‘A question of moral authority’
Like most Malaysians, S Ambiga's patience is also wearing thin over the prime minister's feet-dragging in dissolving Parliament.
VIDEO INSIDEKUALA LUMPUR: At one point when the prime minister’s rating was up, speculation was rife about a snap polls. But now, the nation is left wondering if the general election would ever be called.
Like most Malaysians, S Ambiga’s patience was also wearing thin. And she warned that each sunset further eclipsed the present administration’s moral right to govern.
The Bersih co-chairperson, without the slightest hesitation, pointed to a lack of confidence when quizzed on the reasons behind Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s feet-dragging.
“We have been waiting for this election for the longest time and Malaysians are truly fed up.
“As I have said before, this ongoing delay would work against the present government, simply because you cannot keep people guessing for so long,” she told FMT in an exclusive interview.
Stressing the importance of the March 8 date, which five years ago witnessed Barisan Nasional suffering its worst ever electoral setback, Ambiga said Malaysians had expected the 13th general election to be held before or around that period.
“We know now that is not going to happen, timing wise,” she added.
Ambiga said that the date was an important aspect despite the prime minister and his Cabinet having until April 28 to remain in office.
“Of course, under the Federal Constitution, Parliament carries on for five years from the date of the first meeting… so they can carry on until April 28, at which time it [Parliament] dissolves automatically.
“But my own view is whether this government has the moral authority to carry on for a long time after March 8… there is a psychological factor with Malaysians in relation to that date,” she added.
Ambiga said she was aware of the reports which claimed that the delay was due to the government transformation programme, candidates list, issues in relation to the manifesto and so forth.
“I am sorry, none of that washes with me. You have been preparing for this election for two years, you cannot say now that you are not ready. That too is not a very good sign.
“So I can only attribute the delay to a lack of confidence… and I think they should get on with it. A lot of Malaysians would be relieved when the date of the dissolution is announced because it means that we can get on with our lives,” she added.
Ambiga also cautioned the Election Commission against pushing the polls further using the 60-day window period from the date of the dissolution as provided by the law.
“I think it would be unwise. We don’t know what operates in the mind of the EC. I hope they would be independent about this, they have not been independent about much before this,” she said.
Najib must stand firm
As for Najib inking the Election Integrity Pledge, Ambiga said while it was commendable that the prime minister had set the tone, he however needed to consider the wordings in the document, especially with regard to ethical conduct.
“Ethical conduct also means the way you run your campaign, the things that you say. Recently, there had been utterances by certain members of Parliament… it looks to me as if they are not really practising ethical conduct.
“So I think this is something that they really need to think about. I was happy when the prime minister signed it [the pledge] because I thought ‘fine,we would now see an end to political violence and we would now see a more professional way of handling the elections, where members of parliament behave better’… but I am not seeing it happening,” she added.
Therefore, the Bersih leader called on Najib to issue a strong statement on political violence, which had become a common occurrence in the run-up to what was considered to be a pivotal general election.
“So for me, signing this pledge is one thing. There are actually many things which the prime minister can say and do from now to show that he means what he says in the pledge,” she added.
In the document, under the words “I am signing this Election Integrity Pledge because”, Najib wrote: “I believe that as the BN leader, I have to set a strong tone. Only a candidate who is deemed to have fought a clean and fair election would lead to a trustworthy government respected by the people.”
Reject racist and sexist politicians
Ambiga also urged Malaysians not to allow racist and sexist politicians to walk though the doors of Parliament as elected representatives.
“I have sat in Parliament and heard the level of the debates, it was extremely low, people shouted at each other a lot. I remember in one session, schoolchildren were there to observe the process. I was thoroughly ashamed that schoolchildren were watching that,” she said.
Although the former Bar Council president did not advocate using the Sedition Act against those who stoked racial and religious flames, she however noted that the law seemed to be invoked on a selective basis and even used against lesser evils.
Once again, she called on the prime minister to stand firm on this as well.
Responding to a question, Ambiga also shared her personal views on Najib’s endorsement of Abdul Taib Mahmud, the controversial Sarawak Chief Minister accused of numerous misdeeds.
“Going by the [integrity] pledge, issues of transparency, good governance, no corruption, I would have thought you would have to choose all your candidates very carefully.
“I think we all know what is in the public domain and if the chief minister stands up to scrutiny on the issues of corruption and abuse of power,” she added.
Anger brewing in Sabah
Commenting on the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the issuance of identity cards to foreigners in Sabah, Ambiga said it was nothing new but the revelations on the process was spine-chilling.
“I understand that people are now trying to suggest that the whole IC issue in Sabah was a result of corrupt immigration officials who were out to make money, and that was all there is to it.
“I would be very careful to draw that kind of conclusion because ultimately we need to answer the question why were they on the electoral roll instantly as well. Clearly there was a plan,” she added.
Ambiga said that the officials were aware of this issue even before the RCI started probing the matter.
“So my question is, what were they doing all these years when they knew the electoral roll had these issues. There appears to be evidence coming out that people were voting with red ICs,” she added.
Reiterating that it was not something new, Ambiga however pointed out that Sabahans were becoming increasingly vocal, despondent and disillusioned over the issue.
“So whether the tipping point has arrived and whether they want to make a difference in this election, is something that we have to just wait and see,” she said when asked if the RCI findings could tip the scales in favour of the opposition.