The Right to Protest

August 28, 2016

The Right to Protest: that’s Merdeka

 by Amb (rtd) Dennis Ignatius
 Image result for Merdeka Malaysia

While Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Malaysia is wonderful but the Leadership is incompetent, dishonest. greedy, irresponsible and incorrigibly corrupt

When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty ~ John Basil Barnhill

Ever since Bersih (now more than just a movement for clean and fair elections) announced its intention to organize a rally to protest the embezzlement and laundering of billions of ringgit of public funds linked to the 1MDB scandal, the government appears to be going out of its way to hinder it. The TangkapMO1 rally is being similarly chastised.

For all the wrong reasons

A whole array of reasons have been conjured up to explain why these demonstrations should not be allowed – its against the national interest, it’s disruptive, it will harm the economy, it could lead to violence, it leaves a mess, etc.

This being Malaysia, it won’t be long before religious officials also get in on the act with edicts, injunctions and warnings against joining such demonstrations on pain of losing one’s soul.

In the meantime, one minister, in urging would-be demonstrators to respect DBKL (City Hall), argued that DBKL is the “owner” of Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and that it has “exclusive rights” to it.

This is part of the problem with politicians who remain in office for too long; they think that everything belongs to them, that only they have exclusive rights to public property.

The Minister should know that Dataran Merdeka belongs to the nation and all citizens have a right to access it. DBKL’s task is simply to manage it for and on behalf of the people. If the people wish to peacefully gather there, DBKL should facilitate it.

Our Prime Minister, for his part, insists that protest and demonstrations are “not the Malaysian way.” Obviously, he has forgotten that the party he now leads was itself born out of a protest movement ( against the Malayan Union). He also asked the electorate to bring their grievances to him, promising that he would listen and learn from them; if only he had, citizens would not need to demonstrate (this a big lie, promises, promises, empty promises–DM).

And then there are the phony democrats who pretend to uphold the rights of the people by suggesting alternative venues for demonstrations and even offering to pay for the them. People are not so foolish to see such moves as anything but an orchestrated ploy to marginalize the demonstrators by pushing them to more discreet locations.

Of course, whenever there is talk about demonstrations the bully boys in red – that rent-a-band of rowdies with nothing better to do than to hurl insults, act provocatively and play racist games – invariably spring into action. By insisting on the right to hold counter-demonstrations at the same time and at the same place, they provide the police with the perfect excuse to worry about public order.

Few doubt, though, that they are anything more that bullies allied to people in high places with a licence to disrupt, sow fear and scare off concerned citizens who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest.

Surprisingly, even Suhakam, once seen as a small ray of light in an otherwise dark human rights environment, now appears to be taking the government line that such demonstrations are counterproductive. Its new chief dismissed protestors as little more than unwashed and unprincipled agitators who accomplish little at great inconvenience to the rest of society.

He also went on to draw parallels with the Arab Spring, now a by-word for chaos and instability, implying that the same thing could happen here if we are not careful.

Those who use the Arab Spring to discredit all popular protests often tend to ignore the real lessons from those seminal events.

Rather than blaming autocratic governments that oppressed the people for decades, they blame the victims of oppression, corruption and tyranny for rising up to protest. The real lesson from the Arab Spring, which autocratic governments should take to heart, is the one that John F Kennedy warned about decades earlier – that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

The run around

Given the government’s views, it comes as no surprise that the authorities are trying to give the organizers of upcoming demonstrations the run around. The Inspector-General of Police says the police have no objections provided City Hall agrees. City Hall, of course, will find every excuse not to agree.

It is clear that neither of these agencies are independent of political influence. Their actions suggest that their primary objective is to find administrative reasons to stymie demonstrations at Dataran Merdeka.

This kind of thinking was also evident in the government’s decision to institute a claim for damages against the organizers of the 2012 Bersih 3 rally. They were hoping to make it too prohibitive financially for demonstrators to use the square. Kudos to the courts for rejecting it.

The government must also not hide behind the controversial Peaceful Assembly Act. When it was introduced in 2012, the prime minister dismissed the concerns of human rights groups and insisted that it was a democratic measure designed “to give room for the people to express themselves.” Contrary to his assurances, it has been used to harass, intimidate and prosecute demonstrators. It might as well be renamed the ‘prohibition of assembly act.’

The government must do the right thing

Clearly, while Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Street demonstrations may or may not be the best way to press for change but it is the citizens who must make that call. In any case, it is one of the few options left to concerned citizens in our nation today to express their unhappiness over the direction the nation is taking.

The government needs to understand that the protestors are not the enemy. They are not looking for trouble, not looking to violently overthrow the government. They too love their country, value peace and stability. In insisting on the right to gather at Dataran Merdeka to make their views known, they are acting responsibly and in accordance with their rights under the constitution.

If there are security concerns, our police should be on hand – to protect the protestors rather than attack them. If City Hall is concerned about orderliness and cleanliness, it should work with the organizers to make this the cleanest, most orderly, most organized demonstration thus far.

The government can war against its own citizens or let them roar. They can try to silence the voices of dissent or hear the cries for justice, democracy and good governance.

Its not the people who are on trial here; it is the government!

Dennis Ignatius is a former Malaysian Ambassador.


