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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Amid global pressure, Najib throws the buck to police: Emergency rule possible

Amid global pressure, Najib throws the buck to police: Emergency rule possible

As expected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has passed the buck to the police, saying it was up to them to impose Emergency rule as they see fit.

With the global spotlight intensifying on the way he was handling a citizens' march calling for free and fair election, the 58-year career politician appeared to have buckled to pressure from right-wing factions within his UMNO party.

However, pundits say he is still there holding the steering wheel and pin the responsiblity for any "untoward" incident squarely on him. Pakatan Rakyat leaders urged Najib to issue an immediate clarification so as not to unsettle the people or the financial markets.

"He is being very irresponsible to even suggest such a thing? Are we a police state? How can the police bypass a civilian government? Does it make sense and worse of all, doesn't he think about the impact his words as PM will create with such a statement," PKR vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

Not the PM's responsibility

At a function in Sabah state, the PM said maintaining law and order was the responsibility of the police and it would be up to them to decide the action to take.

"That is up to the police to consider according to the situation. It is their responsibility," Star reported Najib as saying.

The PM was asked to comment on speculation that has buzzed around the nation that his BN coalition planned to impose Emergency law to stop the Bersih rally slated for July 9.

A day ago, the police chief had warned of the possibility of "loss of life" if the rally was not cancelled, sparking immediate concerns that Najib might use government agents to provoke unrest and pave the way for him to install Emergency rule and cling to power.

Najib and the BN coalition fear the rally will spark a wave of social consciousness across the country, much like the Arab Spring had in Egypt and Tunisia. His comments on Thursday suggested as much.

"Rallies have the tendencies to bring about mob psychology. That is why we cannot take it lightly. This is something we will find hard to control and if this happens, it will jeapordise the people and country," said the PM.

Think carefully, repercussions very serious

But civil society leaders, even those who tend to walk on the BN side of the fence, immediately condemned his comments.

They urged the PM to stop the 'scare-mongering' which they said was causing great harm to the nation's image and could leave a long-lasting scar on the financial markets and economy.

"Unfortunate to even have to reach a stage of thinking about an Emergency. Emergency rule must be out of the question, we would be going back to the days of the Malayan Emergency where the country was fighting the Communists. Then briefly in the May 13, 1960 racial riots," past president of Transparency International Ramon Navaratnam told Malaysia Chronicle.

"I urge the PM to seriously reflect. Emergency is not just about security. It will create tremendous and long-lasting repercussions for Malaysia. It signals the death knell for democracy and we could see huge capital flight if he does not immediately correct the impression that he is giving. This is no longer funny. And the solution is not in blaming the opposition or forcing the Bersih to cancel the rally. It is for the government to knuckle down and accept that Malaysia has transormed. The Najib administration must trust its own citizens and not threaten something as serious as Emergency just to hold onto the upperhand."

Meanwhile, religious leaders also urged Najib to allow the citizens' march, pointing out that peaceful assembly was a right enshrined under the Constitution.

"Any pre-emptive banning of proposed peaceful assemblies would mean that one has no right to peaceful assembly, making the fundamental guarantee illusory. The police have the duty and the capacity to control such assemblies and can designate routes and separate the different groups as has been done during the recent by-elections," the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said in a statement.

Najib chided for irresponsible behaviour

The Bersih organisers - made up of 62 of the country's top NGOs - are unlikely to be browbeaten into cancelling the march. To do so would be akin to selling out the citizens who form their members' list and entrust into them the task of fighting for greater democratic rights and space.

Bersih chief Ambiga Sreenevasan has assured the police the march will be peaceful and are agreeable to gather at any route suggested by the authorities. Nonetheless, despite the concessions made and repeated invitations to the BN to join the rally, Najib has turned a cold shoulder.

He has blamed his archrival Anwar Ibrahim and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition for stirring up the Bersih rally. However, his government has refused to accede any of the 8 election reforms asked by Bersih. (scroll below)

"The BN's reasoning that this is an opposition ploy doesn't work. If this is an opposition ploy, anything is an opposition ploy. What is obvious is that the people want this march. They want the election reforms. Now, how difficult is it for Najib as the PM to talk to the Bersih. The people behind Bersih have been NGOs heads for years. We know them for years," said Ramon, a retired top civil servant.

"How difficult is it for Najib to agree to some of the reforms. Seriously, some of these are quite good. Things like indelible ink, these are very small requests and yet the BN seems ready to plunge the country into something as serious as Emergency rule. My fervent wish is that the PM takes serious stock of what has happened. Malaysia is at the brink and BN must come to its senses." - Malaysia Chronicle

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