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RUNNING SCARED IN MALAYSIA...
(Mr. Malott was the United States ambassador to Malaysia from 1995-98)
The Malaysian government has pulled out all the stops to prevent an opposition rally this weekend.
This week, army units conducted crowd control exercises with banners that said, "Disperse or we will shoot!" The police set up roadblocks and arrested Malaysians simply for wearing yellow T-shirts, the signature color of Bersih, a coalition of 62 nongovernmental organizations that demands changes in Malaysia's electoral system.
To date, the police have arrested over 250 supporters of Bersih, claiming that they are "waging war against the king."
Then something unprecedented happened. Malaysia's King Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, allegedly the target of Bersih's campaign, intervened. He called on both Prime Minister Najib Razak and Bersih to resolve their differences in a spirit of harmony and cooperation, for the good of the nation.
There was a collective sigh of relief in Malaysia.
The leader of Bersih, Ambiga Sreenevasan, an attorney and former president of the Malaysian Bar Council, met with the king and announced that the "Walk for Democracy," as it was called, was cancelled. She said that she was ready to meet with the government to discuss Bersih's concerns about electoral fairness.
Prime Minister Najib then offered an olive branch, saying, "We are willing to provide a stadium for them to rally in … from morning until night," an offer that Ms. Ambiga and Bersih immediately accepted.
Then Mr. Najib backed off. His government says that because Bersih is still illegal, it cannot apply for a permit. It also has banned Bersih's leadership from entering Kuala Lumpur on the day of the rally.
On Thursday, he joined a gathering of martial artists who said that their 50,000 members will "wage war" against Bersih. Donning their militant uniform, Mr. Najib said, "If there are evil enemies who want to attack the country from within, you, my brothers, will rise to fight them."
Mr. Najib has undermined the authority of the king, who gave Bersih and its concerns credence by meeting with its leadership and calling for a negotiated solution. The political situation in Malaysia is a fast-moving target, and each day brings new developments. Ms. Ambiga and Bersih now say that because of Mr. Najib's actions, they will go ahead with their assembly, no matter
Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Bersih's main issue is not freedom of assembly but the fairness of Malaysia's democratic process. Bersih's backers ask how anyone can be opposed to free and fair elections.
It's an easy question to answer. The United Malays National Organization, of which Mr. Najib is president, is the longest continuing ruling party in the world, and it is running scared.
In the last general election in 2008, Malaysia's opposition took 47% of the popular vote. That year Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the party of Mr. Najib's nemesis Anwar Ibrahim, went from one seat to 31. The establishment parties in Malaysia's neighboring states are also in retreat. The opposition scored a major victory in Thailand last weekend, and in Singapore opposition candidates made surprising gains. No wonder Mr. Najib and company are worried.
Many observers of Malaysian politics believe that electoral reform will lead to the ruling party's defeat, and that is why UMNO is afraid of Bersih. In the last election in 2008, the party received only one-third of the nation's votes. UMNO rules only because of its coalition with other political parties, which it increasingly marginalizes, that represent the Chinese and Indian minorities.
Mr. Najib and his allies say that the opposition's gains in 2008 prove that Malaysia's elections are free and fair. Impartial observers disagree. Academic studies have enumerated how the Election Commission gerrymanders electoral districts to benefit the ruling party.
The U.S. Department of State's human rights report bluntly states that opposition parties are unable to compete on equal terms with the governing coalition because of restrictions on campaigning and freedom of assembly and association.
"News of the opposition," the U.S. says, is "tightly restricted and reported in a biased fashion."
In the recent state elections in Sarawak, the government announced $390 million in local projects during the run-up to the polls. Prime Minister Najib was caught on video tape telling one village gathering that the government would give them 5 million ringgit ($1.5 million) for a local project on Monday, but only if they elected his candidate on Sunday.
Who would win elections in Malaysia that truly are free and fair?
The U.S. State Department reports that despite the many election irregularities during the 2008 elections, "most observers concluded they did not substantially alter the results."
But unless the electoral reforms that Bersih is calling for are made, we will never know.
