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Protests in Malaysia Demand the Rise of Free Elections and the Fall of Barisan Nasional

Pro-democracy protests held this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, demonstrated very clearly that the ruling Barisan Nasional collation has not only lost legitimacy and credibility as a government, but that it must also step down in favor of free, fair, and open elections.

Formed in 1973 to replace the Perikatan alliance of parties, the Barisan Nasional was the continuation of the ruling coalition that had presided over the country since independence from the British in 1957. In spite of efforts to appear to have a democratic constitution, all institutions in Malaysia are organized to ensure Barisan Nasional and its current leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, remain in power.

The rallies, held on April 28 and 29, brought out almost 50 thousand people. Led by an opposition coalition named Bersih, the rallies were a continuation of the protests held in July, 2011, seeking changes to the corrupt electoral process in Malaysia. The demands of Bersih consisted of allowing longer campaign periods for all parties to campaign, absentee voting from Malaysians abroad, coverage of elections by non-government controlled media outlets, and implementing stricter enforcement to prevent multiple voting.

The Barisan Nasional has lost credibility for the following reasons:

1. Barisan Nasional has ruled too long.

This ruling gang has been in power, in some form or another, for almost 60 years. Single party states have demonstrated themselves to be stagnant; stifling debate and discourse. At this stage, corruption and favoritism have also taken over basic proceedings — change has become necessary after so many years.

 2. Barisan Nasional has a history of practicing voter fraud.

It is widely believed that Barisan Nasional has used electoral fraud extensively throughout its history to secure majorities in parliament. Phantom voter rolls have been a widespread problem: In some cases upwards of 60 voters have been registered in two bedroom residences. Furthermore, the Malaysian Electoral Commission recently fired hundreds of staff after they were found to be registering non-citizens, and thousands of voters, twice in different constituencies. Allowing these irregularities to occur either demonstrates Barisan Nasional was complicit, which is most likely, or incompetent. Either way they have brought to question the validity of election results and added to fears of future fraud.

3. Barisan Nasional has responded violently to public demonstration and demands for electoral reform.

The protests this weekend and in July, 2011, resulted in the use of tear gas, water cannons, large scale arrests, as well as prompting clashes with protesters to justify aggressive action. Observers from the Malaysian Bar Council specifically observed clear cases of police brutality on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur. With limitations on the ability for private media to cover electoral issues, public demonstration has become one of few outlets for public discourse. When a government resists a movement which is causing violence within the nation, it loses credibility.

 4. Barisan Nasional  has been too slow in implementing changes.

After the July 2011, protests Prime Minsiter Razak set up a bi-partisan commission; formed in October 2011, the commission was devised to review proposals for electoral reform. This was received very positively and allowed the regime to demonstrate sincere desire to correct irregularities. Tabled until April 2012, the commission made recommendations for an independent Electoral Commission; allowing mainstream media access to electoral proceedings, and cleaning up the electoral roll.

In spite of this facade of change, Bersih leaders have complained correctly that it provides no detailed steps for applying these changes, and certainly no time frames. The changes were clearly done for show, with no real intention of applying the recommendations.

Prime Minister Razak is believed to be preparing to hold early elections in the spring or summer of 2012; a decision likely made so that Barisan Nasional can be re-elected under their current system without committing to changes. The rallies revealed that there is discontent with the status quo and a public demand for reform. The Barisan Nasional has already demonstrated itself to be disingenuous and must step down and allow real democracy in Malaysia.

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