Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bersih rally: Stalemate over stadium

K Pragalath | July 6, 2011

Bersih wants Stadium Merdeka, but the stadium says it has other events planned for that day. Now the ball is in the PM's court.

PETALING JAYA: Another stalemate is in the making over the controversial Bersih 2.0 rally scheduled for July 9 – this time over Stadium Merdeka.

This morning, Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan said the coalition decided to hold its rally in the iconic stadium, where the nation’s independence was proclaimed more than five decades ago.

However, the stadium’s booking officer has rejected the request.

In an earlier press conference, Ambiga said she is confident that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will agree to the rally being held in Stadium Merdeka.

“We decided it will be in Stadium Merdeka from 2pm-4pm. A delegation of not more than 10 members of the Bersih 2.0 steering committee will then go to Istana Negara to hand over a memorandum,” she added.

Asked on Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim’s offer yesterday for Bersih to use the Shah Alam stadium, committee member Dr P Subramaniam justified the choice (of Stadium Merdeka) based on the easy access to public transport.

Ambiga also told the press that the committee hopes to meet Najib today to obtain a green light for the event on Saturday.

The former Bar Council president also extended her invitation to Umno Youth to join the rally.

“We are inviting all to join, including Umno Youth. We are willing to discuss with the wing,” said Ambiga in response to a question on Umno Youth Khairy Jamaluddin’s offer to discuss the issue.

‘Perkasa also welcome’

Asked about Perkasa which is against Bersih, she said: “If Perkasa supports Bersih, they are most welcome.”

Bersih 2.0 also called for the release of all those detained in connection with the rally, and demanded that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) be set up to look into electoral reforms.

“The RCI was raised during our meeting with the King (yesterday),” Ambiga said, adding that the RCI should be made up of individuals of high calibre representing all the stakeholders.

On the detention of the six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) activists under the Emergency Ordinance, Ambiga urged the authorities to “charge them in court or release them immediately”.

“Stop the harassment and pressure,” she said in reference to the arrests made by the police on Bersih supporters.

Bersih also demanded that all eight demands for free and fair elections be fulfilled before the 13th general election.

The demands include electoral roll clean-up, postal vote reforms, and minimum 21-day campaign period.

“All these are doable. We also have long-term reform plans,” said Ambiga without elaborating.

Stadium says no

In a statement issued later, the steering committee said it is disappointed that the stadium’s booking officer cited “unclear reasons” to turn down the coalition’s application.

“We are disappointed that the booking officer in question began providing a number of excuses as to why the booking cannot be made.

“Among the reasons provided were ‘internal management sports event’ and ‘renovations’ – these despite that until very recently, there were plans to hold the ‘Konsert Raksasa 2′ on July 9.”

However, the committee said that it will not back down.

“We have decided that Stadium Merdeka is the only location that appropriately meets these criteria and take the firm position that to demonstrate his sincerity and good faith, the prime minister must as a matter of honour make good on his offer to let us use an appropriate stadium immediately.”

Calling it an unacceptable effort to frustrate Bersih 2.0, the coalition however is optimistic that Najib’s administration will give it the go ahead.

“We have no doubt that the strong leadership by the top executive will not tolerate any procedural obstacles to a speedy approval.”

In a related development, Umno information chief Ahmad Maslan was reported as objecting to Bersih 2.0 using Stadium Merdeka.

After an audience with the King yesterday, Bersih 2.0 announced that it would hold its rally indoors and not take it to the streets.

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