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Monday, November 8, 2010

Search continues for survivors of Merapi's eruptions

Indonesian rescue workers have been searching for victims of Mount Merapi's ongoing eruptions.

They were trying on Sunday to reach the ash-covered villages on the slopes of the country's most active volcano, which lies on the outskirts of Yogyakarta in central Java.

Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen has this report from the foot of Merapi.
Source:
Al Jazeera

Racist BTN official suspended, warned

(Malaysiakini) The government has punished National Civics Bureau (BTN) official Hamim Husin over his racist remarks, the Dewan Rakyat was told today.

NONEMinister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz said the BTN deputy director was suspended on Oct 6 and issued a warning letter.

However, Nazri did not elaborate on the duration of the suspension.

He was responding to a question from Wee Jeck Seng (BN-Tanjong Piai) to state the number of civil servants who have faced disciplinary action for being racist while on duty.

At a closed-door briefing, Hamim (right) had reportedly referred to the Chinese as si sepet (slant-eyed) and to Indians as si kaki botol (alcoholics) when speaking of Umno's need to co-opt other races for electoral purposes.
The cabinet then ordered a probe over the incident, which took place during a Puteri Umno function in September.

The minister also said the government has acted on two school principals - in Kulaijaya, Johor and Bukit Selambau, Kedah - for similar offences.

Siti Aishah Mansor, principal of SMK Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra in Johor and Ungku Aznan Ungku Ismail, principal of SMK Bukit Selambau, Sungai Petani, in Kedah - were suspended and reassigned to desk duty at the education department in their respective states.

Mohd Nazri said the three cases were the first such offences reported to the government.

“Nevertheless the government is committed and assures that action will be taken against the officers involved under the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulations 1993,” he said.

He explained that the investigation initiated against the school principals and the punishment was in accordance with regulations.

Limits to gov't action

Wee, in a supplementary question, stated that the government's move to punish the civil servants was not “effective enough” and has given the perception that the officers can behave “as they like” despite causing distress.

He asked if the government will take more stringent to prevent such incidents from recurring.

NONEHowever, Mohd Nazri (left) said that, even if the government wants to mete out much stricter punishments, it cannot.

“We can only do according to what is stated in the code of conduct. This doesn't mean the government doesn't want to take stricter action but we are limited by the regulations,” he said.

He explained that, although the police can probe the matter under the Sedition Act if police reports are made, it is also crucial to observe the behaviour of officers after the government has taken action.

“These principals had no intention to incite (hatred), they said it accidentally. In order to (initiate a) probe under Section 504 of the Penal Code or Sedition Act, there must be intention to incite,” said Mohd Nazri.

“We can study from their behaviour after making the statement - the teacher in Johor apologised four times to her non-Muslim colleagues and students in the assembly. The principal in Kedah also apologised - it clearly shows that it wasn't said on purpose but accidentally."

Anwar wants Zaid to show proof of fraud in PKR polls

Anwar says PKR has gone through ‘worse’ ordeals. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim demanded today that Datuk Zaid Ibrahim provide proof to his allegations of fraud in the on-going PKR party elections.

The PKR de facto leader said the party had already answered the allegations by social activist Haris Ibrahim yesterday regarding claims of vote-rigging.

“I believe the party leadership can discuss the matter further (with Zaid). We have already discussed with the secretary-general, and the issues brought forth and those in relation to blogger Haris Ibrahim have been answered and he has not responded to our answer. His allegations are wild allegations,” Anwar told reporters today.

PKR has denied Haris’ claims that ballot papers for the on-going party elections are available outside the polls, saying those in Haris’ possession are from the previous weekend’s voting.

A total of 68 divisions carried out the party’s first-ever direct polls for the top leadership. Another nine divisions held theirs yesterday, with unofficial results showing Azmin Ali is now leading the pack for the party deputy presidency with 4,146 votes against Zaid’s 3,402 and Mustafa Kamil Ayub’s 1,189.

Anwar also reminded Zaid that any form of unfavourable results in the on-going elections should not undermine one’s “commitment” towards the party’s struggles.

Anwar said he had not received any formal notification from Zaid concerning his decision to withdraw from the party polls and posts.

“We have not received anything… no no… if I may offer my advice, in my point of view this (PKR elections) is only a normal competition, it should not affect one’s commitment to the struggles of the party.

“As of right now, there is no meeting needed on Zaid’s resignation,” Anwar said.