12 thoughts on “The Right to Protest

  1. Merdeka. Ahah, that sounds hollow these days. That said, remember we have the right to stand up for our rights and protect our country against bad leaders and corrupt politicians and hold them to account. To change we need to cultivate a culture of discontent, not nurture a cukup makan mindset. When everything is fine, nothing is really fine. That means we do not know what we want for our country and ourselves.

    Good luck, Malaysia. Please don’t be a badly screwed up nation led by the most corrupt Prime Minister in our nation’s history. He is Malaysian Official 1.

    Every word he utters since 2009 stinks like fermented horse shit. If you don’t believe me, just listen to his 2016 Merdeka Speech to the nation on the eve of August 31. It is going to be full of platitudes, sweet nothings and more promises and commitments which he does not intend to honour.

    There will not be a congratulatory message from me on this blog to mark Merdeka Day.I make no apologies for that. Over to you, CLF, Orang Malaya, Conrad, Veritas, TL Man Rejoinders, please.–Din Merican

  2. The students could have gone one step further, and ask “Awak Bangsa Dan Agama TangkapMO1 atau tidak? Tidak payah jawab Melayu, China, India, Islam atau bukan Islam”.

  3. A sign of the times and the disgust many feel about the band of thieves and idiots sitting in putrid jaya and led by a most repulsive excuse for a human is that even police patrol cars do not fly the bendera. The cops too i guess have given up, and given a choice would like to see many of bolehland pols behind bars. Only their big boss, resplendant in his uniform and safe behind his bodyguards, feels that theft from the people and bullying the helpless is the way to go.

  4. You may not like the government but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t live the country Malaysia. Government come and go but Malaysia as a country will always be there. Be thankful that you were born and brought up in Malaysia as opposed to many other SE Asian or African countries. Count your blessings and celebrate Merdeka in your own way.

  5. #goGoPokemon. Do it again! But, without a figure head, a replacement PM, it is hard to create a Selma moment. Blocking road to Singapore in Johor Bahru would have a bigger impact.

    @Uncle Lim, DAP is currently the biggest legitimate opposition party. Are you going to take a step forward to make DAP the ruling party, or stay a permanent opposition party until both DSAI and yourself leave this world? Recruit Malays, find a legitimate PM candidate like @BraveNewWorld to join. Make DAP a truly multiracial party! That is what Pokemon monster is really afraid of. What is the use of being the leader head when you know that there is only so much you can do by being the party leadership. Now or never … DSAI can only get his justice when a just PM is put in place.

  6. Asking that gatherings/protests be held in alternative sites like stadiums/open spaces, instead of right in the centre of town is not “marginalising” those who wish to dissent …nor does it take away anything from that right…

    It is just an acceptance of a local reality…I thought we learnt that lesson four decades ago…

    Taking to the streets to “regain our country” will end up us LOSING our country…

  7. Quote:- “It is just an acceptance of a local reality…I thought we learnt that lesson four decades ago…Taking to the streets to “regain our country” will end up us LOSING our country…”

    Now we know why Najib is so “brave” and confident.

    We have already “lose” our country, only the semi-cooked frogs don’t see it.

  8. Yup, PokeMO1 beGone should be the operative word.

    MO1 and spouse are getting ‘bigger’ due to all those hormonal implants. Even a simple letter of appreciation from an estate coolie engenders multiple orgasms.. Not that the coolie knows what’s best. Cakap tak serupa bikin-ism.

    The country is in extremis – our inflation figures are tamped down and growth rate is trumped up. The salaries have stagnated since A***h knows when. But our most ‘potent’ Pemandu CEO aka MO1 lackey says that we are in the throes of achieving ‘hi-income’ status. How? Rent-seeking entitlement and sheer corruption. Borrowing from Global Ah-Longs, yet skiving 30% off. External Trade is tanking, but that’s okay, cuz we have a hell of a domestic demand. The Treasury is broke, yet they LIE! House and car loans are scrutinized by Lenders with a Laser Knife.

    But I leave my vitriol for the bunch of irredeemable MO1FLOMpy sycophants. They are so deadwood that their petrified neural networks are actually made of dung! So Dennis is definitely right!

    Lies are one thing but living in Lies and Denial is another. Our nation-hood has been compromised to a level of Zombiehood. And it is due to intrauterine Zika-like infection of dear leaders, whose mantra has always been Cash, Race, Religion and Royalty – in that order.

    So this Merdeka, like any other Independence day, is where celebrants mark their Dependence. Me? I’ll sleep it through, cuz it has been rumored that Parliament will be disestablished after the next Ides of March.

    Any questions, kindly refer to Ah Longs.

  9. Merdeka, or in other countries Independence Day, (or any such local variant), means a celebration thereof from colonial rule.

    Lest we forget, even the mighty USA celebrates independence or separation from British colonial rule after more than 200 years.

    When we used to celebrate Merdeka it was a proud collective celebration of independence, (or Freedom), from British colonial rule. Now what “independence” are we celebrating when we are actually wholly dependent on a foreign country, an infidel country, to do justice for us and return political peace and racial harmony back to our citizens?

    When students who should be in the classrooms studying are out in the streets calling to jail someone whom they’ve never met, we know something is very wrong. This kind of scenario has been played out in dozens of countries in the past and the ending is always the same.

    I would like to hear some UMNO Baru / BN politicians calling these students’ actions treasonous or other synonyms as “Merdeka” is only days away?

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