The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) is made aware of a series of videos produced by a foreign vlogger who made scurrilous allegations against us (Bersih), Malaysiakini, the #Lawan protest organisers and other pro-democracy movements in the region, that we are all funded by the US government to destabilise countries in the region with the goal of encircling and containing China by removing all the governments that are building constructive ties with China and replacing them with US-client regimes.
We unequivocally reject these allegations that are based on lies and distortions of facts by anti-US, pro-China propaganda lobbyists who seek to tarnish the US by delegitimising the struggles of citizens who live under corrupt authoritarian regimes. We do not know the motivations of this vlogger but perhaps a scan through the list of videos he produced over the years would indicate his leanings and motivations.
Bersih is a Malaysian people’s movement supported by citizens frustrated by decades of manipulation of electoral outcomes, corruption, bad policies, violations of human rights and kleptocracy. The collective aspirations of millions of Malaysians gave birth to and sustains us till today.
None of the five mass protests organised by Bersih from 2007 till the last one in 2016 was sponsored by or received any money from the US or any foreign funds, directly or indirectly. To cover the cost of organising and mobilising the public to support our rallies and their demands, we appealed to the Malaysian public, who consistently responded to us over and above our needs. These appeals are public, and we were totally transparent with the money we received and how we used them.
This latest allegation against Bersih is nothing new and has been hurled at us over our past 15 years of struggles by the previous Barisan Nasional government and their agencies like mass media outlets and pro-government NGOs, and we were investigated and had robustly refuted them.
The specific allegation by this vlogger that Bersih received funds in 2006 and 2007 from US-linked organisations is not new and had been dealt with in the Malaysian court. In 2012, the New Straits Times published in its daily newspaper and its online portal an article entitled “Plot to destabilise govt”, with the subtitle “Exposed: RM20 million paid to several Malaysian organisations since 2005”. Bersih 2.0, Suaram, CIJ and Merdeka Center took the New Straits Times to court for defamation, and on 15 November 2013, the New Straits Times published an open apology, admitting that its article was false and without foundation. You may read our press statement of that settlement apology here.
In a personal statement by our former chairperson, Ambiga Sreenevasan, on 9 December 2016, when Bersih was again under investigation and our then-chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, it was disclosed that Bersih 2.0 received two grants in 2011, one each from the Open Society Institute ($25,000) and the National Democracy Institute ($9,690). Both sums were used in election-related training workshops in rural constituencies including those in Sabah and Sarawak. You can read the statement here.
Bersih 2.0 has at all times been transparent and accountable to the Malaysian public for its source of funding and expenditure. Our accounts are audited yearly and our financial reports are open to public scrutiny. All expenses are related to the maintenance and operation of our secretariat, and all our project expenditure is related to the promotion of greater voter awareness, research and capacity building.
The issue of receiving foreign funding needs to be examined factually and rationally. It is a fact that most developed countries in the world, not just the US, set aside funds for the promotion of democracy, good governance, and human rights, and most of these funds are disbursed in small grants to groups that pursue these goals.
The questions we need to ask are whether there are strings attached to support the sponsoring countries’ geopolitical interests, the level of transparency and accountability of both the funder and those being funded, and the quantum funded, whether it is sufficient to ‘overthrow’ a government that has full access to the country’s funds and legal and enforcement apparatus?
Bersih 2.0 refuses to be lumped together with the narratives of international geopolitical contestations between the two superpowers – the US and China. Our struggles are the genuine expressions of our citizens for better governance of our country, respect for human rights and a more democratic country where our rich and diverse communities can coexist harmoniously and sovereignly, free from foreign political or economic interferences. – Bersih 2.0