KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — Bersih rubbished today Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) rationale for rejecting its request to use Dataran Merdeka for its third rally for free and fair elections scheduled for Saturday, pointing out that companies, NGOs and political parties have used the historic square for minor events.
DBKL had rejected the electoral reform movement’s request last week, saying “events allowed to be held at Dataran Merdeka are only those of a national level, such as National Day, Federal Territories Day and other events which are of similar standing.”
But the coalition of 84 NGOs told a press conference today that in the past year companies such as fast-food giant McDonald’s have used the landmark for events.
“So what is the basis to reject us? Our stand is that Dataran Merdeka belongs to the people,” said steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah.
Bersih listed McDonald’s Olympic Day Fun Run (July 2011), OCBC Cycle Malaysia (October 2011), Achilles Formula Drift Malaysia (December 2011), Barisan Nasional Youth Ride Fest (February 2012) and the World Kidney Day Run (March 2012) as events that have been held at Dataran Merdeka.
Co-chairman Datuk A. Samad Said also repeated today the movement’s stand that the sit-in must be held at Dataran Merdeka and nowhere else as there is too little time now to change venues.
“We are only asking for two hours. After all, (Datuk Seri) Hishammuddin (Hussein) already said Bersih is not dangerous and will have no impact. So why are they now creating an issue?” the national laureate said, referring to the home minister.
Mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail stressed this morning it would take action if Bersih insisted on using Dataran Merdeka, saying the group has already been given permission to use other venues such as the Cheras football stadium or Stadium Titiwangsa.
He clarified this morning that events allowed at the iconic landmark are national sporting events or those that are cultural in nature such as National Day celebrations, New Year’s Eve and other gatherings that foster national unity.
“There are two components, one on sports, such as walkathon events, marathons and jogathons, which to us (DBKL) are for sports and are not protest gatherings. The other component is culture,” he said.
As an acceptable function, Ahmad Fuad cited the example of Nestle’s 100th anniversary celebration last month, which the Selangor Sultan had attended.
“The company has invested a lot in this country... and at the same time their special guest was the Selangor Sultan,” he said.
The mayor said that DBKL would grant permission for these kinds of events instead of functions that are infused with political elements.
Hishammuddin also said last weekend that DBKL should offer alternative venues for Bersih 3.0 if it does not want the rally to be held at Dataran Merdeka, and suggested Stadium Merdeka as an option.
But Maria said today no alternative venue was mentioned by DBKL prior to this, adding that the NGOs under the Bersih umbrella would meet tonight to discuss if it would consider alternatives to Dataran Merdeka.