Ambiga: Citizenship and not race determines Rights

The factor that determines the rights and duties of the people of this country is their citizenship and not the size of the community they belong to. A cheering crowd of 1,000 over was told that belonging to a minority or a majority community makes no difference to their rights as citizens.

“I was told that in Malaysia I belonged to minority race. It had to be accepted then.

“Today, I reject it. I firmly declare that in this country I belong to the majority and I am a citizen”, said the beaming Chair of Bersih 2.0 Ambiga Srinivasan.

She was the guest of honour at the “Hari Keluarga NGO-NGO” organised by the Kelab Belia Kamuning, Sungei Siput, Perak, held on last Saturday, at the Dewan Konvensyen, Taman Tun Sambanthan.

She said she would begin with the demand for reassessing ourselves as how we look at and explain to each other as citizens.

According to her the Federal Constitution makes no discrimination amongst citizens. She said, “Malaysian citizenship confers upon the people all the rights and duties in accordance with the Federal Constitution. There is no discrimination as far as rights arising from citizenship. Either you are a citizen or not.”

She urged her listeners to be proud of being citizens of a great country.

Ambiga pointed out some of the provisions relating to the Special positions of the Malays, the rights of the Orang Asli and the special positions for the States of Sabah and Sarawak and said, “We respect the Federal Constitution” and added “I am talking about fundamental rights.”

She said the civil societies and the NGOs play an important role in Malaysia at this movement. Bodies such as these represent the voice of the people and we are fortunate to have such concerned citizens who care for the future.

Referring to Bersih 2.0 gathering on July 9, 2011, Ambiga said, “I felt proud to see such large number of Malaysians who were ready to face tear gas and police brutality to ensure their rights for clean election are respected. I knew what it meant for the future when I saw the youngsters rising to protect the sovereignty of our country.

“I was touched to see the Malaysians standing united irrespective of their race to demand for clean election. They had come from various parts of the country to stake their demand peacefully. This is one great exciting development.”

Ambiga referred to the detention of 15 university students last Wednesday for demanding their rights to academic freedom and said, “They were brave and I believe that such young undergraduates are the hope of Malaysia.”

During the Bersih, she said she had seen it herself how the mainstream media had distorted the truth in their reports about the sincere efforts of the people for a clean general election. The participants at the gathering were labelled as terrorists.

Various allegations, threats and defamatory statements were thrown at the participants. “But, today, the Parliamentary Select Committee has accepted the need for electoral reform”, she added.

The other guests at the Hari Keluarga NGO-NGO function included Sungei Siput MP Dr.Jayalumar, Suram Chair K. Arumugam and NIAT Chair Thasleem Ibrahim.

Continuing, Ambiga said, “My experience from Bersih 2.0 has opened my eyes to one issue, that is, the people are now more concerned about matters concerning elections. People also want openness, integrity and supremacy of the law. This means the people want high respect for freedom, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and of association. As Malaysians, they want their rights to be respected.

“Why Bersih 2.0 had attracted such a large number of Malaysians? Even though, the government had issued various warnings, the police had reacted unreasonably by arresting those who were dressed in yellow and all roads leading to Kuala Lumpur were closed. In spite of all these, they descended, young and old together in large numbers.

“I accept that electoral reform is a boring subject. When our group discussed this matter we were worried that we might fail to attract the attention of the people about this issue, especially the youngsters.”

Bersih 2.0 committee, according to Ambiga, did not have the know-how to create the awareness among the people more effectively of the importance of this gathering. But, she said, “Our problem was made easier when the government moved in. Until today, of all the issues, the electoral reform has become the hottest issue.

“What was initially launched as a gathering for electoral reform had finally turned out to be a gathering for election and also for democracy, because the government and the police had been excessively harsh in opposing Bersih 2.0”, Ambiga explained.

Ambiga explained further that there were a lot of defects in the electoral list when first discovered. All these were actually raised by the people themselves. But the Election Commission continued to give excuses, which were unbelievable. So, the importance and the need for a gathering had become very clear and the demands from the people were getting stronger.

She listed the following as the achievement of Bersih 2.0:

1. Bersih 2.0 has created the awareness amongst the people on issues pertaining to elections;

2. Bersih 2.0 has destroyed whatever fear and worries the people had regarding 13 May or racial issues;

3. It has also destroyed the fear of strong organs like the police in respect of their powers and the brutal steps that they can take; and

4. For the first time, the government has appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee to review matters regarding “electoral reform” and make recommendation for election reforms.

“The issues of democracy and fundamental rights are not something new to be demanded”, Ambiga said, and pointed out that throughout the world “we have movements such Arab Spring, Anna Hazari and Occupy Wall Street.”

“As such, the government must accept that in this new era of computer and social media, it cannot rule by harsh and oppressive means. They cannot justify the ISA and other similar laws.

“The new bill, the Public Assembly Bill 2011, which was passed, is another bill which in fact limits the fundamental rights to assemble. What is the use of proposing such a bill? Does it mean that Bersih 3.0 can be avoided? Certainly, no”, she asserted.

She then asked why is the government politicising the racial issues and asked further is that what we want? The crowd responded, “no”.

Next, she asked, “What do you want – A clean government? Clean elections?  Our rights? The crowd lustily yelled back, “Ya”.

Ambiga stressed the importance of voter turn out on the day of election. Nearly all of the present at the function raised their hands to indicate they are registered voters and vowed they would turn out.

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