Fann quits as Bersih chairman says ‘cannot lead a divided
Fann quits as Bersih chairman says ‘cannot lead a divided

Fann quits as Bersih chairman, says ‘cannot lead a divided committee’

PETALING JAYA: Electoral watchdog Bersih chairman Thomas Fann has tendered his resignation on Sunday (Nov 19) due to “a vote of no confidence from a divided steering committee pulling in opposite directions”.

In his resignation letter dated today, Fann said that while his new deputy Wong Yan Ke wanted to return Bersih as a people’s movement, as the chairman, he wanted to lead Bersih to become a people’s institution.

Fann said that although he had won uncontested as the chairman of Bersih for the 2023-2025 term 10 days ago during the polling of the Bersih Steering Committee (SC), his efforts to evolve Bersih into a people’s institution were rejected by the majority of endorsing NGOs of Bersih.

“Bersih’s viability as a people’s movement ended on May 10, 2018, the next day after GE14. It could either ‘close shop’, evolve into a political party (though that opportunity had long passed) or evolve into an advocacy institution to go beyond regime change and focus on changing the system. You can only be a people’s movement if there are people behind you.

“In good conscience, I cannot lead a divided SC that is pulling in opposite directions or defy the will of the majority of the endorsing NGOs. Neither could I go against my own conviction and lead Bersih in its attempt to become a people’s movement again when I believe that Bersih’s future is for it to be an institution that is actively and constructively contributing ideas and solutions to strengthen our parliamentary democracy.

“In light of this reality, I hereby tender my resignation as Chairperson of Bersih with a two-month notice.

“The results for the five contested positions of deputy chair, treasurer and three committee member posts were won by all four candidates led by Wong, who stood against the team I had put forward, except for one committee member post won by Aira Azhari who came in third.

“The rejection of my team that was led by Ngeow Chow Ying (outgoing Treasurer) by the majority of the NGOs in this actively contested election that saw a record 50 out of 60 endorsing NGOs participating (83.3%), was a clear message to me that my vision and direction for Bersih was rejected. It was a vote of no confidence.

“From the official statements of the two teams that contested in this election, it was also clear that two visions of Bersih were offered. My team campaigned on continuity to evolve Bersih into a people’s Institution while Yan Ke and those who campaigned for him pushed for a restoration of Bersih to its roots as a people’s movement, presumably with organising protests as one of its main tools to connect with the grassroots, the people.

“I see this as two opposing visions for Bersih, one proffered by the Chairperson and the other by his Deputy. While Wong’s team, with four seats in the nine member-SC, does not necessarily represent the majority of the SC, he does have the mandate of the majority of the endorsing NGOs who voted.

“As much as his team and those who helped secure their victory are committed to restoring Bersih as a People’s Movement, I am committed to evolving Bersih to become a People’s Institution,” said Fann.

He further stated that while he believed that organising rallies has been Bersih’s roots, it is just one of many channels to advocate reforms.

“In a changed political environment post GE14 after Barisan Nasional and Umno were toppled, other effective channels of engagement had opened up and Bersih, under my leadership in the past five years, had utilised those channels effectively and achieved impactful outcomes.

“A people’s movement can only thrive if there is a groundswell of support for an idea by a vast number of the population.

“For Bersih in its pre-GE14 years, that idea was regime change, even if it was not necessarily the intention of all the Bersih SC members then.

“The yearning by a vast segment for regime change was satisfied when Barisan was defeated and Pakatan Harapan (Pakatan) won in 2018. To many, the mission was accomplished. There was little interest in Bersih post-GE14, even among civil society actors.

“It is normal to lose your momentum or support because most people’s movements don’t last beyond a few years or sometimes even months. I harbour no illusion that Bersih’s past successes as a People’s Movement were due to the efforts of the SC or the NGOs.

“Rather, it was because of the mass support we received to demand change during that period. We Bersih were just a tool of history, doing the right thing at the right season. That season is over and has been for a long time,” said Fann.

Stating that it has been a great honour to serve Bersih for the past term, Fann will remain as the caretaker chairman for the next two months to ensure a smooth transition of Bersih to the new SC.

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