Social activist and former Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah will contest in the coming general election only if Pakatan Harapan (PH) gives her a parliamentary seat.
- Maria will not join any party but contest as independent PH candidate
- Bersih deputy chair Shahrul takes over from Maria
- Activists question Bersih’s independence
- Berish reiterates it is not neutral but pro-reform
- Ambiga not contesting in GE14
- Dr M says PH undecided on Maria
“If they don’t give me a parliament seat, I won’t stand,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday at the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections’ headquarters in Petaling Jaya.
Maria said she hopes that by becoming an MP she can push the reform agenda and change the narrative in Parliament with high-quality debates.
“My sole purpose is to contest in a parliamentary seat, win, and push my agenda.
“Federal is the one that makes the decision, I need that to push my agenda into parliament,” she said.
Maria added, however, that she agreed with PH’s manifesto.
She also maintained that she will contest as an independent PH candidate and not join any of the opposition coalition’s parties to ensure that she has the independence to keep to her agenda.
According to Maria, no parties within PH have offered her a seat.
“At the moment, not really, there are no seats offered yet. Pakatan Harapan is still negotiating, so it will take them some time.
“Having Pakatan’s platform but contesting as an independent candidate will keep me focused on pushing the reform agenda,” she said, adding that she wants to avoid getting caught up in party politics.
“I should be able to put up my own position if there are certain controversial issues,” she said.
In a statement, Bersih said that Maria had tendered her resignation as chairman on March 4, and her last day was March 5.
“Bersih 2.0 thanks Maria for her contribution to the cause of free and fair elections over the last 10 years and her leadership since 2013.
“Despite harassment, threats against her and her family and detention under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) in 2015, Maria has remained resolute in carrying forward the agenda for institutional accountability and reform.
“We express our best wishes to Maria in her foray into politics and we are delighted that she has said she will push, through legislation and policy changes, reform of the electoral system and of mature democracy.
“We hope all candidates and parties will make explicit commitments to do so,” the group’s steering committee said in its statement.
The chairman’s position will be taken over by deputy chair Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari.
“By default, I will be taking over from Maria. I have done it before during the time she was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 amid the Bersih 5 rally.
“We know what to do and we will not let the years of struggle go to waste,” he said.
When asked how he felt about taking over as chairman, Shahrul said he was backed by the people.
“Making changes isn’t just something that Bersih wants on its own. All those who have been in support of institutional reforms and clean and fair elections have proven that Bersih is not fighting alone.
“It is the support and willingness of Malaysians that has proven its relevance and reason for existence.”
Asked also if Bersih would be affected by Maria leaving the committee, Shahrul said the existing committee members were prepared to keep Bersih intact.
Meanwhile, Bersih’s independence has been questioned by social activists in the wake of Maria’s announcement that she will contest in GE14.
Political columnist and a vocal supporter of #UndiRosak Hafidz Baharom said although she offered to contest as an independent under the PH banner, the perception is “definitely” that Bersih is no longer squeaky clean, The Star reported.
Hafidz noted that this is not the first time someone from the non-governmental sector joined politics.
In 1999, the late Irene Fernandez who was the former Tenaganita director became a candidate for the Subang parliamentary seat under PKR.
“However, Tenaganita did not take an anti-government stance as Bersih has been doing since last year – asking to topple a sitting prime minister,” Hafidz was quoted saying.
Moderation activist Mohamed Tawfik Ismail was quoted as saying that Maria’s move to join the opposition grouping confirmed Barisan Nasional’s suspicions that Bersih was not independent.
“It’s expected. It only confirms Barisan’s view that Bersih is led and hijacked by the Opposition,” he told an online portal.
Tawfik also questioned if Bersih 2.0 would still have the people’s support as Pakatan is led by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“What’s the future of Bersih? When it began, it rallied a broad spectrum of people.
“Now, instead of reforming the government, its leader has gone to the side of the man who inspired Bersih’s establishment – Dr Mahathir,” Tawfik told the portal.
Political analyst Kamarul Zaman Yusoff from Universiti Utara Malaysia said Maria must draw a line between activist work and politics, FMT reported.
“These two things cannot mix as contesting in the general election will mean Maria joining a political party – whether she officially joins a party or contests under the Pakatan Harapan ticket.
“Bersih 2.0 was set up as a non-partisan and non-governmental organisation to fight for clean and fair elections.
“With Maria becoming a politician, it means that she will no longer be deemed as non-partisan,” he was quoted saying.
Kamarul added that Shahrul leading the organisation in Maria’s stead would be able to neutralise perceptions that Bersih is a “pro-Chinese” NGO.
“Bersih 2.0 will then be able to reach out to other races, especially the Malays,” Kamarul was quoted saying.
Shahrul reiterated that Bersih is a non-partisan movement but that the NGO is willing to collaborate with any party that supports the agenda for democratic reforms. He added that Pakatan Harapan has lent their support to the NGO, The Star reported.
“We have always been not neutral but pro-reform. We have always been willing to work with anyone that is pro-reform.
“In all our events we have invited everyone. But there are some political blocs that do not want to align themselves with our reform agenda,” he was quoted saying.
Maria said Bersih will continue to be non-partisan.
“Bersih is never neutral, we have taken sides on any violators of democracy,” she was quoted saying.
It has been speculated that Maria will replace either PKR vice-president Tian Chua in the Batu parliamentary constituency or his party colleague, Hee Loy Sian, in Petaling Jaya Selatan.
Prominent human rights lawyer and former Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan was speculated to be also contesting in the GE14 for the Kapar or Segamat seat under the PH banner.
However, she has dispelled rumours that she will be running in the general election.
“I am not as brave as Maria Chin. I don’t know where these rumours are coming from,” Ambiga told reporters.
Meanwhile, PH chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the pact will discuss with her on her supposed candidacy in the general election.
He said PH has not settled on where she might contest in the event she is fielded for the 14th general election.
“We will have to talk to her…we have not decided anything yet.
“Because one of the things we don’t want to see is that a three-cornered fight becomes a four-cornered, five-cornered or six-cornered fight. This will only split the vote and the winner will be BN,” he told reporters during a press conference in the Parliament lobby today.
Earlier report: Mar 5, Maria to Contest in GE14