Opposition Renews Call For Government To Clean Up Electoral System

Opposition members and social activists urged the Malaysian government Tuesday (18 Dec) to reform the electoral system, renewing a demand made at a massive rally last month that police crushed with tear gas and water cannons.

But unlike the 10 Nov rally when about 30,000 people marched through Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday's event was attended by only 20 people who gathered outside the Prime Minister's Office in the quiet administrative capital, Putrajaya.

They handed out copies of a memorandum urging Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to eliminate election irregularities ahead of national polls widely expected to be called early next year.

"There is an urgent need for reform to take place immediately. … Democracy must be reinstated," said spokesman Dzulkifli Ahmad, an official with the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

Dzulkifli said the group, a coalition of opposition parties and nongovernment organizations known as Bersih, would keep pressing for reforms despite what many view as a crackdown on dissent.

Bersih has protested a recent constitutional amendment that extends the tenure of the Election Commission chief, whom the opposition claims is biased. They have also alleged the electoral roll contains irregularities, such as names of people who are falsely registered to vote or who have died.

The government says the claims are baseless.

Authorities have effectively banned all street demonstrations by Bersih and other activists since the Nov. 10 rally, the first time in nearly a decade that so many people had turned out in the streets to protest. They were driven away by police firing tear gas and water cannons.

The Bersih rally was followed by another demonstration by some 20,000 ethnic Indians 25 Nov to protest alleged racial discrimination.

Five ethnic Indian activists have since been jailed under a law that allows indefinite detention without trial. Another 17 who participated in the Bersih rally have been charged with illegal assembly. (AP)