Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan has urged Malaysians not to be distracted by the concerted attacks of the government media and other diversionary stunts but to focus on the issue at hand, which is electoral reform.

NONE"Don't get distracted by funny dances in front of my house. That was a joke, but the flawed electoral process is not a joke and we have to be vigilant," Ambiga told a forum in Petaling Jaya last night.

She was drawing parallels between Bersih and Suaram, which have been accused by the mainstream media of attempting to destabilise the government, with Suaram being investigated by the Companies Commission Malaysia (CCM) and Registrar of Societies (ROS) as well.

"I have no doubt in my mind that this investigation (against Suaram) is about Scorpene. The government left Suaram alone for 24 years, so why is it suddenly coming after Suaram now? Don't take your eyes off corruption," Ambiga said.

Suaram is maintaining that it is being persecuted for initiating an investigation in France into alleged corruption in Malaysia's purchase of two Scorpene submarines from French naval company DCNS.

"We (Bersih) have had the book thrown at us as well, so we know where this (Suaram harassment) is coming from. They want to keep us busy so we can't do the work we are doing," Ambiga said.

She also defended Bersih, which was lumped together with Suaram by the mainstream media, which accused them of receiving foreign funding.

NONE"We have said that we received RM90,000 from Open Society Institute (OSI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for a delineation project.

"As far as the Bersih rally is concerned, we don't need money, for the people just come. We don't pay people RM50 each to come. In a sense, people are paying to come as they buy Bersih T-shirts," she said.

"Up until now, we are completely funded by Malaysians who have been wonderful. We've also created a RM1 fund for the legal challenges we are facing."

'Persecuted messengers make potent messages'

Ambiga warned that the government's continued attack on messengers such as Bersih and Suaram would ultimately make their messages more powerful.

"I think it is a big mistake. Instead of trying to sink NGOs, the government should concentrate on getting their submarines to sink," she said.

Ambiga added that the harassment of Suaram by CCM and ROS and the Election Commission's lack of commitment to electoral reform were examples of public institutions that were more interested in doing the bidding of their political masters than acting independently.

"We have received reports of foreigners being registered as voters. Don't forget Project IC is taking place. Before people say it is not true, remember that it has happened before in Sabah, and we have a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate it," she said.

NONETherefore, Ambiga said, Malaysians should turn out in force during the coming general election in a bid to mitigate any fraud.

Another speaker, constitutional law practitioner Tommy Thomas, said it was hypocrisy on the part of politicians to attack NGOs on their fundings.

"What is really shocking is for Malaysian politicians, whose principal source of income is using other people money, to make this claim. It is the height of hypocrisy.

"Politicians in all countries are dependent on funding from various sources, such as companies and trade unions, and when they are sufficiently seduced with money, compromises are made," Tommy said.

He said freedom of association as enshrined in the federal constitution should be read together with the other fundamental liberties, such as freedom of speech.

"The relentless state action against Suaram is wholly unconstitutional," Tommy added.

The others who spoke at the forum, which was moderated by lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, were Suaram secretariat member Cynthia Gabriel and Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez.