Tommy Thomas is concerned that we are sliding into a Police State with no place for the Rule of Law.
Death threats. Bomb threats. Warning on revocation of citizenship. Preventive detention. Arrest of hundreds for wearing yellow T-shirts. Banning of organisations. Prohibition of peaceful marches.
Is one describing Burma? Or Zimbabwe? No: this is Malaysia in July 2011, in its 54th year of independence.
Has paranoia gripped the decision-making elite in Kuala Lumpur? But for its grave repercussions, one would have to laugh at the disproportionate overreaction and incompetence of government agencies in recent weeks.
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No place for rule of law
Has Malaysia become a police state, with no place for the Rule of Law? So what is the problem that has attracted the ugly, heavy hand of the Executive?
It is only a call by ordinary voices for electoral reform so that future elections are conducted freely and fairly, that is, on a level playing field, with no political party or candidate having an in-built advantage over its rival parties and candidates, very much, like all runners in a 100 metres race starting at the same point with the same distance to run.
Is that not a laudable objective that should receive the support of everyone who truly believes in the democratic process?
When Malaya achieved Merdeka in 1957, it chose the parliamentary democracy style of government under a constitutional monarchy, with the Federal Constitution as the supreme law. In order to elect a government, general elections are to be held at least one in every five years under the supervision of what was intended to be an independent, impartial Elections Commission to act as a neutral referee or umpire in electoral contests.
In the actual conduct of general and by-elections since 1957, the Election Commission has failed miserably, with the result that no right thinking person would describe it as being fair or neutral in the discharge of its duties. The actions of governmental agencies such as widespread gerrymandering of constituencies, the total domination by one political party of television, radio and print media, a brief campaign period of between seven to 10 days, the blatant granting of gifts, money and other benefits to voters, other corrupt electoral practices and the abuse of postal ballots have resulted in the ruling coalition having a tremendously unfair advantage whenever elections are held.
Accordingly, by any yardstick, elections have never been conducted in Malaysia in a fair and free manner, consistent with the spirit of true parliamentary democracy.
It is against this background that Bersih, a coalition of organisations interested in electoral reform, announced its decision to organise a peaceful march in the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, 9 July 2011 to call public attention to the ills of the electoral system, and to present a memorandum to His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
We marched and demonstrated for Merdeka
Is the Government seriously contending that as a sovereign nation which has enjoyed over five decades of independence, Malaysia cannot tolerate or survive the exercise by thousands of its citizens of their entrenched fundamental liberties of free speech, assembly and association on a Saturday morning!
It must be recalled that in the 12-year sunset period of British imperialism over Malaya from 1945 to 1957, the British colonial rulers permitted the holding of public rallies which were brilliantly exploited, first by Umno in 1946 in leading the opposition to the Malayan Union proposal and subsequently by the Alliance coalition from 1954 to 1957 in its campaign for Merdeka.
Bearing in mind that those rallies, marches, demonstrations and assemblies were held during the Emergency declared to fight the Communist insurrection and would result in the ending of colonial rule, the British Government did not ban such rallies, even if it was in its self-interest to do so. For Merdeka to be meaningful, surely every Malaysian must enjoy greater and better rights in independent Malaysia in 2011 than his or her forefather enjoyed under colonial rule in 1946!
Demonising Bersih and its outstanding leader of courage and conviction, Ambiga Sreenevasan brings great discredit to the government. It smacks of a witch-hunt, McCarthy style. For the Prime Minister to describe Ambiga Sreenevasan as being anti-Islam shows his true commitment to his own 1Malaysia philosophy — it is just window-dressing!!
No Colours Act or Clothes Act
I know of no law in Malaysia which prohibits a person from wearing yellow clothes. Thus, there is no Colours Act or Clothes Act under our law which empowers the police from arresting persons because of the choice of garment colour. Even totalitarian North Korea does not act in such a high-handed, mean and petty way.
When the streets of Kuala Lumpur are no longer safe with the massive increase of crime and an apparent breakdown of law and order, the police are allocating their resources to preventing ordinary law-abiding Malaysians from exercising their constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and association.
Compounding its mishandling of the entire situation was the abdication by the elected Government of resolving the problem, apart from a crude outright ban against Bersih.
For His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as constitutional monarch, to enter the political fray — probably unprecedented in 54 years — is an indictment of poor governance by the Najib administration. The Prime Minister is elected to lead: what has been displayed hitherto has been dithering leadership reminiscent of the Badawi administration.
The fascist elements of the state, whose main aim in life seems to be to protect and serve the interests of the ruling party, must be reminded that Malaysia does not belong to the Prime Minister. Neither does the nation belong to the political party that happened to win the most seats in the last Parliamentary election in March 2008, thereby forming the government of the day.
Desperate to hold on to power
Just as the electorate gave it a mandate to rule temporarily, it can withdraw that mandate at the next general elections which must, by law, be called by mid-2013. No political party has a divine right to rule continuously. Malaysia, on the contrary, belongs to the people, whose interests may often not coincide with that of the ruling party.
Not allowing the people of Malaysia to express their opinion on a matter of vital public interest, viz, the electoral system, by assembling peacefully in Kuala Lumpur is wholly unacceptable. It is neither right nor proper.
The behaviour of our leaders indicate that they are desperate to hold on to power by all means and every measure must be taken by the state to prevent what they perceive as a threat to their own position. It is an iron law of history that besieged, desperate leaders who believe they are indispensable or identify themselves with their countries ultimately lose power: it is always only a matter of time.
I urge my fellow Malaysians to attend the rally on Saturday in droves, and to behave in a peaceful, civilised manner with a single-minded focus on calling for a reform of the badly marred electoral system so structured in favour of one party.
Malaysians must, with pride and dignity, exercise their fundamental rights of free speech, association and assembly on 9 July 2011 so that the executive branch of government can be shown to have totally underestimated the good sense of the people. The shameful conduct of Malaysian politicians and bureaucrats in the past weeks must be wiped clean by the actions of the citizenry on Saturday.
See you there.
Tommy Thomas is a senior lawyer in the Malaysian Bar.