Rights and wrongs of street protests

Updated: 04:31PM Tue, 13 Nov 2007
Scene: Raju Restaurant, PJ
Zain: Any of you at the Bersih rally yesterday?

Chong: Not me, Cikgu.
Mohan: I was on my way back from Pangkor on that day. Seems to me the whole Klang Valley was one huge traffic jam.
Azman: I was there. There was no rally because the police prevented people from gathering at the Merdeka Square.
Chong: But thousands gathered at many places. I saw it on RTM. I think the crowd was bigger that during the reformasi days.
Azman: Illegal rallies. I mean rallies without police permits. City Hall refused to give permission. Police refused even after a written request was made.
Chong: You seem to know so much, Azman. But what would have happened had permission been granted?
Azman: There would be a gathering during which speeches would be made by the organisers. And then a delegation would leave for Istana Negara to hand a note to the Yang diPertuan Agong or his representative.
Chong: Why rally? And why march to the Istana? Inconvenienced so manypeople. My friend and his family were in their car for three hours travelling from Gombak to Kajang.
Azman: A show of protest. A demonstration. Sort of telling the government to take note of their protests, and to tell people that they are protesting. The bigger the gathering, the bigger the impact – that many people are unhappy. And going to the Agong is merely for bigger impact.
Mohan: Unhappy over what?
Azman: Over the way elections are conducted. They want clean and fair elections. They want the abolition of postal votes and a complete clean up of the electoral rolls. Dead people still appear on the rolls. Phantom voters. Yes, true. And they also want the media to give all parties fair coverage. They want the Election Commission to take action against parties or candidates who overspend during the election campaign. There are limits placed on candidates on how much they can spend to be elected.
Chong: What is Bersih?
Azman: It is a coalition of political parties such as PAS, DAP and PKR and sixty or so NGOs.
Chong: So PAS, DAP and PKR gained lah on Saturday. Anyway, why doesn’t this Bersih or whatever just send some representatives to have a sort of dialogue with the Election Commission instead of demonstrating?
Azman: According to the political parties they have. But nothing much has changed. Opposition party leaders still cannot get to present their views on public radio and TV for instance. They say that government parties have all sorts of unfair advantage. They complained that it is difficult for opposition parties to get registered. They say that the Election Commission is not really independent, not responsible direct to Parliament.
Chong: I don’t know lah. Because permission was not granted people gathered at many locations in the city and sort of played hide and seek with the police. It was chaos …
Zain: If you asked me the authorities should just have allowed the rally. No chaos. No negative publicity for the government.
Mohan: Cikgu, I agree with you a hundred percent. In a democracy – we always say we are – dissent is a right.
Chong: But other people too have a right not to be inconvenienced. I am sure many people cursed Bersih on Saturday.
Zain: Maybe. But the authorities could have allowed Bersih to rally where it will not inconvenience people. Stadium Merdeka, for instance. Or Stadium Negara where the protesters will not get wet when it rains. Or even the Bukit Jalil stadium if they want a bigger place.
Mohan: Why do you think the authorities refused to give Bersih permission? I am sure they have good reasons for it.
Azman: I think they don’t want Malaysia to be seen as a country where people demonstrate at the slightest excuse. But a minister explained that the reason was they don’t want the demonstrations to be exploited by bad elements. Unfair to the shopkeepers who had to close their shops. Traffic jams.
The writer is the Political Editor at theSun.
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