Thomas Fann steps down as Bersih chairman, cites divided views among steering committee

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Thomas Fann has tendered his resignation from the chairman post of electoral watchdog Bersih today, citing a “vote of no confidence” from a divided steering committee pulling in opposite directions.

In his resignation letter dated today Fann said while he wanted to evolve Bersih for its future to be a people’s institution, his new deputy chairman Wong Yan Ke wanted to restore Bersih as the people’s movement.

“Though I won uncontested for another term as the chairperson of Bersih, it is clear to me that my leadership and efforts to evolve Bersih into a people’s institution were rejected by the majority of the endorsing NGOs (non-governmental organisation) of Bersih.

“In light of this reality, I hereby tender my resignation as chairperson of Bersih with a two-month notice,” Fann said in his letter.

According to Fann, the results for the five contested positions of deputy chairman, treasurer and three committee member posts were won by all four candidates led by Wong, who stood against Fann’s team, except for one committee member post won by Aira Azhari who came in third.

“The rejection of my team that was led by Ngeow Chow Ying (outgoing treasurer) by the majority of the NGOs in this actively contested election that saw a record 50 out of 60 endorsing NGOs participating (83.3 per cent), was a clear message to me that my vision and direction for Bersih was rejected.

“It was a vote of no confidence. From the official statements of the two teams that contested in this election, it was also clear that two visions of Bersih were offered.

“My team campaigned on continuity to evolve Bersih into a people’s institution while Yan Ke and those who campaigned for him, pushed for a restoration of Bersih to its roots as a people’s movement, presumably with organising protests as one of its main tools to connect with the grassroots, the people.

“I see this as two opposing visions for Bersih — one proffered by the chairperson and the other by his deputy. While Yan Ke’s team with four seats in the nine-member steering committee does not necessarily represent the majority of the steering committee he does have the mandate of the majority of the endorsing NGOs who voted,” he said.

Fann stressed that in good conscience, he cannot lead a divided steering committee that is pulling in opposite directions or defy the will of the majority of the endorsing NGOs.

“Neither could I go against my own conviction and lead Bersih in its attempt to become a people’s movement again when I believe that Bersih’s future is for it to be an institution that is actively and constructively contributing ideas and solutions to strengthen our parliamentary democracy,” he said.

While he acknowledged that organising protest rallies has been Bersih’s roots as a people’s movement and is one of our fundamental rights as a democracy, it is just one of many channels to advocate for reforms.

“In a changed political environment post 14th general election (GE14) after Barisan Nasional (BN)/Umno was toppled, other effective channels of engagement had opened up and Bersih under my leadership in the past five years had utilised those channels effectively and achieved impactful outcomes.

“By definition, a people’s movement can only thrive if there is a groundswell of support for an idea by a vast number of the population.

“For Bersih in its pre-GE14 years, that idea was regime change, even if it was not necessarily the intention of all the Bersih steering committee members then. The yearning by a vast segment for regime change was satisfied when BN was defeated and Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in 2018. To many, the mission was accomplished. There was little interest in Bersih post-GE14, even among civil society actors. In my view, Bersih’s viability as a people’s movement ended on May 10, 2018, the next day after GE14,” he said.

Adding to that, Fann said Bersih is just a tool of history, doing the right thing at the right season.

“That season is over and has been for a long time,” he said.

As he steps down, Fann said it is only fair for Yan Ke and his team of young and veteran leaders committed to ‘revitalising Bersih as a people’s movement’ to have a free hand to take Bersih to the direction they see fit in the next two years.

“For me, to serve in Bersih is to serve the interest of all segments of the Malaysian public regardless of their ethnicity, religion, region or party affiliation,” he said.

“In Bersih, we struggle for ideals, not power. Hidup Bersih, Hidup demokrasi! Yours sincerely, Thomas Fann outgoing chairperson of Bersih.”