Zaid dropped a bombshell this morning when he announced that he had decided to pull out from the fractious three-cornered race, blaming the party leadership for condoning electoral fraud and election malpractices.

He also resigned from all party posts, including his positions as PKR Federal Territories chief, PKR Wangsa Maju division chief and PKR political bureau member.

Amid the uproar his announcement had caused, Zaid maintained today that he would not back down from his decision and continued to voice disappointment over the party’s failure to address his concerns.

Anwar claimed today that Zaid’s withdrawal could have been an “early reaction” caused by the results of the Sabah PKR elections over the weekend where the former Umno law minister lost out to Azmin.

“Of course, the feeling is that we need the contribution and participation of all leaders including Zaid. But at the same time, I want to remind that you come in to support the principles of the struggle. (When) you allege a specific allegation, I ask the secretary-general whether there is evidence to the allegation. If there is we will immediately ask the elections committee and the disciplinary committee to take action,” Anwar said.

Asked whether Zaid’s actions would be a big loss to the party, Anwar said PKR has gone through “worse” ordeals before.

“We have gone through worse in the past, deputy presidents, some key leaders leaving the party, we have MPs leaving before. So we do realise that we are an opposition party under siege, under fierce attack.

“We are realistic enough to accept and face the challenges. But, of course, our appeal for all to stay consolidated and remain committed to the principles of the party. You contest in any democratic elections you are bound to win, and to lose,” said Anwar.

Read MOre

Zaid rebrands himself as a 'one-man band'

By Stephanie Sta Maria - Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Declaring himself as an “one-man band”, Zaid Ibrahim has pledged his dedication to championing Pakatan Rakyat's cause now that he is no longer embroiled in the battle for PKR number two.

The PKR supreme council member announced his decision to withdraw from the deputy presidency race this morning, citing dissatisfaction over the handling of alleged discrepancies in the election process. He also said that he has resigned from all his party posts.

When probed about his future plans, a tired-sounding Zaid said that he would continue backing the opposition coalition but clarified that he would only champion what “I think Pakatan should be”.

“Pakatan should be more progressive on issues and policies,” he told FMT. “So I will speak my views on that. In fact, I will carry on doing exactly what I have always been doing – giving talks on issues that are important to the people.”

“The only difference is that I will no longer be doing it in an official capacity. I have quit my party posts because I have lost confidence in the party leaders and don't want to be part of that leadership anymore.”

The PKR Federal Territories chief added that while party issues would not be a focus of his future speeches, he would nevertheless give his opinions if asked.

“I won't go out of my way to touch on party issues, that is not my intention,” he said. “But if people ask for my opinion on PKR, (de facto leader) Anwar Ibrahim or even (Prime Minister) Najib (Tun Razak), then I will give it to them. I have always spoken my mind and that will not change.”

Zaid is noted for openly speaking out against any party policies that he disagrees with, which has drawn him strong criticism from the top leadership.

Solo role

“I am a one-man band now,” he said ruefully. “But there is also a place for people like that, you know. I'm like those street musicians – buskers – who play alone.”

Despite this new solo role that he has thrust upon himself, Zaid believed that he would still be able to get his message across effectively.

“People are issues-oriented and will listen to someone who is listening to them and championing their cause,” he asserted.

While he admitted that people were now calling him “Mr Quitter”, he brushed aside any negative impact that the moniker would have on his future.

“It doesn't affect me in any way,” he said. “I have been successful in everything I have done in life and there is no reason why I will not be successful now.”

Zaid also reiterated his refusal to submit an official quit notice to the party. Earlier today, PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution said that Zaid is still in the race as the party had yet to receive an official withdrawal notification from him.

But Zaid said that his announcement via his blog was sufficient.

“There is no need to submit an official notice to a party that has no respect for procedure,” he said. “As far as I am concerned, I am out of the race. If they want to put my name on the ballot paper, it's up to them.”

At the time of his withdrawal, Zaid was in second place with 3,973 votes. Azmin Ali led with 6,502 votes and Mustaffa Kamil Ayub was behind with 1, 208 votes.

'I have not decided to withdraw... yet'

By Stephanie Sta Maria

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy presidential candidate Mustaffa Kamil Ayub has not ruled out the possibility of following in Zaid Ibrahim's footsteps in withdrawing from the race.


"I am not pulling out... yet," he told FMT when contacted today.

