MORE than a thousand Malaysians took to Federation Square in Melbourne to rally for free and fair elections back home. Sumisha Naidu reports.
A Malaysian movement for free and fair elections, Bersih 3.0, brought more than a thousand ordinary citizens, politicians and activists to Melbourne’s Federation Square this afternoon.
Reports say the Malaysian protesters are currently battling teargas and riot squads but in Melbourne, the rallies were a peaceful affair.
The protesters called for
- Malaysia’s Electoral Commission to resign
- International observers at the next elections, and the
- Cleaning up of the electoral process.
This was in addition to the seven demands called for at the previous Bersih 2.0 rally:
- A clean electoral roll
- Reformed postal ballots
- A minimum of 21 days for campaigning
- Free and fair media access
- Strengthened public institutions
- A stop to corruption, and
- An end to “dirty politics”.
Bersih 3.0’s Melbourne co-ordinator, Gokul Radhakrishnan said the global Bersih movement can play an important role in bringing electoral reform to Malaysia.
“The Bersih contingent worldwide can put a lot of pressure on the government of Malaysia to implement changes about things like getting international observers,” he said.
Bersih’s steering committee co-chairman Ambiga Sreenevasen sent a message of support for the solidarity rallies being held across the globe.
“Though we may not be legally or politically powerful, we are morally formidable because we are united in a righteous cause,” she said in a written statement read out at the Melbourne event.
The demonstration also had a host of speakers from both the movement and Australian political parties such as the Greens, the Labor Party and the Socialist Alternative.
“In Australia we have a very good electoral process and Malaysia deserves the same,” Colleen Hardin from the Greens said.
Labor Clayton MP Hong Lim, also addressed the crowd, expressing his support for the movement.
He told Meld Magazine the Australian Labor Party was aware of Bersih and several members had expressed interest in attending the rally but were unable to make it.
One of Australia’s electoral observers to East Timor, Professor Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University, was unable to attend the rally but sent a written statement.
“If the government of Malaysia believes that its electoral process will be free and fair, according to international standards, we would welcome being invited to come to Malaysia as independent electoral observers,” he said.
Malaysia’s Consul-General to Melbourne Dr Mohamed Rameez Yahaya, who was observing the rally, told Meld some speakers at the event had not been non-partisan.
“I want them to be non-partisan, that’s all,” he said.
“I’m not saying all of Bersih are like that. I can see some of (the participants) are acting like hooligans, some of them are acting very, very matured and that’s what it’s supposed to be.”
Melbourne’s Bersih 3.0 coordinator Mr Radhakrishnan disagreed with the Consul-General’s view of the rally being biased.
“It is entirely non-partisan – that is one of the fundamental things of Bersih,” he said.
The Consul-General was seen being hassled by two protesters to address the rally after he began yelling out responses to the speeches from the sidelines.
The envoy declined their request but said he should be allowed to comment in the name of free speech.
In Malaysia, the Bersih movement has come into conflict with the government over their plans to have a sit in protest at historically-significant Merdeka or “Independence” Square.
Prime Minister Najib Razak told Bernama the square was an unsuitable venue for public protests but alternative venues had been offered.
Reports also say police served a court order to protest organisers banning the public from gathering near the venue.
“Any gathering at Dataran Merdeka and its adjoining land is prohibited, and the public is given warning not to turn up, attend or take part in any gathering from April 28 till May 1,” it said.
Malaysian government scholarship-holders were also warned against participating in “any activities that are detrimental to the stakes of the government” days before the rally, in accordance with the Federal Scholarship Agreement.