In the seven years Ramlan Surbakti served as deputy chief of the Indonesian Election Commission (EC), he never once criticised any political parties.
"I could not make a statement publicly to support or criticise participants of election - government or opposition. I could not say anything that the public would perceive as partisan," he said.

Ramlan, who is one fifth of the Bersih People's Tribunal international panel, said this in response to the testimony of Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan, which detailed alleged bias of the Malaysian EC.

Among others, Ambiga had provide a record of public statements made by EC officials which reflected a lack of independence from the ruling party and that they refused to institute a form of caretaker government.

"They appeared they were taking instructions from the government which shouldn't have been the case especially since the PSC (parliamentary select committee on electoral reform) had recommended the guidelines," she testified.

Concurring with Ambiga, the tribunal's conducting officer Gurdial Singh Nijar said EC deputy chief Wan Ahmad Wan Omar had repeatedly made deeply partisan statements and often resorted to name-calling.

"He called Ambiga 'the destroyer of democracy' and will not deal with Bersih, he also labeled the opposition leader 'king of slander', aside from the arrogance, it is a clear abdication of duty," he said, triggering laughter from the gallery.

'EC has constraints too'

Panel member Mavis Puthucheary later interjected and implored that the panel recognise the constraints of the EC as well.

"The EC has decided to take a narrow role... saying that they cannot do this and that. The EC is highly centralised and it is difficult for them," she said.

Mavis, an associate professor on politics and public administration, said this fact must be recognised in order for the tribunal to provide proper proposals to improve the EC.

The panel is led by Kenyan constitutional expert Yash Pal Ghai, who is currently attached with the United Nations. The other two members are former diplomat Azzat Kamaludin and former Council of Churches Malaysia head Rev Herman Shastri.

The tribunal, a people's initiative, has no legal standing but the organiser, Bersih had said that it will provide the public the moral high ground and authority on election issues.

Today is the last of the five day of the tribunal hearing. A report will be produced in three months.

~ Malaysiakini