Archive for June, 2011





In trying to make sense of BERSIH’s intention to call for squeaky-clean elections through a second public rally and the mainly hostile media reaction it has invited, one thing is apparent – the country’s deepening political chasm holds the threat of a street collision as opposing factions join the foray.

As a non-governmental organisation (NGO) BERSIH’s expressed platform is elections reform. As a movement it garners public support through the promise of transparent and bersih electoral procedures and processes, lending substance to the cry for societal cleansing.

The fact that it is led by Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, a former Bar Council president recognised internationally for outstanding legal advocacy bespeaks what should be a judicious and unbiased handling of the democratic rights of the people.

However, BERSIH has allowed its image to be negatively perceived because of its open association with political parties whose members have shown  themselves  to be less than upright. It’s pledge of correcting the inconsistencies in the  procedures for a free and fair election is tarnished by the fact that for an issue of great national importance and grave legal implications, BERSIH prefers to take to the streets rather than engage in dialogue and discussion.

It prefers to arouse a rally of banner-waving and chanting people, many of whom would have already been instigated by the leaders of the political parties they belong to. BERSIH then runs the risk of provoking emotional outbursts, employing the same kotor tactics for which Malaysian politicians on both sides of the political divide are infamous. A movement which started as an apolitical group will crumble under the pressure applied by the political parties it is aligned to.

Ambiga’s noble intentions will be drowned by the strident voices of populist leaders who will call BERSIH’s shots and turn the street demonstration into a premature general election campaign. What should be the BERSIH chief’s earnest and articulate voice speaking up at local conventions and international symposiums will degenerate into the name-calling and blame game typical of Malaysian politics.

The insidious nature of an NGO that purports to be transparent begs the question of what is considered honourable and incorruptible by Malaysian standards. When the nation’s leaders and role models are prepared to shift their principles to camouflage personal and group ambitions, one wonders what has happened to the virtues of integrity, or whether Malaysians at all understand what it means to be honest and upright. Where lies the audacity of honour when the people condemning corruption are themselves corrupted?

We are being swayed by the winds of change sweeping across the nation and throughout the world, led by people committed to right the wrongs in society. Mostly they have grown disenchanted with the failure of governments to deliver not only socio-economic development but also moral reform. They have lost faith and trust in the ruling party’s vows to fight abuse and corruption which they still see happening before their eyes. They are now grouping together in larger numbers to insist  that their democratic rights as the country’s real stakeholders be taken seriously. They can no longer tolerate being talked down to and dismissed as public nuisance.

However, when trust and respect are diminished by poor communication and the inability to engage one another in civil dialogue there is the danger that the boldest, dissident voices will prevail to drown the more sensible ones.     

It is of the greatest urgency that those of us with no furtive agendas other than the good of the community speak up without prejudice. We must rise and speak our minds for the sake of peace and unity. By lending our voices and speaking with a clear conscience and sound reason, we can help restore a little of the respect and trust that Malaysians once had for one another.



The Prime Minister’s move to set up the 1 Malaysia Roundtable heralds a formal beginning for hands-on citizen participation in planning for the development of the country. By inviting ideas and solutions from the people to determine the way forward in the areas identified, the government led by Dato’ Seri Najib is reaching out to collaborate with the “real” stakeholders of government policies and programmes viz the people themselves. This, after all, is the underlying principle of democracy – “a government for the people, by the people”.

As commendable as the idea of a national online dialogue is, there will emerge the problem of mediating the potentially huge volumes of input and the selection of those worthy to be taken a notch higher. There will arise the usual grouses of bias and selective discrimination by the subject matter experts (SMEX) after the usual questioning of their appointment. As is typical in Malaysia, there are many people with expertise and experience who feel they have a lot to contribute. They will wonder why they have been sidelined. Why them? Why not me?

Much wisdom must therefore be exercised in the handling of this formidable task. In order to have meaningful citizen engagement, the approach must first of all be bottoms-up and inclusive with the SMEX putting their ears to the ground to listen. They should avoid the temptation of talking down to the people before they fully understand their roles and functions.

It is unavoidable that certain ground rules have to be laid for the effective management of the procedures and the processes. For this an online road show is necessary for the SMEX to invite comment and constructive criticism. An open, inclusive strategy is indeed the way forward.

The idea of a large-scale citizen engagement managed by one entity is novel but the reality out there is that there are already numerous individuals and groups who have initiated efforts to harness positive contributions to Malaysia’s development. They have come up with dynamic charters and missions to realise their aims and objectives. Many have come up with innovative programmes and activities to involve the community in nation building.

The 1 Malaysia Roundtable SMEX should collaborate with these individuals and groups to share their caring principles of peace and unity. One such group is the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience & Reason (PCORE) which is guided by the following objectives:

(i)T o establish effective channels and linkages for peace building efforts at the personal, community and organisational levels

(ii)To promote a dynamic vision for nation building and development that optimises shared resources, talents and skills among diverse groups

(iii)To develop a substantive body of oral and written discourse built upon moral conscience and reason on issues of public concern at public forums, in the media, on the internet, in reputable journals and magazines and other relevant channels

(iv)To implement meaningful programmes and activities that promote the personal and group needs and interests of its members and members of the bigger community
PCORE has identified the following ten (10) areas of concern in its bid to promote peace and unity at the individual, organisational and community levels:

1. Community networking and neighbourliness
2. Celebrating diversity and interfaith relations
3. Synergising the school and home in the education of the young
4. Creating a robust environment for improving health and wellness
5. Uplifting socio-economic status through education and training
6. Sustaining and preserving the natural and cultural heritage
7. Promoting effective language and communication strategies
8. Ensuring fairness, justice and legal equity
9. Building integrity and ethical standards
10. Consolidating national integration and unity

Smaller circles engaged in these peace-building and unity efforts must be recognised and encouraged to run parallel with the 1Malaysia Roundtable. Many civil society and citizen movements have been actively involved in online dialogues, on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and in their blogs and websites. It’s a shame if they are not included in the structure of the 1Malaysia Roundtable.

June 2011