Sunday 24 June 2012

S'pore denies alleged role in Bersih rally in KL

MFA confirms officers were present, but only as 'impartial observers'
By Phua Mei Pin and Lester Kong, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

SINGAPORE has refuted allegations that it was trying to interfere in Malaysia's domestic politics, after several of its diplomats were spotted at a recent protest in Kuala Lumpur.

The Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday confirmed some of its officers were present at the Bersih rally in April, but stressed they were there as 'impartial observers' carrying out their duty to monitor political developments.

'The allegations that the Singapore Government is trying to interfere in Malaysia's domestic politics are baseless,' said a spokesman for the MFA.

The comments came after reports surfaced on Malaysian websites earlier this week alleging that three Singapore diplomats were 'actively participating' in the rally held in KL on April 28. Organised by Bersih, a coalition of groups calling for clean and fair elections, the rally resulted in violence and more than 500 arrests.

The online posts accused the Singapore Government of interfering in Malaysia's politics, while bloggers urged their government to send Singapore a protest note.

Their reports were picked up by Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia, which then insinuated in a commentary that Singapore was trying to topple the Malaysian government.

Yesterday afternoon, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman summoned Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong to express his displeasure over the issue.

In a statement issued later, he said it was 'an inappropriate move' for foreign diplomats to take part in the illegal rally.

'Such (an) inappropriate move had indeed given rise to negative perceptions on the bilateral relationship between Malaysia and Singapore when in actual fact the ties between the two neighbours and as partners in Asean are expanding,' he said.

Mr Anifah also said his ministry would take 'stronger diplomatic actions' against diplomats who stepped beyond 'diplomatic norms' and Malaysian law.

He also said he had called his Singapore counterpart, Mr K. Shanmugam. 'During that positive telephone conversation, the Foreign Minister of Singapore and I agreed to move the constructive efforts forward to further strengthen the relations and cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore,' he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak too commented on the issue, but said the government would check if there was any truth in the reports before deciding what to do.'What is most important is we want to determine the veracity of the reports, whether they attended as observers or in order to participate in the demonstration,' he told reporters.

Singapore's MFA said its officers attended the rally as 'part of their normal professional diplomatic duties'. It also rebutted allegations that one of them had worn a yellow T-shirt - Bersih's colour.

Said MFA: 'They specifically did not wear yellow to avoid being mistaken as rally participants. They were observers. They also avoided Merdeka Square, which had been declared out of bounds by the Malaysian authorities.

'These are legitimate duties of diplomats to observe political developments in their countries of posting.'

The spokesman also noted that other foreign diplomats had also been present to observe the rally, and added that diplomats also monitored such events to get an understanding of ground conditions so that they could offer consular advice and assistance to their citizens in that country.

Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia also wrote to Utusan Malaysia to rebut its allegations as 'patently false'.

'We do not take any actions to affiliate ourselves with any political entity (for example, in our comments or dressing). The Singapore Government does not interfere in any country's political processes,' it said.

It also addressed allegations that Singaporeans were involved in a training session for polling and counting agents in Singapore in May. Bloggers said Singaporeans were interfering in Malaysian elections.

But the Singapore offshoot of Bersih, which organised the session, called these allegations 'ridiculous'. In a press statement, it stressed that the workshop was 'a Malaysian event, organised by Malaysians, for Malaysians only'.

MFA also said Singapore did not allow foreigners to engage in political activity here, noting that it had rejected an application to hold a Bersih rally in Singapore.

Some bloggers had called for a rally outside the Singapore High Commission in KL yesterday, but no one showed up.

What Singapore and KL say

'Our officers were present at the Bersih 3.0 rally as impartial observers. This is part of their normal professional diplomatic duties. They specifically did not wear yellow to avoid being mistaken as rally participants.

They were observers... These are legitimate duties of diplomats to observe political developments in their countries of posting.

A diplomatic officer is expected to be updated on host country developments and to understand situations and sentiments on the ground.'
- Singapore MFA spokesman, explaining the presence of MFA officers at the Bersih rally

'I understand that all diplomatic missions in Malaysia have the responsibilities to monitor developments in this country and report to their respective governments. Nevertheless, I at the same time believe that diplomats must be mindful of the sensitivities of the host country and how countries in our part of the world maintain good relations for common good.