"I will be submitting a memorandum to the central election commission (CEC) tomorrow with details of discrepencies in the election process and (will) seek a postponement of the party polls for this precise reason.

"I will give the CEC some time to think about it, but if I don't receive a proper and satisfactory response from the CEC, I may withdraw from the race," said Mustaffa.

When asked how long a timeframe he would give the CEC before he walks away from the election, he said: "I will decide on that tonight after discussions with my team."

Zaid, who was recently elected as PKR Federal Territories chief, announced his resignation via a blog posting at 3am this morning.

He attributed his decision to failure by the party's leadership to address accusations of electoral discrepancies in the contest for the deputy post despite persistent complaints. He has also resigned from all posts in the party.

However, PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution clarified this morning that Zaid is still in the race as the party had yet to receive an official notice of withdrawal from him.

But Zaid said he will not submit any such letter, adding that his announcement through his blog is sufficient.

Last week, Mustaffa joined Zaid in demanding that the election be halted until all grouses are resolved.

Today, he said that Zaid's withdrawal was a clear indication of his lack of confidence in the election process which puts the CEC in a very bad spot.

"In a race there is always a winner and a loser, and each contender has to accept that he could be in either position," he said. "But all contenders also expect the race to be fair, transaprent and on a level playing field. Right now, both the level playing field and the referree – the CEC –are in question."

"This is a very serious situation. The voice of the people at large must be heard and their issues addressed properly by the CEC.

“Otherwise, there will be tension on the ground," he said.

Unexpected move

Mustaffa, however, was taken aback when informed that Zaid had also resigned from all party posts.

"It is of course his decision but it shows the extent of his frustrations with the party... to resign from party posts is a very strong sign of protest," he said.

Mustaffa also urged that the CEC chairperson, Dr Molly Cheah, be empowered and given the full mandate to run the elections.

Cheah had recently indicated that she was no longer involved in the management of the election process, while party insiders alleged that the election process was being conducted entirely by party members.

"I repeat my call that the main personnel in the CEC be revamped. They are staff to certain leaders and cannot assume a neutral position, which is crucial for an election," Mustaffa said.

As of last night, an unofficial tally from a total of 75 divisions that held polling so far showed that Mustaffa had garnered 1,208 votes. He is trailing behind Azmin Ali (6,502) and Zaid (3,973).

Zaid free to make own decision, says Wan Azizah

By Jamilah Kamarudin - Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: While expressing disappointment over PKR leader Zaid Ibrahim's decision to pull out from the deputy president's race and quit all party posts, party president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the former minister was free to decide his political future.

Read Anwar Ibrahim's reaction
Reacting to the sudden decision announced overnight by Zaid, Wan Azizah said although she was disappointed, the decision had to be accepted.

Zaid, the former minister in the prime minister's department, announced through his blog that he was pulling out from contesting for the deputy president's post and at the same time resigning from all party posts, citing several reasons including discrepancies in the PKR elections.

Zaid was contesting for the post alongside vice-presidents Azmin Ali and Mustaffa Kamil Ayub. He was trailing Azmin, who was backed by PKR de-facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, by some 2,500 votes.
The PKR elections had been marred by several allegations of manipulation but all grouses were rubbished by the party headquarters.

"I just read Zaid's statement in his blog and I did not think that he would pull out. Prior to this, he did not voice out any of his grouses to me or the party leadership. But nevermind...it is his right either to contest or otherwise," she told FMT.

Commenting on Zaid's criticism against the party leadership - that it had actively allowed wrongdoings and discrepencies in the party polls, Azizah defended the role of the party's independent election committee.

"We have to hear his allegations and we, through the election committee, have already heard his complaints along with the complaints of the others.

“The committee has investigated all the problems that has cropped-up and have answered all the issues raised yesterday," she added.

Apart from being PKR's Federal Territories head, Zaid is also a member of the powerful political bureau committee and the supreme council.

Najib: Mosque controversy hurt US image

WASHINGTON: The controversy over building an Islamic cultural centre steps from the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York has hurt America's image among Muslims, said Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

Speaking on CNN television yesterday, Najib said that Muslim nations courted by US President Barack Obama since taking office have been put off by what they view as bellicose rhetoric and growing hatred toward Muslims in the United States because of controversy over the centre.

"Islamophobia... is a real concern to the Muslim world," the prime minister said.

