Written by Malaysia Chronicle
We, the undersigned academicians, wish to express our concern at the deepening political crisis in the country. It is unfortunate that such a crisis is emerging out of a legitimate campaign, initiated by a large number of non-governmental organizations, to institute reforms through their campaign, Bersih, to ensure the conduct of truly free and fair elections in Malaysia. Since the pursuit of such a campaign is undeniably noble, and timely, we are extremely perturbed that the government has resorted to harsh measures and use of draconian legislation to prevent the organizers from mounting a public rally.
We see the need for the leaders of Bersih to persist with dialogue with the bodies responsible for overseeing free and fair elections. However, we also appreciate the argument by the campaign’s leaders that such an assembly is necessary since discussions have long taken place, with little progress – thus the need for the government to take serious heed of the campaign’s recommendations for free and fair elections for which there is considerable support from the country’s citizenry.
We note too that public assemblies and marches in support of causes that have attracted widespread public concern are a common feature of all democratic systems. They are a legitimate expression of the freedom and rights of the citizens of a country.
A government that uses the laws, institutions and resources of the state to suppress or repress such activities undermines its own credibility and claim to practicing democracy. The actions of the Government to curb this Bersih campaign will only hurt public perception of the Government’s commitment to the freedoms enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Further actions such as the use of the Emergency Ordinance on Bersih supporters will only result in the enhanced perception of a government that refuses to institute free and fair elections for fear of losing power, an impression we are certain the government does not want to create.
We urge the following steps to resolve the crisis and restore public confidence in the Government’s ability to govern the country fairly and justly.
- Release all political activists held under the Emergency Ordinance.
- Drop all charges against those arrested by the police for Bersih-related offences.
- Permit Bersih the right to a peaceful march, if the organizers decide to do so. All other public marches should be allowed but with the timing and routes agreed to in advance to prevent any untoward consequences
- Both Government and Opposition parties, as well as NGOs, to commit their supporters participating in marches and other public assemblies to a code of peaceful and civil conduct
- Assurance by the relevant authorities that serious consideration is being given to ensure free and fair elections in the country.
Associate Prof. Dr. Andrew Aeria
Associate Prof. Dr. Azmi Sharom
Dr. Christopher Chong
Associate Prof. Dr. Sharmani Gabriel
Prof. Terence Gomez
Prof. Lim Teck Ghee
Prof. Francis Loh
Dr. Ooi Kee Beng
Dr. Johan Saravanamuttu
Prof. Tan Sooi Beng
Associate Prof. Dr. Yeoh Seng Guan
Prof. Diana Wong
Assoc Prof Dr Mustafa K Anuar
KUALA LUMPUR, 5 July 2011