I also believe that diplomats need not be directly involved in the illegal procession.'
- Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, in a statement issued after he summoned Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong

'That is within the purview of the Foreign Minister, but what is most important is we want to determine the veracity of the reports, whether they attended as observers or in order to participate in the demonstration. This is the fact we must determine.'
- Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, when asked whether the Malaysian government would send a protest note to Singapore

* Other foreign envoys at Bersih rally too
Diplomats say it is part of their job; some surprised at criticism of S'pore
By Teo Cheng Wee, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2012

KUALA LUMPUR - The foreign missions of at least a dozen nations sent their diplomats to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to monitor the Bersih 3.0 rally in April, Western diplomatic sources said.

They saw it as part of their responsibility to monitor political trends and key events in their host country.

'An event like Bersih is a big occasion. You will certainly want to see, to get your own impression of the atmosphere and the size of the crowd,' said one senior diplomat, who requested anonymity.

Checks by The Straits Times with five Western embassies revealed that they had sent diplomats or other embassy staff to report on the rally, although all the people contacted said they took care not to be identified with the protesters in any way.

'Our jobs are not that much different from journalists'. It's important that we get a feel of the ground, to understand what's happening, so we can be as objective as possible in our reports,' said one Western diplomat.

The Malaysian government's open criticism of Singaporean diplomats for attending the rally came as a surprise to some in the diplomatic corps here.

Last Friday, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman summoned Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong to express his displeasure over the alleged 'active participation' of three Singaporean diplomats in a demonstration in April.

One of the biggest gatherings here in years, the Bersih protest attracted tens of thousands of supporters calling for clean and fair elections.

Last week, an anonymous Malaysian blogger claimed the Singaporean diplomats had donned the Bersih movement's yellow colours at the rally, and accused the Singapore Government of interfering in Malaysia's politics.

In a statement, Mr Anifah said the actions of the Singaporean diplomats were 'inappropriate' and added that his ministry might take 'stronger diplomatic actions'. Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the allegations, saying its officers were 'impartial observers' carrying out their professional duties.

Besides protests, diplomats attend political party conventions and political rallies. During key dates of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial, Western diplomats were often sighted in the gallery of the courthouse.

The diplomats said they would monitor the case of the Singaporean diplomats, but added that it is unlikely to affect their work. One, however, said he might seek official clarification from the Foreign Ministry before attending events in future.

Some Malaysians have questioned their government's response to the incident.

Summoning the High Commissioner is 'a serious move that should not be used lightly', especially since there were no signs that the Singaporean diplomats took part in the rally, a commentary in the Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily said.

Former New Straits Times group editor Kadir Jasin said there was no need to get too emotional about the presence of Singapore diplomats at the rally.

'What is there to make such a big fuss, have they not been sending representatives for years to survey, monitor and report on Umno, PAS and PKR general assemblies and various political activities?' he wrote on his blog. 'That is their job.'

Yesterday, Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the case would be handled by the home ministries of both countries.

***** Update *****

Malaysian High Commission clears the air
THE High Commission of Malaysia wishes to clarify the issues relating to the participation of Singapore's diplomats at the Bersih rally ('Leave historical baggage behind' by Mr Toh Cheng Seong, 'Protests not the way to resolve issues' by Mr Jeffrey Law and 'One Malaysian's wish for his country...' by Mr Matthew Lee; Thursday).

First, it is important to recognise the difference between the action taken by the Malaysian government and the acts of certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs)/interest groups.

While the Malaysian government had called the High Commissioner of Singapore to address the issue diplomatically, the NGOs and other interest groups' reaction was not surprising, considering the sentiments involved, and was just as anticipated, as were the responses expressed by the letter writers.

Second, there is also a need to appreciate the minor but nevertheless significant differences attached to the issues of diplomats attending a legitimate rally and an illegal one.

Malaysia, as a democratic country, has never restricted or prevented anyone from participating in any legitimate assembly.

But it is important to remember that Bersih was an illegal one.

