Breaking all the rules of democracy

Mariam Mokhtar
Aug 25th, 2015

“The tremendous support I get from Malaysians, enables me to continue our struggle,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan at a talk called ‘Why Bersih 4?’, in London, on Sunday Aug 23.

The lawyer may be slight in stature, but is brimming over with humility and gratitude. Despite the abuse hurled by Malay extremists, she said, “The good times are amazing. People come up to me on the streets, to shake my hand and say ‘thank you’, for what I am doing for Malaysia.

“The little acts by Malaysians make a lot of difference. Nameless strangers paying my bill when I eat in a restaurant. The bouquets of flowers delivered to my house, and the messages of support from people I do not know, all keep me going,” she added.

Ambiga was responding to a question about the trigger which introduced her into activism and why she continues to inspire people, despite the death threats and insults against her faith.

In 2012, in a series of highly provocative acts by Malay extremists, her home was surrounded by beef burger stalls, where free burgers were distributed to the public, and Malay army veterans exposed their butts while performing dances to humiliate and annoy her. She is a practising Hindu and a vegetarian.

With the worldwide Bersih 4 rally on Aug 29 gathering momentum, Malaysians based in England and Scotland are making preparations to support their peers back home.

London is arguably the world’s capital for activism. In a talk to Malaysians, Ambiga covered several topics, including her activism to soliciting the help of the Agong, and student participation, the Sarawak state election, people power, police support for Bersih 4, mainstream media and former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s return.

She cited her work at as lawyer and said, “I have always been inspired by leading members of the Malaysian Bar, and fearless and outstanding presidents like the late Raja Aziz Addruse, Param Cumaraswamy, Cyrus Dass. I am motivated by public interest and human rights issues.”

When asked about the aims of Bersih 4, she said that five demands were imposed upon the government and it was also to tell the government how the people really feel, with a public show of unity and revulsion for corruption.

To the people who suggest that Bersih take up the offer of a rally in a stadium, Ambiga said, “The people who suggest the stadium don’t really appreciate what freedom of assembly means.

“In democratically-elected countries, rallies happen regularly, so that the voice of the people can be heard. If they put you in a stadium, they can ignore you and forget about the message you are trying to tell them.

‘They are ignoring you’

“In Malaysia, the level of disgust about what is happening to the country is unprecedented. No matter what you say on Twitter and Facebook, or the articles you write, the politicians are not getting the message, they are ignoring you.”

Quoting one of the demands of Bersih 4, which is for the PM Najib Abdul Razak to step down, she said, “If they ignore the people, they will ratchet up the protests, until they are heard.

“It is important that the powers-that-be know that Malaysians are not fooled by the ridiculous and silly answers given by the politicians.”

She told the audience that she did not expect Najib to resign, and that it was up to civil society to take the next step. She said, “Everything is a process. I accept people’s criticisms that rallies can only achieve so much. This rally is also personalised to the PM. If the numbers are sufficient, it will send a strong signal that we are not happy with his handling the situation in Malaysia.”

Ambiga is aware that politicians hear the people, but slams them for not listening. She said, “Our MPs have to be more responsible. Politics in Umno Baru is about patronage, buying people’s silence, they may not agree what is going on, but they do nothing.”

She recalled the way which both Najib and the people dismissed the Wall Street Journal report on Najib, and said, “If this had happened in UK, the PM would have taken a leave of absence, removed himself from the seat of power, to protect the seat of office. He would not have led an investigation into this own conduct.

“We break all the rules of a working democracy.”

She mentioned one positive thing about the opposition coalition, which is its willingness to listen to criticism, but continued, “They have a lot of work to do. It is an absolute tragedy that they do not have their act together. Now is the time for the opposition to shine. Now!

“But it is not happening. They should get their act together quickly.”

She denied that the Bersih rallies have not achieved anything and said that the formation of the parliamentary select committee, and the huge numbers at previous rallies indicate that the voices against the government, are growing louder. She said, “Awareness is rising. The level of anger is much higher, now. People are under stress. The people in Parliament could make a difference, but they choose not to.

“Unfortunately, we are not following the rules on Parliament democracy.”

She lamented that Malaysia is rocked by a new scandal almost every week, but each one is forgotten, before the next one surfaces.

So, will you make your voice heard on Aug 29 and 30, and tell Najib that he has to go?

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).

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