KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 — Putrajaya has frozen temporary bus permits for travel across the peninsula to Kuala Lumpur, in what is seen as an effort to limit the turnout for Saturday’s Bersih rally.
Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar confirmed the directive is effective tomorrow, saying the commission did not want traffic congestion in the capital city.
“We don’t want to add to the congestion in the city, and are taking precautionary measures,” he told The Malaysian Insider this morning.
The former Home Minister added that SPAD did not see the need for temporary permits as there were no festive occasions or school holidays that would require more buses entering the city.
But he added that normal express bus and train services including the city’s light rail transit (LRT) would continue as usual.
“The LRT will run as usual without interruptions, and also normal bus services . . . no change, it will carry on as usual,” Syed Hamid said. “I don’t foresee any problems.”
Asked if action would be taken if the SPAD directive was ignored, he expressed confidence that the bus operators were responsible and would heed the instruction, adding he just wanted to tell the public to use regular bus services to the Klang Valley.
The Road Transport Department (RTD) confirmed the directive had been issued by SPAD, which has taken over the regulation of temporary permits from RTD for buses for students and factory workers.
RTD director-general Datuk Solah Mat Hassan told The Malaysian Insider that SPAD had notified the department to take action against any such buses operating from today to Saturday.
“As SPAD has made the decision, RTD and police can take action on any buses carrying passengers without temporary permits,” he said, confirming that the decision applied nationwide. “We can stop and impound the buses.”
He added that temporary permits would usually be issued a week in advance.
Bus and city LRT services were affected in 2009 during demonstrations protesting the use of the Internal Security Act 1960, which allows for detentions without trial.
The government’s latest action came as the mercury had risen over a planned Bersih street rally after Umno Youth and Perkasa pledged to hold counter-rallies.
A government clampdown over the past week that led to the arrest of hundreds of Bersih supporters only resulted in defiance from the electoral reform movement and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders, who have strongly backed the march as it seeks to build momentum ahead of a general election expected within the year.
The opposition coalition continues to insist that up to 300,000 will attend the rally, despite Bersih accepting a government offer to move the July 9 street march to a stadium.
The offer from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Monday came after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, stepped in to diffuse tension on Sunday by asking the government and Bersih to come to the negotiation table.
Despite Bersih’s acceptance of Najib’s offer, authorities are still insisting that the coalition of 62 NGOs apply for a police permit to hold its event.
However, Information Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim announced last night that the government would not accept any application to hold the Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur as it was an outlawed organisation.
Bersih has vowed to carry on, and has told its supporters to gather in the historic Stadium Merdeka this Saturday.
This is the second such rally organised by Bersih. Fifty thousand people took to the streets in 2007 in Kuala Lumpur before they were dispersed by riot police using water cannons and tear gas.
The event has been partly credited for PR’s record gains in Election 2008, when the opposition coalition was swept to power in five states, and won 82 federal parliamentary seats.