At Bersih Congress, civil society leaders berate govt for delaying key reforms

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 25 — Former Bersih leader Datuk S. Ambiga criticised the unity government today for delaying crucial reforms, reminding its leaders of their past commitment to Bersih's struggle for institutional change when they were in the Opposition.

Ambiga highlighted several issues, including the need to limit the prime minister's tenure to two terms, address statelessness, establish the Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), ensure parliamentary oversight for the appointment of enforcement agency heads, the need to abolish draconian laws and improve the handling of the kidnapping case involving Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi's daughter, among others.

“So change is good. Leadership change is good. Bersih, every two years there is a change. So the first reform should not take very long.

“Secondly, why do we still have the Sedition Act? We were fighting against it for the longest time. This government has been fighting it. Once people get into power they love it. Why? I don't understand. The Sedition Act must go,” Ambiga said, also listing the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 as some of the “very old” legislations that must be abolished.

“These are the reforms we fought together with members of the current government. We must insist on this. No reason for the government to drag its feet,” she added.

Ambiga also criticised the act of “weaponising the MACC” for political needs, adding that the appointment of the Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) must go through the Parliament.

In her speech, she also repeated the call to form the IPCMC, stressing that the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) does not have any enforcement powers. Ambiga said that the IPCMC is important as more accountability is needed when enforcement officers are allowed to have direct contact with the public.

The former chair of Bersih's institutional reforms committee urged the public to hold the authorities accountable and continue pressing for reforms and answers as cases such as enforced disappearances and kidnappings can no longer happen, highlighting the case of Pastor Raymond Koh as an example.

“The thing is we cannot forget because they assume people will forget,” she added.

On the issue of statelessness, Ambiga criticised the federal government for its proposed amendments, which she lamented would worsen the situation for children.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail had previously rejected concerns that the government’s proposed constitutional amendments regarding citizenship would cause more foundlings to be stateless in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government had on March 27, brought its proposed constitutional amendments on citizenship laws to the next step in Parliament via the home minister’s tabling of the Bill for second reading in the Dewan Rakyat.

However, the MPs in the Dewan Rakyat did not proceed with debating the Bill, as matters related to the Bill will resume at another parliamentary meeting.

Bersih executive director, Ooi Kok Hin meanwhile took the government to task over its delay in enacting electoral reforms.

“There has been exactly zero electoral reforms since the 2018 democratic transition.

“Six years since the 14th general election (GE14) ended. However six years after that and 548 days after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's reign, no electoral reforms happened. This is the thing that is very disappointing because don't the leaders who hold power today know the problem? Because they were with us campaigning around the country saying this is the problem,” Ooi said.

He added that the government therefore does not need to be convinced of the problems presently, and only requires political will to address them.

Ooi also called for immediate amendments to the Election Offences Act 1954, emphasising the need to properly vet candidates to prevent them from breaking election rules.

He lamented that currently, although candidates submit their expenditure reports, it is not audited, allowing those who break the law to walk free.

“PMX, don't always assume we have the time to do what we want to do,” he added, reminding Anwar of how his previous predecessors had their tenures short-lived, listing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri as examples.

Aaliyah Danial, the chairwoman of Congress IIUM (International Islamic University Malaysia) and representative of the IIUM student union meanwhile made a clarion call to her fellow undergraduates to galvanise support to demand the abolishment of the Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU) 1971.

Aaliyah added that the amendments to AUKU are “one step forward and three steps backward”.

“I'm calling out to all the students to ensure that we unionise, to create this change,” she added.

The Dewan Negara had last month passed the Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2023.

When tabling the amendment in March, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir said it was aimed at empowering students to cultivate student movements in the country.