Closing address by Anwar Ibrahim, Leader of Opposition, Parliament of Malaysia, at the International Conference on Malaysia, 13th General Elections, 4th – 5th March, 2013 at Lake Club, Kuala Lumpur
We are very heartened and encouraged by Dato’ Nazri’s categorical assurance yesterday that should BN lose the mandate of the people the coalition would step down and peacefully hand over power. However, my only worry is whether Dato’ Nazri has the mandate to give us that assurance!
I mean we appreciate it very much and spoken like a true gentleman. But this kind of thing must come directly from the horse’s mouth and I think it’s the responsible thing to do.
But in all seriousness, as you know, the former top brass of the defence forces who are now retired from service having served all their lives for the protection and security of the nation; they have joined us to continue serving the people, and they have told us that insyaallah, Godwilling, when Pakatan gets that mandate come the 13th General Elections, there will indeed be a peaceful transition to power.
But let us not jump the gun. This conference has come at a most crucial time to attempt to set the ground work for a consensus on what is needed to ensure electoral democracy in Malaysia. Indeed, the challenges are formidable because for more than five decades since Independence there has been no change in Federal rule and the reins of power have remained in the hands of the same coalition party.
While in established democracies, the culture is ingrained that with every election there is not just the possibility but a real likelihood of a change of government, the current leadership has not been able to demonstrate that open mindedness. Hence, the best practices of caretaker conventions at the Federal level is a subject which doesn’t seem to be of much concern because of the belief that power will not change hands. This of course is unwarranted because whether or not power changes hands, these conventions must be observed as a condition to free and fair elections.
Similarly, the issue of a playing field which I will elaborate shortly in particular, the role of media and civil society. And the issue of money politics and electoral corruption continues to bug us with no resolution in sight.
So, as the 13th general elections draw near, the question whether Malaysians will have free and fair elections remains unanswered.
We know that electoral democracy is not a privilege but a right recognised without question in all democracies. There are so many dimensions to this process and I’m sure that these have been well discussed.
Let me start with the issue of allowing international observers to witness our polling process. But the trouble is before we can even get there, the government has given us not much to be optimistic about.
For example, no matter how they want to spin it or downplay its gravity, the Najib administration’s action last month in detaining and deporting Australian senator Nick Xenophon doesn’t give us much reason to celebrate. On the contrary, this is yet another instance of the organised resistance of the powers that be to efforts to see the realisation of free and fair elections.
Media and Level playing field
On the subject of a level playing field, we can say that the ruling party has grossly unfair dominance of media coverage even before the onset of campaigning. The opposition, on the other hand, has no access to the mainstream media.
It is true that Pakatan Rakyat leaders have not had one day of rest in order to bring the message to the people. They work overtime and brave the odds putting their health and safety at risk because they work under severe disadvantage.
Hence, the talk of a level playing field will remain very academic and theoretical if the obvious reality is not recognised. And that is that there is no access to the mainstream print and electronic media which is monopolised by the incumbent powers that be at Putra Jaya. It would be naïve to dismiss the power and influence of such a vast media network which can penetrate every living room in the rural heartland.
With unlimited use of this crucial resource which will come to feverish pitch as the general elections draw closer; this propaganda machine is being used to savage the opposition. Blatant and vicious falsehood is being spread daily and we have to expend quite a bit of our resources, limited as they are, just to counter these lies. It’s not a question of choice but necessity. Day in and day the television networks spin stories about the opposition’s mismanagement of the state governments and the opposition leaders become targets of character assassination attempts.
As you know, just yesterday I have given Utusan and TV3 a 24 hour ultimatum to retract and apologise for their allegations of my complicity in the current incursion and outbreak of violence in Sabah. We have won a few court battles lately on these scurrilous attacks but it is quite obvious that they are not the least deterred in any way.
This is why we have resorted to self-help to travel the land and take the message home directly to the people. It’s true our buses and cars get attacked, our flags, posters and banners get vandalised and our speakers are assaulted. Yet no action has been taken against the culprits.
We call this organised gangsterism, funded by unseen hands and protected by the law.
Where there’s no equal protection of the law to safety and security; where complaints to the police about violence being brought on us and our property fall on deaf ears; and where the mainstream media would not give us any opportunity or time to respond to their wild allegation, there can never be a level playing field.
Bersih and the Elections Commission
The paramount importance of Bersih is undisputed. Bersih, as we all know, has made tremendous contributions to the cause of electoral reform. But at what cost? We know the answer. Which is why I take my hat off to National Laureate Dato’ A. Samad Said and Dato’ Ambiga Sreevanesan for continuing to put their necks on the chopping board. Kudos also the leaders of other NGOs who soldier on despite the odds.
After all, the protests and demonstrations to demand for free and fair elections clearly signify the dissatisfaction with the state of things. Our election commission is supposed to be the electoral watchdog. But among other things, its epic failure is that both the commission’s chair and deputy chair were card carrying members of the ruling UMNO party prior to their appointment. So, merely calling it an electoral commission does not guarantee its independence and impartiality.
While the appearance of impartiality is crucial the problem faced here is not just a matter of perception but of real and glaring discrepancies in voter registration. The existence of hundreds of thousands of fictitious names as well as names of dead people plus the widespread duplication of names in the electoral roll points to blatant fraud in voter registration.
We expect the watchdog to prevent fraudulent registration but we fear that the problem is getting worse. This is not self-induced paranoia. The problem is becoming rampant as evidenced by the daily exposes on this. The RCI in Sabah on the notorious project IC underscores the reality of the fear.
The politics of fear and hate mongering
The requirement that no party incites or threatens violence to another party or candidate is fundamental to electoral democracy. Unfortunately, this is frequently ignored. On the contrary, senior UMNO leaders are already on overdrive in threatening violence and bloodshed by raising the spectre of ethnic violence should Pakatan come to power. They make outrageous suggestions that a vote for the DAP is a vote for the oppression of Islam and Muslims. Then, Perkasa comes along threatening to burn the Bible and vowing to lay down their lives. We know where that is coming from. How can such hate speeches and fear mongering ways be allowed in a democracy and condoned by the leadership?
Fortunately, as I said at the outset, the confidence as expressed by the retired generals of a peaceful transition, gives us reason to be optimistic that these lowly and despicable tactics will fail.
We have to know why this struggle must go on. It is not just about who will win or who will lose. It’s about our Malaysian journey. It’s about striving to get what we think the people deserve.
On March 18, 2008, the people of Malaysia knocked down a huge wall which had formed the barricades to the determination of their destiny as a nation.
A fate that would seal their legitimate expectations to a just society where freedom and democracy would go hand in with social justice and economic progress.
And almost five years on, even though those barricades are now behind us and we have walked a long path, a huge door remains in front of us. We are knocking on this door and the reverberations echo through the land. Victory for the people is waiting there.