Bersih leader Ambiga Sreenevasan is willing to be jailed for her beliefs.
Speaking on to Yahoo! Malaysia readers via the digital media company’s Question Time live chat session, the civil rights and electoral reforms activist said she had at one point been carrying her toothbrush in her handbag as a precautionary measure, because she was expecting to be arrested at any time.
She said Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi was her role model, but added that she was in no position to be compared to the Myanmar leader.
Ambiga also said violence during the April 28 Bersih 3.0 demonstration was caused by the actions and response of the police towards the thousands of people who had gathered around Dataran Merdeka.
She was responding to a question on whether she had any regrets about the Bersih rally.
While admitting that Bersih 3.0 leadership is looking at what they could have done better during the protest, she said the question should be posed to the government instead of Bersih.
“As far as we are concerned, the number of people who turned up surpassed our expectations, but they were peaceful at all times. But if police had only held back, we would have dispersed and cleaned up. Ultimately, public safety is the responsibility of the police.
“I think I should not be answering that question (of who caused violence). The government should answer. They should have reacted differently. Over 900 canisters of tear gas shot into a retreating crowd.
“Having unleashed that force, it does
not lie in their mouths - of government and police - to then say participants
became violent,” she said, during the one-and-a-half hour-long chat session which drew over 18,000 views from readers.
Ambiga also denied that her electoral reform movement was hijacked by opposition politicians.
Here are excerpts from the chat:
Joshua Lopez: Dear Dato, I strongly believe that Anwar used YOU and your Bersih efforts as his Political Tool. It is him that has gotten everyone to question whether BERSIH and you are Apolitical or Political. What do you have to say Dato?
Ambiga Sreenevasan: I believe it is an insult to 250,000 people to say they were used. No one can hijack the agenda of Bersih 2.0. When you say Bersih 2.0, you only think of free and fair elections!"
Anura Bird: We know that the coming GE will be the dirtiest in the history of Malaysia. What will be Bersih's role during the elections?
Ambiga Sreenevasan: We are not election observers as such. However, we are conducting training for the public to be our eyes and ears and for them to report to us. See the Jom Pantau campaign. This is how we will be monitoring the elections.
SURESH : Hello Ambiga, good day. I notice recently that in most of the opposition's ceramah, your name is being used frequently especially when they attending to a large Indian crowd. What this means to you and are you comfortable with this? Thank you.
Ambiga Sreenevasan: I believe all parties are using my name, whether positively or negatively! I have always left it to people to judge. I thank those who have held events in solidarity with me in relation to recent acts of intimidation.
Pat : Much of the criticism directed at you personally has been overtly racist - has that come as a shock to you?
Ambiga Sreenevasan: It came as a shock to me last year when we had the rally on the 9th of July. However the racism has not abated. Therefore, although I was shocked as to the extent to which racism was used, it was not new to me.
Ray yee : What do you think of the current PM and his wife?
Ambiga Sreenevasan: I believe that this PM has shown that he is open to change. However, he is unable to see change through effectively, and that could be because he does not have the necessary support. Nevertheless, he is the Prime Minister, and unfortunately, the buck stops with him!
Awang : Anda seorang peguam, tetapi tindak-tanduk anda bersama BERSIH boleh disifatkan sebagai tidak menghormati undang-undang. Demontrasi jalanan hanya menyusahkan sebahagian rakyat Malaysia.TQ
Ambiga Sreenevasan: Demonstrasi jalanan merupakan antara hak asasi rakyat Malaysia di bawah Perlembagaan Persekutuan Malaysia.
(Editor's note: For full chat transcript, click here)
She also corrected the misconception that she was the lawyer representing Lina Joy in the apostasy case. On a lighter note, she shared that her dream holiday would consist of a historical destination and that visiting a spa “won’t hurt”. Ambiga was also asked about her marital status, vegetarianism and whether she bought any burgers during the protest outside her home. She didn’t buy any, and typed, “No, I am a vegetarian. They were giving them out free anyway =)”.
Earlier, she told Yahoo! Malaysia that she wanted to take part in this chat to give the Malaysians the opportunity to ask her whatever questions they had. Ambiga is the controversial leader of electoral reform group Bersih, which has been lobbying for fair and free elections for the past two years.
Her tactic of street protests has divided Malaysians, drawing huge support from some quarters, but strong criticism from others. Her leadership of the Bersih rallies – which have witnessed scenes of violence and chaos – has led to tremendous pressure and attacks against her, including protests in front of her Damansara Heights home. The government is also suing her for RM122,000 over alleged damage done to public property during the April gathering.
Ambiga is the fourth personality to feature on Yahoo! Malaysia’s Question Time chat session since it was launched in mid-2011. Other newsmakers who appeared on the session were opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, UMNO youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and pop diva Siti Nurhaliza.