"I think Muslims have a sense that they're not so welcome," he added.
"They feel there is a change in the attitude of Americans toward Muslims and it's important for us to get back on track."

The proposed centre, to be located two blocks from the site of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, fuelled vehement protests from those who said the site should not house a Muslim community centre because the 9/11 attacks were launched in the name of Islam.

The centre, which became a lightning rod for some rightwing Americans in the run-up to last Tuesday's midterm elections, sparked a national debate on the place of Islam among the numerous religions practiced in the United States.
- AFP

Indeed, who is lying?

By Haris Ibrahim,

At 6.34pm today, to the ‘PKR Secretariat responds’ post, Potblack sent in the following comment :
“Bro Haris, Please be responsible in your reporting. Either the Sec.Gen or your informer is telling a lie.So can you tell us honestly whether there is any possibilty that your informer is using you to destroy the creditbility of the PKR elections?”
Potblack, I’m going to try and answer you.
Before I address the Sec-Gen’s statement today, let me just draw your attention to and comment on a statement that appeared in The Malaysian Insider yesterday.
“PKR has denied prominent social activist Haris Ibrahim’s claims that ballot papers for the on-going party election is available outside the polls for cheating by Azmin Ali’s camp, saying those in the lawyer’s possession are from the previous weekend’s voting…
“The problem is, that is the old ballot. This week’s ballot is a different colour,” a senior PKR official told The Malaysian Insider on condition of anonymity.
It is understood that party secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution will issue a statement on the matter as soon as possible. He is also due to announce this weekend’s results on Monday”Malaysian Insider.
The ballot papers that I disclosed in my post yesterday ‘is the old ballot’, according to a senior PKR official.
The question of how I and the informant came to be in possession of this ‘old ballot’ has not been addressed.
This is an important question that has gone unanswered.
The very fact of my possession of the same contradicts the very first statement quoted.
At 2pm today, I met and had coffee with Dr Molly Cheah, the chairperson of the PKR central election committee, the body tasked with the duty of ensuring that the ongoing PKR elections is indeed free and fair.
I met her to hand over the copies of the ballot papers received from the informant, the serial numbers duly removed.
Interestingly, this was the first she was actually seeing the ballot papers.
It is for her now to verify, if she cares to, if these were indeed from the batch of ballot papers printed by HQ for use in weekend No.1 of the party elections, from 29th October to 31st October..
And if so, how then did I, who have no role to play in this electoral process, and the informant who had in his possession at least 100 of the same and  claimed to have access to more than 1,000, come to be in possession of these if the central election committee have the ballot papers intended for use in all 4 weekend elections secured under lock and key?
Or, as appears to be the case, is the safekeeping of these ballot papers now entrusted to staff at the Secretariat who were intended to assist the central election committee on administrative matters, and no more?
If so, what other duties and functions of the central election committee have been assumed or, worse, seized, by these Secretariat staff?
Who is overseeing the elections, in truth?
If it is not the central election committee, then who?
The Secretariat staff again?
Free and fair elections overseen by Secretariat staff, then, and not Molly Cheah and her committee, anymore?
How convenient!
Potblack, in my post yesterday, I wrote that the informant explained that the central election committee returning officer could manipulate the list of members attending at the ongoing elections, where voter turnout is low, adjust it upwards and stuff additional ballot papers into the ballot box.
Saifuddin, in his press statement speaks of 5 security features : serial numbers, stamp of the Election Officer, different colour paper used for each week’s ballot papers, presence of candidates counting agents, and a tallying sheet.
Who is lying, you ask, Potblack?
“Zaid’s political secretary Rashid Azad Khan said the polls should be called off in view of allegations of irregularities and claims of phantom voters.
“For example, our polling agent reported that the voter turnout in Kubang Pasu was only 84.
“But the initial vote tally showed that Azmin clinched 80 votes while Zaid garnered 76 votes.
“Where did the additional 72 votes come from? Could they be phantom voters?’’ he asked.
Rashid also said the agents had reported that there was a 30-minute blackout immediately after balloting ended at 4pm Friday.
“Candidates’ agents were not allowed in, and the ballot boxes were not sealed at the time,’’ he claimed, adding one of the election officer was caught on camera wearing Azmin’s campaign badge raising questions over their impartiality.
Rashid claimed that following complaints, the election monitor decided that the Kubang Pasu result should be a tie of 81-81.
“I am appalled. How can the results simply be amended?’’ he asked” - The Star
Now, before I am accused of selectively believing the mainstream media, I have checked this story with Zaid’s political secretary, Rashid Azad Khan, who confirms the same.
Rashid also confirms that the Zaid team have evidence in hand of the fraud in Kubang Pasu and had communicated this to Saifuddin.
Rashid says that Saifuddin promised to see them but has reneged on the promise to this day.
PKR Deputy President Ballot Paper
This is the ballot paper that would have been used in the Kubang Pasu election on 29th October.
Potblack, Saifuddin will hold his usual press conference tomorrow at 11.30am at PKR HQ.
Ask him about Kubang Pasu.
Ask him who is lying.
You ask, Potblack, whether the informant is using me to destroy the credibility of PKR?
Really, Potblack, with all that we’ve seen over the last few months, has not PKR been doing an excellent job on its own in demolishing its own credibility?
At 7.35pm tonight, Sampalee sent in the following comment to the same ‘PKR Secretariat responds’ post :
“Dear Haris,To hide their nonsense,they will cast doubts on you to distract.Do not waste time with pr and get on with the third force.When the third force is up and running,we can then co-operate as peers”.
Bro Sampalee, I lost any hope that BN would reform after the 308 tsunami some time back.
Yes, BN  will not reform until they are whipped at the 13th GE.
Today, I have lost all hope that PKR would heed the reprimands of the very persons they had previously counted as their friends, and reform.
Yes, I will not waste anymore time with PKR.
We have a nation to take back.

