Bersih meeting needed for Civil Society to decide on Citizen’s Declaration

Published in Malaysiakini 27/3/2016
Maria Chin, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Hishamuddin Rais, and Cynthia Gabriel have done more for the nation than I can ever hope to do. I greatly admire and respect their sacrifices and contributions.

But putting them on a pedestal and treating them as if they can do no wrong, does a disservice both to the nation and the legacy they will leave behind. Regretfully I find I cannot agree with much of what they said on the Citizen’s Declaration in the Town Hall meeting as reported in Malaysiakini “Support Save Malaysia”, “Critics grill signatories” and in the video clips. If the reporting is inaccurate, I apologise in advance, but I have nothing else to go on.

I agree entirely with the 4 signatories that Dr Mahathir reaching out to opposition parties and civil society leaders is a unique opportunity which must be grasped, no matter what wrongs he has committed in the past. But I disagree that the Citizens’ Declaration is the only way civil society can work with Dr Mahathir.
In my previous article, “Saving Malaysia – an Alternative to the Citizens’ Declaration” I have argued that a better alternative is through a Save Malaysia opposition (Pakatan Harapan + UMNO rebels) fighting Najib’s UMNO/BN one to one at GE14, together with a Citizen’s manifesto containing detailed, concrete, and specific proposals for institutional reform.

Buying a pig in the poke

Maria said “there is no single individual who could guarantee what would happen if Najib is removed.” Ambiga said “We cannot guarantee anything.” This is what I call buying a pig in a poke. (The English use this expression for an offer or deal that is foolishly accepted without being examined first.) Why change if you do not know what the effect of the change is?

But in fact we know with a fair degree of certainty what will happen if Najib is removed before GE14. If UMNO warlords fear Najib is jeopardizing their survival, they will replace him with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. If Muhyiddin can cross over with enough BN MPs to survive a vote of confidence in Parliament, the PM will be either him, Wan Azizah, Azmin Ali or Rafizi. But the government majority will be razor thin and government unstable, changing hands as MPs are bought and sold.
These scenarios could be worse than keeping Najib as PM.

Ambiga says “If it (Citizen’s Declaration) was widely and openly discussed, I am certain it would not have seen the light of day.” I do not understand why this should be so, and Ambiga owes it to civil society to explain.

Demonizing Najib?

I am not comfortable with Maria’s “In any war, there can only be one enemy and that enemy is Najib”. Because of Najib’s excesses, this may be acceptable to some. But I do not feel demonizing a political opponent in this way is helpful in this country. First we have Mahathir demonizing DAP as wanting Chinese political hegemony over the Malays, then DAP demonizing PAS over hudud with the predictable result that PAS now joins UMNO in demonizing DAP.

If Maria calls Najib an enemy, then Najib’s followers will call Maria an enemy, and by extension everybody in Bersih become enemies. If Maria refers to Najib as the leader who has ruined the country, may be this will raise doubts in Najib’s followers’ minds.

Controlling Dr Mahathir

Maria said “more Malaysians should come forward to support the Save Malaysia Movement if they are wary if it being hijacked by Dr Mahathir.” But how can any ordinary Malaysian have any influence when the organisational details and decision making process are so opaque and when all involved in running the Movement are personal invitees of Dr Mahathir? The key to controlling Dr Mahathir is by making the decision making process transparent, not by more and more people signing the Declaration.

The more important question for those who have signed or considering signing is who controls your Citizens’ Declaration after you have signed it. Judging from press statements the answer must be Dr Mahathir and the UMNO rebels around him.

Mukhriz on 5th March said the Citizens’ Declarations will be used to pressurize Najib to resign from office to be replaced by someone from BN capable of winning GE14. In other words, the objective is to save UMNO/BN and not the nation. He is also on record as saying signed Citizens’ Declarations will be collected and will be presented to the Council of Rulers, thus undermining our constitutional monarchy by encouraging Rulers to meddle in the political process of choosing a PM.
Apparently insiders told Malay mail on line, Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan’s name being mentioned, that “Save Malaysia group abandons no-confidence vote for inside deal with Umno lords”. “Citizens’ Declarations is merely aimed at rousing public pressure.”