Despite the government's intimidation, thousands of Malaysian citizens of all races and religions are expected to exercise their constitutional right to assemble and call for free and fair elections.
Tomorrow's protest represents a brave step in what not just Malaysians but also the international community should hope will begin the country's transition to full democracy.
Mr. Najib should display his own courage and ensure that a peaceful rally that seeks the fundamental rights of democratic peoples everywhere does not turn into a bloody confrontation.
- Faced with mounting pressure that a rally will be held this weekend, the Public Services Department (PSD) has issued a circular barring civil servants from participating in an illegal assembly or any movement which may hurt the security of the nation.
The letter dated June 30 and signed by the PSD director-general, Abu Bakar Abdullah, did not name which rally.Three are planned for this weekend, organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), Perkasa and Umno Youth.Read here for more
- Khairy Jamaluddin accused the city police today of reigniting tensions over the Bersih rally by getting a court order barring him and 90 others from entering the city on Saturday.
The Umno Youth chief arrived home from a volunteer mission to Gaza this evening to find himself “outlawed from the city he lives in.”“Instead of working on a solution they have taken the solution away,” the Rembau MP said of the court order that denies Bersih’s hopes of holding its rally in Stadium Merdeka.
“The situation is in limbo. Nobody knows what is next,” he said, adding that the Umno Youth leadership would meet tomorrow morning to discuss its options.Earlier today, Khairy had posted on micro-blogging site Twitter that he has “just landed back in KL after trying to break Israeli blockade of Gaza only to find that I’ve been blockaded from KL. Excuse me if I say WTF?” Read here for more
- The police have placed a restriction order on 91 individuals, including organisers of the Bersih 2.0, Perkasa and Umno Youth's Patriot rallies. The order is to stop any of the 91 from being present at several spots in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.
"This means that anyone (on the list) caught present at these areas will be arrested on sight," said the city deputy police chief Amar Singh.
Full list of 91 individuals
Rahman bin Abu Bakar
Syed Hassan Syed Ali
Irawah Fahmi Ideris
Sharifuddin Abd Hamid
Dr Zubir Harun
Ahmad Zaini Ismail
Muhammad Zaid Md Arip
Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar
Megat Firdouz Megat Junid
Reezal Merican Naina Merican
Megat Zulkarnaian Omardin
Tengku Azman Tengku Zainol Abidin
Lokman Noor Adam
Abdul Azeez Rahim
Ungku Saleh Ungku Jamal
Arman Azha Abu Hanifa
Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz
Hishamuddin Md Rais
Khairul Anwar Ahmad Zainuddin
Maria Chin Abdullah
Chua Tian Chang
Dr Mohd Hatta Md Ramli
Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud
Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh
Badrul Hisha Shaharin
Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin
Wong Chin Huat
Ong Boon Keong
Haris Fathillah Sathiasingam Mohd Ibrahim
Dr Zubir Harun
Abd Hadi Awang
Lim Kit Siang
Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat
Nurul Izzah Anwar
Khoo Teng Swee
Fadiah Nadwa Fikri
Yap Swee Seng
Dr Syed Azman Syed Nawawi
Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad
Dr Mujahid Yusof
Khalid Abd Samad
Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin
Azman Shapawi Abd Rani
Nor Azli Musa
Mohd Firdaus Jaafar
Loke Siew Fook
Lau Wen San
Mohd Azmin Ali
Mat Shuhaimi Shafie
Satipul Bahari Amamt
Wan Hassan Mohd Ramli
Mohamad Izzudin Hilmi Mohd Zaini
Mohd Shazni Munir Mohd Ithnin
Muhammad Hilman Idham
Mohd Shukri Che Ab Razab
Mohd Syukri Kamaruddin
Ahmad Syazwan Muhammad Hasan
Choo Chon Kai
Soh Sook Hwa
Nurul Izham Nurul Anuar
Abd Rahim Osman
Mohd Sibri Ismail
Mohd Lukam Muda
Prof Kamaruddin Kachar
Mohd Noor Nordin Abdullah