Not only would foreign citizens' participation in a local illegal rally generate speculation on the motive for their involvement, but the host government would also be accountable should the diplomats become victims of violent acts during the demonstration.

This is why Malaysian diplomats are continually reminded to be mindful not to participate in any illegal activities while serving abroad.

Third, Malaysia appreciates the Singapore Government's decision to reject the application from certain groups in support of Bersih in Singapore, which was a friendly gesture that surely was in Singapore's best interest as well.

Fourth, there is no truth in the assertion that Malaysians still think of Singapore as an 'adik'. Many Malaysians were born after or have very little experience with the separation. To them, Singapore has always been a separate, independent country from Malaysia.

Furthermore, the success of its closest neighbours is important to Malaysia, as we are clearly aware that prosperity can be achieved only when our neighbours are also doing well.

The prime ministers of both countries are also visionary enough to have left the historical baggage behind, as attested by recent encouraging developments in bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Last but not least, the High Commission wishes every success to all Malaysians who have adopted Singapore as their homeland or are merely making a successful living in Singapore.

It rejoices in their success and when they are ready, we will always welcome them to share their expertise and experience to drive Malaysia to greater achievements.
Nik Ady Arman
Counsellor (Political)
High Commission of Malaysia in Singapore
ST Forum, 30 Jun 2012

Leave historical baggage behind
IT IS unfortunate that at a time when relations between Singapore and Malaysia are at their best in over 30 years, certain quarters from across the Causeway have once again resorted to turning the city-state into a whipping boy as a distraction from their domestic challenges ('Malaysian group demands recall of S'pore diplomats'; Tuesday).

Diplomats from other countries were also present at the Bersih rally on April 28.

Why hasn't Malaysia summoned their ambassadors to express its displeasure as well?

Does Malaysia send its diplomats to attend opposition rallies here? If so, can it explain the difference between that and the presence of Singaporean diplomats at the Bersih rally?

Clearly, Kuala Lumpur does not appreciate Singapore's decision to reject an application by some Malaysians to hold a similar protest at Speakers' Corner in support of the Bersih movement.

Otherwise, a phone call between the Foreign Ministers of both countries to clarify the issue would have sufficed.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has said that his government would like to determine the veracity of reports about Singapore's 'interference' in Malaysian politics.

I look forward to his apology if the allegations are found to be baseless.

As he knows, relations between both countries would be better off without any historical baggage, including the 'abang-adik' (older brother-younger brother) attitude of some Malaysians towards Singapore.
Toh Cheng Seong
ST Forum, 28 Jun 2012 

Protests not the way to resolve issues
DEMONSTRATIONS are not the appropriate way to resolve diplomatic issues between countries ('Malaysian group demands recall of S'pore diplomats'; Tuesday).

Within a week, two separate protests were staged in the region: one in Jakarta where demonstrators attacked the Malaysian Embassy ('Riots erupt as culture controversy worsens'; Sunday); and the other involved Malay supremacy group Perkasa, whose members protested outside the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

As Asean members, we must avoid regressing to a situation where it becomes the norm to organise protests to voice disapproval and unhappiness over issues such as interference in political affairs, cultural heritage and territorial claims.

Whatever their differences, it is important for countries to iron out any difficulties, and move on thereafter.

Burning of national flags, slogan shouting and resorting to violence can only worsen matters. Such acts are not conducive to the strengthening of the Asean identity and belonging among the people of the region.

Hence, it is imperative for the respective Foreign Affairs Ministry officials to be in close contact and discussions with one another when contentious issues arise, and take prompt and proper measures to pre-empt any demonstrations or protests.
Jeffrey Law
ST Forum, 28 Jun 2012 

One Malaysian's wish for his country...
AS A Malaysian, I am disgusted by some of my fellow citizens' actions over the Bersih rally issue ('Malaysian group demands recall of S'pore diplomats'; Tuesday).

Singapore was not the only country that sent observers to the rally on April 28.

It is obvious that these protesters are picking on Singapore out of envy.

Instead of being envious of Singapore, I chose to come here and become part of its success story.

My wish for Malaysia is that it emulates Singapore's success story, instead of bringing up issues that are unproductive and irrelevant.
Matthew Lee
ST Forum, 28 Jun 2012

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