An Advocate for a Cause
On the 9th of July 2011, tens of thousands of Malaysians took to the streets to demand for electoral reforms in a peaceful rally the likes of which the nation had never seen before. This ‘Walk for Democracy’ was organised by the Coalition of Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) 2.0 which was spearheaded by none other than Ambiga Sreenevasan.
As an experienced advocate, Sreenevasan drew on her courtroom advocacy to help with what she calls her ‘street advocacy’. She used her legal experience to formulate arguments rooted in fact and law as these arguments are difficult to refute. However, when it came to speaking to the masses, there was no room for convoluted legal arguments as speeches had to be punchy, short, simple and straightforward in order to persuade people to join the cause. Strategically, timing was also imperative as one has to strike when the iron is hot for maximum impact and choosing the right time to act comes from having one’s ear to the ground and gauging public sentiment accurately.
Closer to home, Sreenevasan also served as the President of the Malaysian Bar from 2007 to 2009, making her only the second woman to have occupied the office. Her Presidency is also memorable for the ‘Walk for Justice’ which saw 5000 to 6000 lawyers marching through the streets of Putrajaya against the undermining of judicial independence, which Sreenevasan termed unacceptable.
Sreenevasan’s ability to bring people together in pursuit of a common cause is driven by her acumen as an advocate, leader and strategist which has resulted in real change. Bersih has left an indelible mark on Malaysian politics and the ‘Walk for Justice’, Sreenevasan believes, is one of the factors that led to the setting up of the Judicial Appointments Commission.
"When lawyers walk, something must be very wrong" - Ambiga Sreenevasan
Sreenevasan’s advocacy and leadership have also gained her international recognition and along with it the opportunity to meet world leaders. When asked which world leaders stood out to her the most, Sreenevasan named Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton, as they were women standing up for what was right and women standing up for women. This is a rather apt choice as Sreenevasan herself is a woman who has fought for what is right through Bersih and the Malaysian Bar. Having now been in legal practice for almost forty years, Sreenevasan continues to be a force for change and an advocate for justice and democracy, shattering glass ceilings along the way and blazing a trail for the next generation of women.