Side Views

The rally proves Malaysia has civil liberties? — Fikry Osman

January 14, 2013

JAN 14 — Now that the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat is over, the one question that begs to be answered is this: does the rally prove that civil liberties exist in Malaysia?

To the more than 100,000 who turned up at Stadium Merdeka last Saturday, maybe.

After all, the police stood by and ensured the peace. No riot police, water cannons, roadblocks, razor wire strung across roads or anything to make Malaysia look like a police state.

Maybe, it was the spirit of the times that such a rally could even take place without ending in teargas blanketing the air, water cannons drenching the crowd and everyone running helter-skelter to avoid being beaten up or arrested for assembling without a permit.

Oh, no more permit required. So, that makes Malaysia look better just months before the general election. That must be it, to give Malaysia an appearance of a modern democratic country where people can make a stand publicly and gather without the threat of being cowed by authority or violence.

See, even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak praised the police and also the opposition for respecting the spirit of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 at the rally.

“The rally that took place peacefully in Stadium Merdeka last Saturday is a testimony to the ability of all, whether it’s the authorities or the organisers to obey the provisions and spirit of the existing Act.

“Congratulations on the professionalism displayed by the authorities.

“I also say thank you to the opposition although I don’t agree...but they respected the spirit of the Peaceful Assembly Act,” the prime minister said today.

Perkasa also took the cue and have made a U-turn by backing freedom of assembly with information chief Ruslan Kasim saying they were fully behind the Najib administration’s commitment to improve civil liberties as the rally was free of any untoward incidents.

Ruslan said Perkasa was against street demonstrations in the past after most of them ended with violent clashes with the authorities. This gave the opposition the opportunity to demonise the ruling coalition to win support, he added.

I guess the only one who didn’t get the memo to say that law reforms such as the PAA 2012 worked was the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, our former prime minister and the man with the acerbic wit who believes it is his way or the highway (which has long been privatised).

In his mind, the weekend rally was an opportunity for the opposition to overthrow the Barisan Nasional (BN) government

“They want to topple the government, and so they had a rally, but this government is unlike the Arab government.

“We are not a dictator government. This government is elected by the people,” Dr Mahathir said today.

No credit whatsoever to the police, authorities or even the government for allowing the rally to take place without onerous restrictions.

That he doesn’t trust the opposition isn’t news. But Dr Mahathir didn’t even praise the government for letting the people exercise their civil liberties.

He might just be the true voice among the public relations spiel being put out by Perkasa or Barisan Nasional leaders who want to take credit for the peaceful rally last Saturday.

That credit, really, belongs to the people. Malaysians are not a violent lot. Violence only happens when roughhouse tactics are applied to stop civil liberties.

* FIkry Osman reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.