and instead broke through the barriers. But, he said, the Police had overreacted. Their response was “wholly disproportionate to any risk they may have felt they were under,” he said.

“The Police went in and broke up people who were sitting on the road, who were very peaceful,” Mr. Khoo said. “The water cannon truck came charging at them so they had to run for their lives. This was followed by tear gas. It was a pincers movement, and people were getting trapped in between.”

Another BERSIH supporter, Anand Lourdes, said people started screaming when the Police fired the tear gas.

Saturday’s protest was BERSIH’s third call for changes to the country’s election system. At the group’s previous protest, in July, more than 1,600 people were arrested, and tear gas and water cannons were also used to disperse protesters.

Phil Robertson (left), Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said Saturday that the Malaysian government had again shown its contempt for basic rights and freedoms.

“Despite all the talk of ‘reform’ over the past year, we’re seeing a repeat of repressive actions by a government that does not hesitate to use force when it feels its prerogatives are challenged,” Mr. Robertson said.

The Minister of Home Affairs, Hishammuddin Hussein, in a statement released Saturday, commended the police for “their professionalism and the restraint they have shown under difficult circumstances.”

Mr. Hishammuddin said it was regrettable that BERSIH had declined to use an alternative site for its rally because Independence Square was not approved for public protests under the new Peaceful Assembly Act.

BERSIH has said that the offer to use a stadium in the city came too late, and that the other sites offered were far from the center of the capital.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has introduced many reforms in recent months, after promising last year to improve civil liberties in Malaysia. However, critics say that the legislative changes do not go far enough to ensure that democratic rights are protected.

Activists decided to rally again on Saturday because BERSIH’s leadership contends that recommendations for changes to the election system made by a parliamentary committee, established after last year’s protest, are unlikely to ensure that the next election will be conducted fairly.

The Election Commission said that it would carry out some of the parliamentary committee’s recommendations, like extending the campaign period to a minimum of 10 days and using indelible ink to stain voters’ fingers to ensure that people do not vote more than once.

Mr. Hishammuddin said the Election Commission had “gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the next elections are free and fair and meet the highest international standards.”

But BERSIH is demanding that senior officials of the Election Commission resign, that the voting rolls be purged of fraudulent names and that the election be monitored by international observers.

One protester who gave her name as Wan Zabidah, 60, said she had traveled two hours by bus to attend the rally and express her concerns about the integrity of the voting rolls and the independence of the Election Commission. “We are already old, but it’s for the children and the grandchildren,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 29, 2012, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Police Clash With Malaysia Protesters Seeking Electoral Reforms.

Nick Xenophon : News Coverage of BERSIH3.0 grossly distorted

April 29, 2012

Senator Nick Xenophon (left) from Australia stressed that the demonstration itself was peaceful, and the “unnecessary violence” that occurred was “planned provocation” to provide images for the “officially sanctioned media”.

He slammed mainstream media for its “completely biased and unfair” coverage of the rally. “The rally, which is one of the biggest events in Malaysian history, received only 30 seconds of airtime.I spent more time watching the Prime Minister having tea and eating banana fritters in Sabah,” he said.–The Malaysian Insider.

Nick Xenophon  : Malaysian News Coverage of BERSIH3.0 grossly distorted

by Leven Woon @

An Australian Senator monitoring the BERSIH 3.0 rally yesterday was stunned when he tuned in to television reports at night to find that news coverage of the event was grossly distorted.

“I watch television news and only saw 30 seconds of the coverage to the demonstration, with no word about it being one of the largest demonstrations in Malaysian’s history. Instead they spend more time saying (Premier) Najib Abdul Razak having a tea and eating banana fritters in Sabah,” Nicholas Xenophon told a press conference today.

Xenophon is part of a seven-member international team on an fact-finding mission on Malaysia’s electoral system.  They were invited by PKR de facto Anwar Ibrahim, in his capacity as Parliamentary Opposition Leader.

The press conference was called today because the group was releasing its interim report of their study. The group had also observed the rally yesterday, which was largely peaceful until the Dataran Merdeka cordon was breached, sparking widespread arrest, use of heavy-handed tactics, tear gas and water cannons.

Protestors could have been provoked

Prominent Indian journalist Mobashar Jawad Akhbar, who is the member of the group, opined that the Police might have provoked the protestors, with the intention of turning things violent.

“The crowd has been building overnight, they have ample time to be violent if they wanted to. It was very peaceful until the very end. I do believe that the provocation was perhaps done in order to create images that will play well in the official media,” said Mobashar, who observed the rally for five hours.

He said that this provoking the victims in order to blame them later, was “one of the oldest tricks” employed by various authorities. Malaysian authorities, especially the Special Branch, are no exception.

Mobashar, the Editorial Director of India Today, noted that the crucial essence of democracy is the freedom from fear, which he said is “non-negotiable”. “Democracy does not function when people do not have right to assembly,” he said, praising the protestors for rising above fear.

Xenophon said that their observation of how the media reported the rally would be included in the team’s full report, which is scheduled for release in three weeks.