MALAYSIA: The Malaysian electoral watchdog BERSIH (The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election) is scheduled to elect its new Chairperson on 15 December, following the recent announcement of the incumbent, Thomas Fann, resigning from the post.
An ad hoc Election Committee (EC) within BERSIH has finalized the nomination date for the Chairperson by-election on 9 December, with the polling set for 15 December.
Thomas Fann tendered his resignation on 19 November, citing a “vote of no confidence” from a divided steering committee that held contrasting views and goals.
The EC secretariat issued a by-election notice to endorsing NGOs of BERSIH, confirming the nomination date for 9 December from 8 am to 5 pm.
The campaign period will span 5 days, concluding on 14 December, after which members of the endorsing NGOs of BERSIH will cast their votes to elect the new Chairperson on 15 December.
Earlier, the BERSIH Steering Committee had announced the formation of the ad hoc EC responsible for overseeing the Chairperson by-election.
BERSIH comprises over 60 endorsing NGOs, with each NGO eligible to nominate candidates, participate in voting, and contribute to determining the coalition’s direction and vision.
In his resignation letter issued on 19 Nov, Mr Fann expressed his aspiration to transform BERSIH into an institution that truly represents the people in the future.
However, he said his newly elected deputy chairman, Wong Yan Ke, aimed to restore BERSIH as a people’s movement.
“My team campaigned on continuity to evolve Bersih into a people’s institution while Yan Ke and those who campaigned for him, pushed for a restoration of Bersih to its roots as a people’s movement, presumably with organising protests as one of its main tools to connect with the grassroots, the people.”
“I see this as two opposing visions for BERSIH — one proffered by the chairperson and the other by his deputy.”
Mr Fann emphasized that he could not conscientiously lead a divided steering committee or oppose the will of the majority of the endorsing NGOs.
Wong Yan Ke: People’s movement and people’s institution need not conflict with each other
Gutzy Asia reached out to Mr Wong for his perspective on Mr Fann’s statement and to gain insights into his vision for BERSIH’s future.
In response, Mr Wong emphasized that it would be more fitting for BERSIH to formally declare its future direction following the election of the new chairperson on 15th December.
“I believe it’s essential to let the election process conclude before making further comments,” he expressed, anticipating a constructive dialogue on the role of civil society within Malaysia’s current political landscape.
Mr Wong acknowledged the impact of Mr Fann’s remarks, recognizing that it might created the perception of divisions within the BERSIH coalition.
However, he firmly believed that a people’s movement and a people’s institution need not conflict with each other.
On the contrary, he emphasized their potential to complement one another’s progress, provided that their direction remains aligned with the coalition’s original objectives.
In his view, both facets could work in harmony without diverting from the coalition’s core purpose.
A former student activist, Mr Wong received a nomination from the Malaysian human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) to run for the Deputy Chairperson position.
Currently serving as a case management and campaign coordinator at SUARAM, Mr Wong expressed that his involvement in the coalition was aimed at bolstering BERSIH’s existing mission.
He clarified, “My intention isn’t to dismiss all of BERSIH’s efforts throughout these years but rather to enhance its mission.”
When asked if he intended to contest the position of BERSIH’s Chairperson as well, he confirmed that he would not be participating in that by-election.
The candidates vying for the BERSIH’s Chairperson position will be disclosed on the nomination day, which is set for 9 Dec.
Thomas Fann advocates diverse avenues for reform beyond protest rallies in Bersih’s evolution
Mr Fann in his statement acknowledged that organizing protest rallies has been a fundamental aspect of BERSIH’s roots as a people’s movement and a crucial democratic right.
He emphasized that it’s just one among several channels available to advocate for reforms.
“In a changed political environment post 14th general election (GE14) after Barisan Nasional (BN)/Umno was toppled, other effective channels of engagement had opened up and BERSIH under my leadership in the past five years had utilised those channels effectively and achieved impactful outcomes.
“By definition, a people’s movement can only thrive if there is a groundswell of support for an idea by a vast number of the population, ” Mr Fann added.
“For Bersih in its pre-GE14 years, that idea was regime change, even if it was not necessarily the intention of all the Bersih steering committee members then. The yearning by a vast segment for regime change was satisfied when BN was defeated and Pakatan Harapan (PH) won in 2018. ”
“To many, the mission was accomplished. There was little interest in Bersih post-GE14, even among civil society actors. ”
Thomas Fann: Bersih’s shift from People’s Movement post-GE14
Thomas Fann believed that Bersih’s identity as a vibrant people’s movement ceased to exist on May 10, 2018, the day following GE14, when the Malaysian voters entrusted Pakatan Harapan with the mandate to overthrow the long-standing incumbent coalition, Barisan Nasional.
Adding to that, Fann said Bersih is just a tool of history, doing the right thing at the right season.
“That season is over and has been for a long time,” he said.
As he steps down, Fann said it is only fair for Yan Ke and his team of young and veteran leaders committed to ‘revitalising Bersih as a people’s movement’ to have a free hand to take Bersih to the direction they see fit in the next two years.
“For me, to serve in Bersih is to serve the interest of all segments of the Malaysian public regardless of their ethnicity, religion, region or party affiliation,” he said.
BERSIH, one of the largest civil society coalitions in Malaysia, was officially formed on 23 November 2006, through a joint communiqué involving leaders from political parties, civil society groups, and NGOs.
The BERSIH movement has significantly shaped Malaysia’s political landscape by persistently accusing the Election Commission under the Prime Minister’s Department of manipulating the electoral process to favour the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition.
The first BERSIH rally in 2007 mobilized over 50,000 Malaysians onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur, advocating for transparent and fair elections just before the 12th General Election.
This rally galvanized momentum for change, leading opposition parties to secure control of five state governments—a pivotal moment in Malaysian political history.
The coalition underwent a transformation in April 2010, reemerging as a solely civil society movement known as “Bersih 2.0,” detached from any political affiliations.
Subsequent mass protests organized by BERSIH sustained this impact, raising public awareness and ultimately contributing to the collapse of the half-century-long rule of the Barisan Nasional in May 2018.
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