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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What’s needed is a Peaceful Police and Politicians Act

Steve Oh , CPIAsia

lawThe repeal of archaic laws that have not been used cannot disguise the enacting of a law like the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 which will be debated today on its second reading in Parliament.

And spin and political rhetoric are not substitutes for sincere actions in the public interest. Those who talk of transformation must transform the nation for good and not do the opposite.

It is the voice of the peaceful protest planned for the same day that the lawmakers should be listening to. People have better things to do than protest against a good law. But they will remonstrate and protest against any bad law.

The Peaceful Assembly Bill is a bad law if enacted because it is another nail in the coffin of democracy when Prime Minister Najib Razak wants the country to be ‘the best democracy.’

Those who protest are merely reminding the politicians of what their country leader has publicly envisioned for the nation.

How can the proposed bill achieve the touted vision when it is regressive? Or was Najib only joking when he announced the liberalization of the country’s lws on Malaysia Day because it was the country’s national day, a time of eating and drinking, and people become drunk with nationalistic euphoria and it was an opportune time for hyperbolic pronouncements?

But Malaysians take their leaders seriously even if they don’t take themselves and their words seriously.

Many of us may not be there to stand alongside the protestors because we are overseas but in spirit we are behind the move to ditch a bill which is not what Malaysia needs and for all intents and purposes looks like a government ploy to stifle democratic and legitimate dissent before the imminent general elections.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out because those who try to pull this sleight of hand legislation on us aren’t very smart. The political trickery is naked, flagrant and self-evident.

For the record, the double-standards of the police in stymieing Opposition events but allowing pro-government events to happen is enough reason to reject the bill which places more power into the hands of a skewed police force run by cronies of the political elite.

This is not a criticism of the police but a statement of fact because people can only judge from the outside by what they see taking place in the country.

The Bar Council and others have rightly criticized the bill for its removal of civic safeguards and placing inordinate and undemocratic control in the hands of the police who are controlled by the politicians.

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang has also rightly pointed out that the bill if made law will make Malaysia look worse than Myanmar which requires only a 5-day notice to stage an event instead of the 30-day requirement in the Malaysian bill.

Myanmar has not boasted it will become ‘the world’s best democracy’ but it is moving in the right direction so much so that Aung Sun Su Kyi is willing to engage the country’s new political leader who is genuinely making political reforms and not trying to bluff the people.

The check and balance of having the court review any police decision to ban an event is removed in the Peaceful Assembly Bill and this is a major setback for the democratic rights of citizens.

I was aghast to read a comment by a government politician that Malaysians are not ready for street protests. Where has he been? Street protests and marches have been a Malaysian thing since I can remember.

Street marches are an integral feature of Malaysian life reflecting its cultural diversity when different groups march peacefully to celebrate and signify their cultural and religious beliefs.

Malaysia sees hundreds of these public events throughout the year. Have they not all been peaceful assemblies? So why the need for a Peaceful Assembly Act when what is needed is a Peaceful Police and Politicians Act?

Existing laws are sufficient to deal with those who resort to anti-social and disruptive conduct but even those arrested and charged at public events are seen to be no more than victims of political persecution and the subsequent lifting of those charges confirms this widely-held belief.

The real menace to the nation is the politician who gets the police to act against his professional integrity and turns the law enforcers into bloodthirsty hoodlums in uniform and breaking up peaceful gatherings and roughing up innocent citizens.

The Bersih 2.0 walk, the Hindraf demonstration and a series of other public gatherings were all peaceful in nature but the police had to create a sense of panic and chaos by their use of tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons. It had all the signs of crackdown on freedom of peaceful assembly.

The government should worry more about its police who use inordinate force on the public during public events and the politicians who incite to hatred and make a public nuisance of themselves by their words and deeds in public.

It is not surprising that Dr Mahathir Mohammed publicly supports the proposed law because it sits well with one who likes to have everything under his control.

There is too much of the devil in the bill that by its deceptive title infers it has a good intention of promoting peaceful assemblies but the wolf it is in sheep’s clothing, it only has the effect of stifling the people’s freedom.

This is one sleight of hand of a bill’s passage that should fail and be denounced even if passed into law. Repealing one draconian law and replacing it with another is nothing but political trickery.

The government should give the bill the flick and focus on cleaning out the electoral system. Then whoever wins has the people’s true mandate and the country may yet be a true democracy.

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