TK is not OK

By Martin Jalleh

Political Irony of the day

Today, in The Star we read of former Gerakan President Lim Keng Yaik (KY) telling his protégé Koh Tsu Koon (TK) not to stay longer than he is welcome. Tsu Koon has been the president of Gerakan for only about three years, Keng Yaik has been at the top of the party for 27 years! Who has been overstaying?

For the younger generation who do not know who Lim Keng Yaik is, well his last Cabinet post was Minister of Energy, Water and Communications. Reporters would be ready to attest to the fact that KY was a very communicative Minister with lots of energy and “water” to spare!

The old man must have forgotten that four years ago he told The Star: “When I took over from Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu in 1980, they said, this KY will not be able to measure up to Chong Eu. I think I can now safely beg to defer. No two persons are alike. I told him (TK) to be himself just as I was myself.” As you can see, KY is still very much himself!

Meanwhile, the young “backdoor” Minister who has been besieged by KY for “burying his head in the sand” and “bringing the party to the dogs” barked and brayed loudly today that Gerakan, far from being a party that is hopeless — is a party of “honourable, honest and humble leaders”. What a heap of hype and humbug from a man trying hopelessly hard to whip a dead horse!

TK promised to change his laid back “tai chi” leadership style to a more aggresive (hardened form of kungfu) — the “praying mantis” kungfu. Perhaps the “drunken monkey” style may be more suitable?

Zaid Withdraws From PKR Number Two Race, Quits Party Posts

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 (Bernama) -- Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has withdrawn from the race for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy presidency and quit all party posts, describing the party as being hypocritical and having false values.

In a statement posted on his blog, Zaid said he made the decision because there was no attempt by the party leadership "to address the various issues of manipulation and unfair electoral practices, although these issues were raised repeatedly."

"Over the course of the party elections, events have shown that the leadership actively condones malpractices and electoral fraud to achieve its designed objectives.

"I am certain that any political party with such hypocritical and false values will not be able to offer meaningful reforms to the people of this country," Zaid said.

The former Minister in Prime Minister's Department said that it was of utmost disappointment that he was unable to continue in "this flawed election process".

Zaid said that he was offered to join PKR "under the belief that I could promote enlightened and progressive politics, nurture and develop principled political values and culture that I consider indispensable to the development of democracy and good governance in this country."

"I was mistaken," he added.

Zaid however said that he would remain committed to the opposition's cause and would continue to speak "about the issues of the common people."

"Finally, I hope those adoring fans of Anwar Ibrahim will no longer regard me as a 'spoiler' standing in the way of their march to Putrajaya. I wish them well," he said.

With Zaid's decision, the deputy president's race is now narrowed to between Azmin Ali and Mustaffa Kamil Ayub.

Zaid's announcement came amid claims that ballot papers for the party's elections were being sold, a claim refuted by PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.

In his immediate reaction, PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali said Zaid was still a party member.