Do you not feel betrayed? How can we agree with Ambiga’s call to accept “on faith that those who signed the declaration will also ensure that they keep their word on reform”?

Pinning down Dr Mahathir – 1) Saving BN or Saving Malaysia

One way of controlling Dr Mahathir is pin him down on certain specific issues. One such issue should be Mukhriz’s statement of 5th March and the other the Sedition Act.

I am astonished to read Hishamuddin Rais excusing Mukhriz’s statement as “You must understand that he speaks a different lingo…His target audience is Umno members”. UMNO rebels in the Save Malaysia Movement promising UMNO members that the next PM after Najib will come from UMNO/BN and civil society leaders telling civil society audiences otherwise means The Save Malaysia Movement speaks with a forked tongue.
We are not talking here of naming a specific person now as the next PM, which I agree would be premature and problematic, but of a principle that in order to save Malaysia, Dr Mahathir and the UMNO rebels cannot claim UMNO/BN has a divine right to rule and the next PM shall be the person with the most support, no matter which party he comes from.

The 4 prominent signatories from civil society must insist Dr Mahathir sign a statement to this effect. It will be hard on him because a belief in UMNO’s divine right to rule is very much in his psyche. But unless he does so, we will know that the Save Malaysia Movement is not a strategic alliance to achieve a noble objective, but a shoddy marriage of convenience with conflicting objectives.

Pinning down Dr Mahathir – 2) Sedition Act

For civil society, repeal of the Sedition Act is the cornerstone of reform. But when Najib proposed repealing the Sedition Act, Mahathir was in the forefront of UMNO criticism against it. Mukhriz is on record expressing “his disappointment over the abolition of preventive laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA)”. Have they changed their view now that they are in the Save Malaysia Movement or are their views the same?

If Dr Mahathir and the UMNO rebels cannot sign up to the repeal of the Sedition Act, should civil society and Mahathir part company? No, we should negotiate. Civil society, although multi-racial, is urban, and our world view is different from that of the rural population which is largely Malay. The UMNO rebels represent that rural Malay community whose views have as much right to be considered as those of civil society.

Experience in other countries show that the number of sedition cases drop to almost zero, if intent to provoke violence to overthrow the government by force must be proven before a guilty verdict can be handed down. Our present Sedition Act considers intent as irrelevant. A solution acceptable to both sides may be not to repeal but to amend the Sedition Act, keeping those sections important to the UMNO rebels but introducing the principle of intent.
Resolving differences between its components is what the Save Malaysia Movement should focus on, not on getting signatures for the Citizens’ Declaration.

Civil society consensus

Bersih has issued a press statement (available at the Aliran website but not Bersih’s own website) that “the Citizens’ Declaration is a separate citizens’ initiative” and “Bersih as an organisation will not be involved with it”. This seems a weak response as civil society should and must be a part of any Save Malaysia campaign.

There have been many discussions over the CD. I feel it is time for civil society to seek a consensus on which it can act. As Bersih is the umbrella body for civil society, it is proper that we seek a consensus through debates at open general meetings of its endorsing NGOs. Resolutions such as the following should be debated:

1. Bersih urges the Save Malaysia Movement to explain its organisational details and decision making process. As it claims to represent the citizens of Malaysia, Bersih deems it unacceptable that only personal invitees of Tun Dr Mahathir have a voice in running its affairs. Ways must be found of involving others outside this magic circle. Bersih has no objection to people being involved in their personal capacity but demands that representatives from civil society and political parties be included as well.

2. Bersih demands that the strategy and mechanism for achieving the objectives of the Citizens’ Declaration be discussed openly and decided democratically.

3. Bersih realizes that the parties which make up the Save Malaysia Movement have different ideas for institutional reform. It should be the prime task of the Movement to negotiate a core action program which can be signed up to by all and which will restore good governance to government, and return proper democracy to the people. Bersih insists that there should be no move to remove Najib until a core action program is agreed on.

4. Bersih strongly opposes any move to present signed Citizens’ Declarations to the Council of Rulers. We have a constitutional monarchy and it is wrong to ask Rulers to meddle in the political process of choosing a PM.

The Save Malaysia Movement may see us jumping from the frying pan into the fire or be a real breakthrough in restoring democracy to Malaysia. Let us prevent the former and promote the latter.


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