Grilling Bersih
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REFSA Rojak

Crisps of the Week (11-17 May)

brought to you by Foong Li Mei

REFSA Rojak is our weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia. We trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.

Burgers and Bums vs Bersih

Freedom of assembly became a farce when burgers and butts were flashed in public this week. Claiming that the Bersih rally had affected businesses, petty traders group Ikhlas set up a burger stall outside the house of Bersih’s co-chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan to protest their loss of income.

’If we cannot do business in KL, we would do it here’ was Ikhlas’ argument – although recovering lost profit was presumably not the intention, as the burgers were given out for free.

While the Internet is still sizzling with snide remarks on the ‘burger protesters’, a group of veteran soldiers became the latest butt of jokes after their ‘bum exercises’ in front of Ambiga’s house.  The Malay Armed Forces Veterans Association (PVTM) claimed that it was their right to protest against Ambiga for being an ‘enemy’ of the nation.

Questioning if protesters have the right to invade an individual’s privacy, Ambiga told the traders to file their claims for losses suffered in court. She also planned to lodge a police report, for the  disturbance affected not only her family, but the whole neighbourhood.

However, deputy IGP Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar  announced that no action would be taken against the traders as they had committed no criminal offence – they did not enter Ambiga’s house, but were ‘in a public space’. He added that under the recently-enforced Peaceful Assembly Act, all parties are allowed to conduct peaceful gatherings. City Hall, on the other hand, promised to take action against the protesting traders if the public makes a report.

Following the deputy IGP’s statement, a coalition 20 Indian NGOs will gather in front of his house this Sunday to provide a free thosai breakfast, with the purpose of promoting the dish. Khalid ordered a ‘thosai telur’ (egg thosai) in jest, but advised against setting up a stall in front of his house as it would ‘disrupt traffic flow and pose an inconvenience to [his] neighbours’.

Thanks to the deputy IGP’s sudden support for public assemblies, it is the police force sitting on the grill now. If peaceful gatherings in public spaces are not criminal offences, then on what basis (or rather, whose order) did the law enforcers carry out the massive crackdown on the recent Bersih demonstration? What is the justification for the barricades around Dataran Merdeka, a prominent ‘public space’?

‘An eye for an eye’ makes rousing drama, but let the headline-hoarding stunts not distract us from the electoral roll that is still in need of a clean-up!

What irregularities?

All is well with the electoral roll, as far as the Electoral Commission (EC) is concerned. According to the commission, cases of retired army and police personnel who are still registered as postal voters, as well as new army and police postal voters who are above the recruitment age, are not irregular.

The dubious voters were revealed by Dr Ong Kian Ming, who is the director of the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (Merap) that is assisting Bersih to analyse the much-disputed electoral roll. EC’s deputy chairman Wan Ahmad accused Ong of having ‘an agenda’ as the latter did not approach the EC for clarification. Wan Ahmad also accused Ong, Bersih and the opposition parties of demonising the EC with ’slander and lies’.

But who is really the one with the agenda? EC’s independence is questioned by columnist Jacqueline Ann Surin, who highlighted its subservience to the government, as well as its skewed practices which benefit BN.

To their credit, the EC website is now displaying a list of voters with shared addresses for the individuals concerned to verify.  Voters are also urged to contact EC to update their addresses.

EC’s willingness to rectify voters’ addresses shows some commitment to clean up the electoral roll. Sadly, the integrity of such an effort is marred by the commission’s defensive stand regarding weaknesses in the electoral process, as well as its condemnation of people who reveal them. Will EC get down from its high horse, or will it trample over dissenting voices?

Focus on the message, please

Is ‘attack-the-messenger’ the name of the game these days? Following the Malaysian Bar’s criticisms of police brutality during the Bersih 3.0 rally, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri proposed the setting up of a law academy to act as an ‘alternative’ to the Bar, and called on the Bar Council to dissolve itself.

The Bar Council was flabbergasted at the proposal, insisting that the creation of the alternative institution  would ’usurp the functions and powers of the Bar Council’, and at the same time undermine its independence.

Council president Lim Chee Wee also told the government not to attack the messenger, but act on the message contained in the Bar’s final report and its extraordinary general meeting’s (EGM) resolution instead.

Nazri, however, countered that the Bar Council has no right to reject the proposal of the law academy. He claimed that the academy will benefit those with a legal background who did not belong to any association, like lecturers in universities and legal advisers in the corporate sector.

No flip to press freedom

The truth seems to prevail in theSun newspaper, as the Center of Independent Journalism (CIJ) has singled it out as having the most neutral political coverage among four major print dailies.

According to a study carried out by CIJ, theSun was the only paper that gave any positive coverage at all to Pakatan, while The Star, New Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia only gave negative or neutral coverage to the opposition pact. It was also the sole paper to give BN some negative coverage, while the other three papers only gave positive or neutral coverage to the ruling coalition. CIJ also remarked that across the board, the newspapers were overwhelmingly in favour of BN.

With Malaysiakini being denied a permit to publish its news in the form of a newspaper, it seems that the positive slant towards BN among print media will remain for the time being. The award-winning and independent news portal called the denial of permit unconstitutional, as it is a restriction on press freedom.

One wonders if the political masters realise that their tight grip on the mainstream media is like shooting themselves in their own foot. As mainstream media meets with growing distrust , it may one day find itself without readership as the rakyat would turn to more reliable sources.

Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.

It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!

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[Pic credit: Grill – alitaylor/sxc.hu, Bersih 3.0 logo – Bersih 2.0 [Official] Facebook page]

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