These street protests have, in fact, taken on a more ugly dimension with
people getting hurt and property
As expected, both sides have pointed
fingers at each other. The police have
said the gatherings were illegal and
that the demonstrators turned up prepared.
The protesters, in turn, have claimed
that it was the police who provoked them
with high-handed tactics, resulting in
There is obviously a need to end this
impasse. The police have, in the past,
allowed opposition parties to hold
political gatherings involving thousands of supporters.
PAS, for example, regularly holds
gatherings at its headquarters while the DAP prefers dinner ceramahs at restaurants and forums in hotels
to discuss controversial issues.
Often, opposition parties have got away
scot-free with their illegal gatherings. The police would allow the speakers to proceed and then ask the crowd to disperse.
Since last month, the police have
rejected applications to hold such
gatherings on security grounds.
The proposed pro-government rally by the
Barisan Nasional Youth at the National
Stadium in Bukit Jalil was rejected
The sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the Government and Umno has been an emotional and divisive issue with many taking a
In discussing the issue, many Malaysians
find themselves having to take a stand despite their reluctance.
There is no such thing as being neutral.
Everything is black or white, with no
grey area. You are either pro-Anwar or
The impression given by certain
non-government organisations now
is that freedom of expression has
been denied. The street demonstrations, they argue, is the only option left in the absence of such an avenue.
It is obvious that we need to consider some form of channel for dissidents to
let off steam.
Fighting for human rights is fine but
traders in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and
the surrounding areas are upset that
their right to earn a living has been
affected. Taxi drivers and tour operators have also complained of a drastic drop in income.
The police have to seriously consider allowing groups to hold ceramahs in
Organisers of such gatherings can work
closely with the police to ensure that the
security and logistical aspects are taken care of. They will also have to keep to the time limit and the number of speakers allowed.
If these conditions are not met, the
police can immediately call off the
gathering. If necessary, a deposit must be placed with the owner of the
premises and the police to pay for any
We cannot ignore the importance of
allowing Malaysians to express their
legitimate concern in a democratically-elected society. It is a right that must be respected.
But we must also not be so naive as to
believe that a well-intended gathering
will not turn violent.
In a crowd of 10,000 people, all you
need is a group of rabble-rousers to charge the atmosphere.
The police may have good reason for not
issuing a permit from the security aspect which we may not be privy to but where security threat is unlikely, people
must be allowed to gather.
This will earn the authorities much
goodwill as it will rebut allegations that police are curbing basic freedoms.
However, demonstrators must realise that
when they attend such gatherings, they
should be prepared to face the consequences.
A demonstration is not a picnic. It
holds elements of danger and risks.
Bringing children to the street to
demonstrate is obviously the height of
There is certainly a need for the police
to restrain themselves, even in a tense
situation where the likelihood of injury is real.
At the same time, we must admit that a
certain degree of force and fear is required
when dealing with a mob.
It is not right to say that the police have not given enough warnings to the
The weekly demonstrations have been so
well-organised that their time and place
are known to the public in
Warnings are given by the police through
the press, through the information ministry van and through loud hailers on the spot.
Arrested demonstrators often claim
innocence and say they are mere
bystanders. The point is: If you have no
business to be there, stay away.
That aside, democracy has no meaning if
we deviate from democratic norms.
It is the right of the Opposition to
check the Executive and to question any decline in freedom and democracy.
In the past, massive signature campaigns
have been successful in mobilising
public opinion on such issues as Bukit
China, the Societies Act and the
Official Secrets Act.
Public demands contributed to the
Government's decision to review various aspects of these issues.
Groups could also lobby MPs to push for
their concerns which is why NGOs should forge a coalition among themselves rather than with opposition parties. Government
backbenchers would be more accommodative
with NGOs if they are not linked to any
In issuing statements, NGOs must realise
that they can influence the people, either directly or indirectly. Public condemnation of street violence by oppositionists and NGOs would not help if they themselves were contributing factors to such
We Malaysians must constantly remind
ourselves that we are one, irrespective
of political differences.
Let us not be quick to criticise those
who genuinely wish to see greater
democracy in this country. At the same
time, let us not throw away in a moment
of haste what has been achieved over the
last 10 years.