Ambiga tells of her ‘lawyerly revolt’

By Clare Rewcastle Brown, FMT

Over the weekend, Bersih 2.0 chairman Ambiga Sreenivasan drew a big draw in London, bringing enthusiastic audiences to a fund-raising dinner and to listen to speeches.

The Bersih 2.0 rally had produced an excellent sympathy turnout over here in July, with several hundred marchers clad in yellow making the walk from the Malaysian High Commission over to Trafalgar Square.

The time difference between the two regions made the London event especially poignant, because by the time it got going news had already come through about what had happened to friends back home.

This weekend was the first chance for many to receive a first-hand account of what took place and from the leader of the event herself.

Ambiga manages a rare combination. She is a highly formidable female, but also warm and engaging.

She laid out with clarity and objectivity why she had led her lawyerly revolt.

For us who had been so far away it was a welcome analysis.

Bersih’s concerns had been sparked off by their observation of the Sarawak state election, she explained.

To their horror they witnessed “the dirtiest election ever” with “out and out vote buying”, “intimidation”, “phantom votes” and all the paraphernalia of rigged elections.

The fact that modern technology meant there was solid, recorded evidence of plenty of cheating meant that, in Ambiga’s view, the Election Commission had a constitutional duty to investigate and take action.

However, to her dismay the Election Commission did nothing.

EC’s wilful ignorance

As a former leader of the Malaysian Bar Council, Ambiga couches her arguments in the language of the law and not politics.

Throughout (her speech), she made clear that her core concerns are about the abuse of legality and of Malaysia’s constitution.

She explained how Bersih had appealed to all political parties on the issue, but that support had come only from the opposition.

Yet, her most withering criticism was directed towards officials of the Election Commission for their persistent attacks on the opposition and their refusal to investigate fraud.

“The Election Commissioners just don’t understand that under the constitution they are supposed to be independent of the government,” she sighed.

There can be nothing more frustrating for a lawyer than such wilful ignorance by those who have responsibility for upholding the rule of law.