Thursday, 27 October 2011

Ambiga serves notice of people power

MELBOURNE, Oct 26 — Bersih 2.0 will hold Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to the civic movement’s eight demands on elections and governance should the opposition pact come into government, chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said at a public forum here yesterday.

“Not only Pakatan,” Ambiga said of her movement that transcends party politics. “We will hold all parties accountable. That’s the way it should be. The power is with us (the people), not with them (political parties). It’s only when power is in the hands of the citizenry that we have a working democracy.”

Ambiga was responding to a question at a public lecture at the Asian Law Centre, University of Melbourne, to kick off a speaking tour of four of the most renowned law schools in Australia.
On Friday she shares Bersih 2.0 stories with Malaysians at a solidarity evening organised by Bersih 2.0 Australia and the Melbourne chapter of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Australia (SABMoz).

Ambiga speaks at the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney on October 31, and the College of Law at the Australian National University in Canberra on November 1, at each stop encouraging Malaysians to register as voters.
Malaysians waiting in line to greet Ambiga (right) after the talk.
At the lecture in Melbourne, Malaysia’s Consulate-General in Melbourne, Dr Mohamad Rameez Yahaya, told the audience that foreign missions such as his had started to put in place processes to register voters.

“We registered 26 voters (last night),” said David Teoh, co-ordinator for Bersih 2.0 Australia and SABMoz Melbourne.

More than 300 mostly young Malaysians filled a lecture theatre at the Asian Law Centre for the lecture hosted by Dean of Law Professor Carolyn Evans.

In her talk on electoral reform and the quest for democracy in Malaysia, Ambiga spoke on the significance of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which Malaysia is a signatory.

She recounted events leading up to Bersih’s rally on July 9, the implications of the rally, and considered whether the government’s subsequent undertaking to amend or repeal laws such as the Internal Security Act might offer hope for a more democratic Malaysia.

She drew attention to the aspirations of youth, lamenting the “disconnect” of old politics with new technology, a yellow pashmina draped around her neck, and sporting a “CleanBefore13” lapel badge. As Ambiga was speaking, Global Bersih was following events on microblogging service Twitter, using the #CleanBefore13 hashtag.

Moderator Professor Tim Lindsey, director of the Asian Law Centre, had to apologise for not being able to accommodate all those who had questions for Ambiga, almost all of them from Malaysians studying or living in Melbourne, who make up the highest number of Malaysians in Australia.

Ambiga was overwhelmed by the response. “As I said (in her talk), the future is with the youth,” she told The Malaysian Insider. “Never have they been so interested in an election.
“Look at the quality of the questions. That says it all.”

In the audience were Jufitri Joha and Farhana Halim, two Malaysians in Australia for a Young Muslims leadership programme organised by the Centre for Dialogue at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Jufitri and Farhana were disappointed at the low participation among Malays.
Both were disappointed there were not more Malays at the forum. “It is important to inculcate a culture of intellectual debate,” said Jufitri, vice-president international of Abim.

“It is the essence of Malaysia,” said Lawyers for Liberty advocate Farhana of the national conversation on the way forward for Malaysia. “Regardless of whether you support or not support (Bersih).

“If you do not support, it is an opportunity to question her.”

Farhana was overwhelmed by the crowd. “We underestimate the power of Malaysian Chinese involvement in the national movement... the Chinese sense of patriotism is the very opposite,” she said of what she discovered speaking to those among the overwhelmingly Chinese audience.
Ambiga’s lecture would have been an eye opener for Australians, going by Lindsey’s observation.

“Australians see the region as a bad news story — of the horror of Australians caught up in the violence, and in natural disasters,” said Lindsey, a scholar on Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia; he is also director of the Centre for Islamic Law and Society at the University of Melbourne.

“They are unaware of the debates on democracy going on... Out of the bad news (government reaction to Bersih) has come a good news face.”

It was important for Australians to be aware of changes in the region, Lindsey told The Malaysian Insider, and for government and politicians to stop conducting foreign policy “in reaction to domestic issues”.

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