"So far we have not received any letters from Zaid about his resignation. What we have now is his blog entry. He is still a PKR member until he decides otherwise," he told Bernama.

Syed Husin said Zaid was entitled to his own decision and that the party had no power to stop him.

He also said that Zaid's decision was expected based on his statements lately.

The importance of Bersih

The Nut Graph

Image
Bersih rally (pic courtesy of theSun)

IT feels like only yesterday but it’s been three years this week since the historic Bersih rally of 10 Nov 2007 that demanded for free and fair elections. For certain, that 40,000 strong rally, together with the subsequent Hindraf  demonstration in Kuala Lumpur, was partly responsible for the political tsunami of the 2008 general election.

“The Bersih rally allowed Malaysians of all backgrounds to come together, and feel empowered by a common goal in democracy,” Bersih steering committee member and resource person Wong Chin Huat explains in an e-mail. “It also encouraged many Malaysians to come forward to complain about electoral irregularities. Today, voter registration campaigns are everywhere,” he adds.

Bersih will be relaunched as Bersih 2.0 this Wednesday on the third anniversary of its historic rally. Is it still relevant? And should the public still care about what the movement is up to now since the 2008 elections brokered a new political landscape for Malaysians?

The difference

The difference between Bersih 2.0 and before is that the movement for clean and fair elections will now be led solely by civil society, as Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan articulates in an interview with The Fairly Current Show.

Bersih’s forerunner was a forum of political parties known as the Joint Action Committee for Electoral Reform. Bersih, meanwhile, was a coalition of political parties and civil society organisations. Now, Bersih 2.0 will now be independent of political parties. “We can see the maturing of Malaysian politics where electoral reform is increasingly embraced by civil society,” Wong, who is also a political scientist, observes.

That piece of good news aside, Bersih’s demands for electoral reform remain just as important and relevant today as it did before. And perhaps these electoral reforms are even more critical since there is more at stake with the nation so much closer to a political tipping point.

Ambiga is adamant that some of these electoral reforms can be easily implemented. For example, automatic voter registration, which even Umno Youth supports, and the use of indelible ink to address the issue of phantom voters.

“Automatic voter registration should be a matter of course since we have an identity card (IC) registration system already in place,” she argues in a phone interview. “Unless of course, there is something wrong with our IC system?”  Barisan Nasional (BN) government has refused to consider automatic voter registration.

Indeed, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri  Nazri Aziz has said that automatic voter registration is tantamount to forcing people to vote. Ambiga says that argument is flawed because automatic registration does not equate mandatory voting. “The idea is to allow everyone who is entitled to vote easy access to vote. It should be the government’s top priority to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote,” she says.

Ambiga also points out that the use of  indelible ink for voters was already approved by the Election Commission (EC) for the 2008 elections but was then withdrawn because of the  cabinet's instructions.

“They said there was fraud involved regarding the ink and yet till today, nobody has been charged,” Ambiga, who is the former Malaysian Bar president, observes. She posits that the reason these do-able electoral reforms have not been put in place is because it “does not suit the-powers-that-be”.

Whose boundaries?

Ambiga stresses that Bersih 2.0′s main agenda is to ensure there is no fraud in the elections, and that each election is won fairly. Among others, its aim is to see the electoral roll cleaned up, free and fair media coverage for all candidates, and that there is strict compliance with the Elections Offences Act. Indeed, the EC and the authorities seem unable to act despite attempts at vote-buying whether in  Sibu, Hulu Selangor, Galas or Batu Sapi.

Apart from these tasks, Bersih 2.0′s most immediate mission is to educate the public about the impending delineation exercise. The movement will be launching a report in due course that will demonstrate how unreasonable the 2003 constituency delimitation of Selangor was.

Ambiga notes that some parts of the 2003  delineation exercise did not make sense but the redrawing of those electoral boundaries was implemented in any case.

Bersih 2.0′s plan is to get the public to participate in the next delineation exercise which can begin anytime from March 2011. “The public can take part in this process.

“It does not mean the EC will listen to the people but the public can make it as difficult as possible for the EC (to redraw boundaries unfairly),” Ambiga says.

She adds that that the purpose of a proper delineation every eight to ten years should be to ensure that each vote is approximately equivalent in worth. Over the years, however, and as recently as the Hulu Selangor by-election, the EC has been accused of gerrymandering to give the BN an unfair advantage.

