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Mahathir is responsible for Bersih

 | July 14, 2011

An Australian researcher believes that Mahathir's elimination of a level political playing field created a need for a movement like Bersih.

PETALING JAYA: An Australian political researcher has credited former premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for the formation of the Bersih and Bersih 2.0 coalitions.

In an interview with ABC Radio Australia yesterday, Greg Lopez of the Australian National University (ANU) bluntly stated that Mahathir had “virtually destroyed any check and balance available” during his lengthy reign.

“He put the judiciary, police and royalty under Umno so that it was just impossible for the opposition to have any fair go at winning an election,” Lopez said. “And this (conclusion) is born of numerous studies conducted at the ANU and in many other countries. It is a fact.”

But Lopez hastened to add that the uneveness of the political playing field had merely peaked and not begun during Mahathir’s regime. Instead he traced the origin of this imbalance to the first prime minister’s tenure.

“When Malaysia gained independence the playing field was level,” he explained. “It remained even-handed until 1963 when Tunku Abdul Rahman put the electoral commissioner under the purview of Parliament.”

“At that time the ruling party had two-thirds majority and changed the consitution to suit it as well as gerry-mandered constituencies. So they built on their initial strength – which they gained legitimately – and put the institutions under them.”

Lopez concluded that this the reason why a weak opposition had always been a prominent feature of Malaysian politics. That is, until Bersih emerged onto the political landscape.

Describing the current political landscape as “fluid” and dangerous”, he pointed out that the opposition was at its strongest and the ruling party at its weakest for the first time in 54 years.

“The response to the opposition has changed dramatically,” Lopez said. “Previously the opposition was weak and civil society was also disinterested (in it). But today there exists a society that is so fed-up with the ruling party that even a weaker opposition is viewed as more feasible option.”

Young voters

PKR information chief, Tian Chua, who was also part of the interview, attributed this change of heart to a younger and more education population.

“Younger people constitute the demographics pushing for change and people are no longer tied to a feudalistic mindset,” he said.

“The ruling party’s racial approach to national affairs is also being increasingly rejected by the younger generation. Plus there is a global trend of aspiring democracies and freedom and that has also to some extent influenced the society.”

Lopez emphasised that the onus is now on the ruling party to address political stability in an even-handed manner rather than using its tried and tested method of violence which no longer works.

He also stated that Bersih appeared to be the only avenue for electoral reforms in a country that isn’t a functioning democracy in its true sense.

The ruling party, he said, was so entrenched in making decisions that fall within its own purview and context that it has failed in responding to popular pressure on various issues.

“Take for instance the eradication of corruption which is a very basic demand because the system of government is built on patronage,” Lopez continued. “So the only avenue for certain reforms is through electoral competition because this regime requires an election to legitimise itself.”

“That is the only way it has credibility both domestically and internationally. The first Bersih coalition was a window of opportunity, a space for civil society to demand for change. Bersih 2.0 build on that.”

“The only difference is that the latter is purely run by civil society and is not driven by political parties. Most importantly is that society itself understands that elections in Malaysia are not free and fair. And they believe that to have a representative government free and fair elections are needed.”


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