Malaysian electoral reform group Bersih's impartiality questioned after chief's decision to contest election

Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah has announced that she will be joining the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance and contest in the coming general election.
Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah has announced that she will be joining the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance and contest in the coming general election.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA - Malaysian social activists are questioning the independence and impartiality of the electoral reform group Bersih in light of chairman Maria Chin Abdullah's announcement that she will be joining the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance, The Star reported.

Political columnist Hafidz Baharom said although Ms Chin offered to contest as an independent under the Pakatan banner, the perception was "definitely" that Bersih is no longer squeaky clean.

"This is not the first time someone from the non-governmental sector joined politics," Mr Hafidz said. He referred to the late Irene Fernandez, the former director of labour rights group Tenaganita, who in 1999 became a candidate for the Subang Jaya parliamentary seat under the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). "However, Tenaganita did not take an anti-government stance as what Bersih has been doing since last year - asking to topple a sitting prime minister," he said.

The PKR is one of the four parties in the four-party PH alliance, which includes the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the Democratic Action Party and the Parti Amanah Negara.

Bersih has led a series of rallies in recent years to demand Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption saga.

Ms Chin, had said on Sunday (March 4) that she would resign as Bersih 2.0 chairman and contest in the upcoming general election expected to be held in months.

She said that she was offering herself as an independent candidate to the PH alliance.

Mr Hafidz is a vocal supporter of the #UndiRosak online movement that is urging the public to spoil their votes and boycott both the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and the opposition PH over their unhappiness at the choices of candidates from both sides of the political divide.

Supporters of the movement online have also cited their objection to the return of Tun Dr Mahathir to Malaysian politics.

Last month, Bersih secretariat officer Mandeep Singh, told a panel discussion held by the Malaysiakini news portal that supporters of the #Undirosak campaign who are against Dr Mahathir should go all out to campaign against him instead of spoiling their votes.

 

Mr Hafidz said Ms Chin's foray into politics showed that Bersih's vehement opposition against the #UndiRosak campaign had been politically motivated.

"I'm sure many never expected Bersih to be independent, but to deny and ridicule the democratic rights of voters to protest through #UndiRosak was uncalled for," he said.

Bersih, he said, could stand to lose even more supporters from the public at large, especially among the youths who are looking at politics with cynicism given the group's response to its campaign.

Meanwhile, another activist, Mr Mohamed Tawfik Ismail, was reported as saying that Ms Chin's move to join the opposition had confirmed the BN's suspicions that Bersih was not an independent group.

"It's expected. It only confirms Barisan's view that Bersih is led and hijacked by the opposition," he told an online portal.

According to sources, Ms Chin has been slated to run in Petaling Jaya Selatan, where incumbent Hee Loy Sian has served two terms under the PKR banner.

Former Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan is also said to be a potential candidate to take on the Malaysian Indian Congress president S. Subramaniam in Segamat.

More stories on the Malaysia election at str.sg/malaysiaGE