Wong explains that delineation is a complex issue for most people. And so, Bersih 2.0 will be highlighting just three criteria in minimising gerrymandering for voters to look out for when the EC announces its delineation exercise which must be completed by March 2013.

“Even if the EC doesn’t propose changes for the current boundaries for some constituencies, voters can still question these boundaries,” he says. Wong notes that with the current electoral boundaries, for example, the largest state seat of Sri Serdang has 50,000 voters while the smallest parliamentary seat of Sungai Besar has 34,000 voters hence making a state seat much bigger than a parliamentary one. Other discrepancies include neighbours belonging to different constituencies, and parliamentary and state seats cutting across several different local authority jurisdictions instead of just belonging to one.

“The delineation exercise has become a partisan tool that is used to increase the likelihood of winning for the incumbent. We’re not asking for everything to be changed. We just want to rationalise the existing boundaries by eliminating the current deficiencies,” Wong says.

Once Bersih 2.0 is launched, it will use its Selangor report to educate voters in Selangor as a pilot project for the nation. Additionally, Wong says the movement will provide training to voters who want to understand the process better so that they can challenge the EC.

“The upcoming delineation exercise can affect the next general election. It all depends on when the elections will be called,” Ambiga says.

Making it matter

Wong states that Bersih’s work is important because its core mission is institutional reform “which is substantially different from merely changing the government”. He notes that many voters may not want to give “unconditional support” to Pakatan Rakyat, preferring instead to invest in reforming the country’s political institutions.

“If we can convince the public that clean politics is where this nation’s future lies — rather than a 100-storey  mega tower — the EC would have to ensure they behave professionally or voters will revolt by punishing BN for opposing the modernisation of Malaysian politics,” Wong predicts. Additionally, if the EC does not respond to correct the problems of gerrymandering, the next elections will suffer from a lack of legitimacy no matter how big the victory for whichever party.

Ambiga says the EC, thus far, does not appear unwilling to meet and listen to Bersih’s demands. In fact, the EC has scheduled a meeting with Bersih 2.0 on 9 Nov 2010, a day before its launch. “However, whether or not the EC responds with concrete reforms is left to be seen,” Ambiga says.

For me, the Bersih 2.0′s appeal and importance lie not just in its ability to galvanise people in a common, inclusive and non-partisan cause for democracy. Its appeal for me, as a citizen, is its aim to ensure that every single person’s vote counts, and counts fairly. After all, we are constantly told that Malaysia is a free and fair democracy because we have elections once every five years. But we cannot be a democracy just because we have elections. Our elections must also be clean and fair. If not, what would be the point of voting and the value of our democracy?

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Jacqueline Ann Surin covered the 2007 Bersih rally and then was told she could not write about it for fear that the newspaper she was working for would be shut down. She believes that democracy can only work with the effort of engaged citizens.

No one race can develop country alone, says Muhyiddin

The Star

MUAR: No one race can single-handedly turn Malaysia into a developed country, says Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The efforts of all races were needed, he added.

“We want to achieve a developed nation status and no one race can do it without the support and commitment from the other races.

“We are not only talking about the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians; but all ethnic groups, including those in Sabah, Sarawak and the orang asli.”

The 1Malaysia concept mooted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was aimed at ensuring all races achieved progress, he said at the Sheng Hong Ji Siang temple’s sixth anniversary celebration where he presented cash aid to 269 people in Panchor.

The Pagoh MP said he was proud to see the temple’s welfare body headed by businessman Datuk Teo Wee Cheng adopting the 1Malaysia concept in giving charity.

He said like the Barisan Nasional government, the association had never asked about the race or religion of its recipients before giving out assistance.

Muhyiddin said for the past six years, the association had given out more than RM400,000 to the poor and needy families.

Many of the recipients were Malay and Indian families, including the handicapped, the single mothers, poor students and orphans.

Earlier, Teo said the welfare body of the temple comprised leaders from several temples and non-governmental organisations in the district.

“Our welfare body likes to help people regardless of race or religion, and we hope to continue doing this as as long as we are able to,” he said.

At another function in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday night, Muhyiddin urged Islamic preachers to be a rational voice in society to counter religious extremism.

As a respected group, the preachers could play an important role in explaining the true teachings of Islam more effectively.

“I believe our multi-cultural and multi-religious society appreciates views and arguments presented in a rational and courteous manner,” Muhyiddin said in his speech at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Muslim Welfare Organisation of Malaysia at the Federal Territory mosque.