The Bersih co-chairman said the move was part of the group’s response to the failure by local authorities and national leaders to condemn and stop the recent escalation of political violence.
“It is incumbent upon the lawmakers to come out to condemn it (political violence), it’s endemic,” she told a press conference at the launch of the coalition’s “Reject Political Violence” campaign at the KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall here.
“Silence is not an option,” the former Bar Council president said, adding that inaction against the violence was tantamount to “participation in the act of violence” itself.
Ambiga said it had become standard practice by national leaders to absolve themselves from the violent conduct of their supporters despite agreeing to ethical conduct during elections.
Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, along with leaders from BN component parties, recently signed Transparency International-Malaysia’s Election Integrity Pledge, in a move they claimed displayed their seriousness in playing fair in the upcoming polls.
But Najib and his coalition have come under heavy fire for their muted response to several violent attacks on the opposition, allegedly perpetrated by BN supporters or members of hardline groups linked to Umno, the ruling coalition’s Malay lynchpin.
At the press conference, Bersih listed down several violent incidents that have taken place since January including physical assaults on Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Johor where purported Umno members threw stones, woods and firecrackers.
We remind all sides that political violence is a violation of not only the rights of the candidates contesting in the elections, but also that of voters. — Bersih 2.0
At another incident in Pahang last month, Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, was almost physically assaulted by Umno supporters and although her supporters managed to prevent it, the PKR vice-president continued to be verbally abused.
On March 12, suspected Umno members were again implicated in a violent attack against the opposition, including a threat to torch PKR’s headquarters just days after the party’s leadership alleged assault by BN supporters in Malacca.
Members from right-wing groups pelted rocks, sticks and traffic cones on the PKR building. A few torched the party’s flag. The incident took place under police observation. No action, however, was taken.
PKR leaders have blamed the police’s “soft” response to previous such incidents for the escalating violence, saying their inaction as well as the silence from the Attorney-General’s Chambers had encouraged and emboldened Umno supporters to attack their PR counterparts.
Party strategy director Rafizi Ramli recently said that police inaction had forced Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders to hold Najib, who has been silent on the matter, responsible for the violence.
Bersih leaders today called the use of violence as political tool is a form of dirty politics.
“Bersih 2.0 is appalled that political leaders are condoning the violence by making excuses for the perpetrators or by staying silent. We remind all sides that political violence is a violation of not only the rights of the candidates contesting in the elections, but also that of voters,” the group said in a statement.
Ambiga said the group will be releasing a model code of conduct for candidates contesting in Election 2013 as part of its campaign to ensure clean and fair elections.
Those found violating the code of conduct will be publicly “named and shamed” through social media sites like Twitter, she said.
Observers believe Election 2013 will be the country’s tightest race to date. BN lost its two-thirds supermajority in the last national polls and five states.
Najib is facing tremendous pressure to restore the ruling coalition’s strong mandate. Incidentally, observers said the upcoming polls will likely be the “dirtiest”.