Terence Netto (Mkini)
Nov 14, 07
PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim applauded Malaysians for marching in the peaceful demonstration in Kuala Lumpur organised by Bersih, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, on Nov 10.
“People from every ethnic group, religion and walk of life rallied in massive numbers to demand free and fair elections and a truly democratic Malaysia,” said Anwar, commenting from Bali where he delivered a keynote address at a conference on Asia in the 21st Century.
The conference was inaugurated by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Saturday’s rally culminated with a delegation comprised of opposition party and NGO leaders headed by Anwar handing over a petition calling for polls reform to the private secretary of the king at the gates of Istana Negara.
The 40,000 strong crowd dispersed peacefully after the handing over of the memorandum.
“Not one single instance of violence or disruptive behaviour by those in the rally – this is clearly proof incontrovertible against accusations made in bad faith about unruly anti-government protestors,” said Anwar.
“The right to free expression and free assembly are fundamental rights. As a peaceful event, this rally was legal from the standpoint of our constitution.
For the government to raise the bogey of violence is merely an attempt to deflect from the substantive issues at hand which are fraud and corruption in the electoral process,” he added.
The only violence reported at the demonstration occurred at Masjid Jamek, where the police used tear gas and water canons spraying a chemical substance to disperse a crowd of almost six thousand.
“The rally was peaceful and even in light of instances of police brutality the demonstrators showed restraint,” said Anwar.
“The use of chemical agents on the demonstrators was unnecessary and reflects the contempt this government holds for people who disagree with its policies.”
The government tried to dissuade Malaysians from attending the gathering by rejecting Bersih’s application for a permit to demonstrate.
A stern warning from Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi on Friday night foreshadowed a confrontation and throughout Nov 10 the police broadcast instructions on major television networks for people to avoid the rally.
Roadblocks and checkpoints were erected from Friday evening to delay and dissuade out-of-towners from arriving for the demonstration the next day.
Anwar said Bersih had consulted the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and also the Kuala Lumpur police in the prelude to the march but the former, while urging respect for the constitution, was non-committal.
The KL police on the other hand, dithered on the legality of the march until finally opting for a combination of forceful obstruction mingled with wary neutrality.
An out-of-touch government
International human rights groups, however, chastised Malaysia for trampling on democratic rights and urged the government to allow the peaceful demonstration to take place.
On Saturday evening Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin, interviewed by Al-Jazeera, levelled harsh criticism at that network for its extensive coverage of the rally, arguing that the international media was being manipulated by political forces in Malaysia.
To this Anwar replied: “The government remains out of touch with reality and does not appreciate the negative impact that such comments by a minister has on our international standing.”
In the march’s immediate aftermath, Prime Minister Abdullah reprimanded the opposition for trying to drag the Yang DiPertuan Agong into politics.
“The rakyat has neither the ability nor the intention to drag the Yang DiPertuan Agong anywhere,” commented Anwar.
“His Majesty will act as he sees fit, and we are confident that his actions will reflect those of a monarch truly concerned for the well being of his people and of a regent willing to play his part in safeguarding the most sacred principles of our democracy.”
Earlier this year, the Conference of Rulers and the prime minister were at loggerheads over the extension of former Chief Justice Ahmed Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim’s tenure.
Fairuz is embroiled in the Lingam video tape affair and is facing allegations of judicial misconduct, which have been denied on his behalf, by the government.
Anwar: The people have spoken
Terence Netto (Mkini)