Change of tune — Lim Sue Goan
APRIL 24 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has allowed the Bersih 3.0 rally and it is indeed an improvement compared to the authority’s approach in dealing with the Bersih 2.0 rally last year.
However, there are still many aspects to be improved and learned on the path towards freedom of assembly.
Bersih 3.0 has the right to select a venue for the rally while the police or landowners also have the right to reject the application of the rally organiser based on reasonable grounds.
The Bersih 3.0 organisers announced the date of the rally on April 4 and later, the Himpunan Hijau 3.0 decided to join the rally. The organiser had checked on the Dataran Merdeka’s schedule to make sure it holds no other events on that day. However, did it communicate well with landowner Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL)?
After the date of the rally was set, the three parties did not communicate for more than two weeks. The police tried to avoid and the DBKL made its reply to the organiser only on April 19. In the letter, the DBKL rejected the organiser’s application to use Dataran Merdeka as the venue for the Bersih 3.0 rally, saying that the Dataran can only be used for national events.
Hishammuddin suggested on April 22 that the rally could be held at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium or the Merdeka Stadium. However, Bersih co-chairpersons Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and Datuk A. Samad Said insisted that the rally be held at Dataran Merdeka.
One of the principles of democracy is communication. The lack of communication and mutual trust would lead to a deadlock. As a result, rallies to express public opinion would turn out as protests or confrontations.
In fact, after the Peaceful Assembly Bill was passed in the Parliament, there have been ways to hold peaceful assemblies and avoid them being banned by the police due to social order concerns. However, having a more relaxed law does not necessarily eliminate contradiction. The most important point is whether government officials take rallies as part of democracy.
Even if the rally carries some political elements, it should not be obstructed with various reasons as it would make the people think that the authority is not sincere enough. After all, it is the people’s right to hold rallies.
For example, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) activist Tan Hong Kai was arrested by security personnel when he was putting up Bersih 3.0 posters on the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) campus. He was later sent to a police station. In fact, the incident would not be questioned if the university did not send Tan to the police station, but had just explained to him and members of the society the regulation requiring an application to the university before one can put up any posters on campus.
There are also some improvements needed in the prime minister’s commitment of creating the most transparent government in history. For example, Parliament recently passed the Election Offences (Amendment) Bill 2012 at midnight to overrule candidates’ right of sending personnel to supervise voter identity. No one was aware of such an amendment and passing the Bill at midnight is not a practice of transparency. It has also “encouraged” more people to join the rally.
In many democratic countries, rallies have become a weekend event. Groups put forward their demands and members of the public are free to choose to support rallies that they think are in line with their own stand.
If changes become a voice of the society, it can gather the strength of the public and form a social movement. The government must respond and meet the demands or the public could overturn the government with their votes.
The current national reforms are not prospective. As government officials are forced to change, we can always see that they are actually outwardly compliant but inwardly not submissive. Democratisation has still a long way to go. — mysinchew.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.