Bersih 3.0 coalition will decide tonight on its next course of action after police rejected its request to hold the peaceful assembly in Dataran Merdeka.
KUALA LUMPUR: The police have formally disallowed Bersih 3.0 to hold a peaceful sit-in rally seeking for electoral reforms at Dataran Merdeka this Saturday.
Bersih 3.0 steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah told FMT that a police officer hand- delivered a letter to her office communicating the police’s rejection, which cited “safety” concerns.
“The rejection of our notice only has one sentence citing ‘keselamatan’ or safety as the reason we can’t gather there,” said Maria, who had originally wanted to meet with the Dang Wangi police this afternoon to ask about Bersih 3.0′s notice about the venue given to police last week.
“Well, it seems that before I could see them to follow up on our notification, they were faster than us and sent us this letter instead,” she said.
Maria said that Bersih 3.0 will likely issue a statement after a meeting is held tonight with representatives from over 80 NGOs which make up the coalition on the matter.
“The police can’t just give us a one-liner like that. They should explain what they mean by safety reasons. We’ve handled big crowds and we are not going there to riot, it’s not going to be a problem, so what are they talking about?”
Maria also pointed out that the police are contradicting Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein who had previously said Bersih 3.0 is not regarded as a national security threat by the government.
For the past few weeks, Bersih 3.0 has maintained that it would hold its third gathering for electoral reform at the historical Dataran Merdeka this Saturday, despite calls by the government agencies to shift its venue to an alternate site.
Referring to the recently passed Peaceful Assembly Act, Hishammuddin had said in the spirit of the new law, the authorities would not stop the Bersih 3.0 rally as long as the organisers followed the law and do not disrupt public peace.
However, the Dataran Merdeka venue continued to be a source of debate as Hishammuddin, police and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) – which controls the site – have continually urged Bersih 3.0 organisers to use another venue.
DBKL said ‘no’
Last Friday, DBKL rejected an application by Bersih 3.0 to hold its gathering at Dataran Merdeka, saying that only “national level” celebrations could be held there.
DBKL also said that the venue is suitable for sports and cultural events, but not political gatherings.
Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail had warned organisers that a local government by-law prohibits any gatherings there without his written consent. He also said Dataran Merdeka was not listed as a permitted location under the yet-to-be gazetted Peaceful Assembly Act.
This time around, the authorities have been notably less stern compared to their response to a similar event last year, where numerous arrests and warnings were made leading up to the massive Bersih 2.0 rally.
The July 9 gathering saw tens of thousands walking the streets in Kuala Lumpur only to have tear gas and water cannon fired upon them.
The Bersih 2.0 rally had dealt a damaging blow to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s administration as observers criticised the government’s high-handed methods in clamping down on the rally then.
This had led to the forming of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reform which recently came up with 22 recommendations.
However, Bersih 3.0 now claims that the PSC had failed to address some of its demands, such as on postal voting, election offences, and measures to end dirty politics.