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Stifling the voice of dissent

 | June 1, 2011

The high-handed approach towards the Labour Day rally protesters is proof of the government’s hypocrisy and lack of empathy.

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When the poor take to the streets over bread-and-butter issues, the police come charging with their batons. But when Perkasa and Umno Youth stage a rally, the treatment is different.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin must be getting butterflies in their stomachs as the 13th general election looms. They are hoping the results would be partial to the Barisan Nasional (BN), given the whacking the BN suffered at the ballot boxes in 2008.

As Muhyiddin recently said and rightfully, the fight at the ballots is going to be very, very tough. The 2008 general election saw the “awakening” of the people, their faith in BN becoming a thing of the past.

Wisdom dictates that post-2008, BN would have cleaned up its act and right the wrongs, but it never happened. Instead, BN clung to money politics and double standard to make its presence felt.

Buying off voters at the various by-elections (read “buy” elections) that have taken place in the country shows BN’s desperation to remain in control. Assurances were thrown at the people convincing them that the federal government cares, but minus the commitment.

Indeed, had the BN really cared for the people, it would have allowed the people a chance to vent their frustration over the increases in the prices of essential items. They showed their concern when they demonstrated during the Labour Day rally on May 1. Instead, the protesters were treated like criminals, with the key people behind the rally arrested.

The high-handed approach towards the protesters is proof of the government’s hypocrisy and lack of empathy for the plight of the people. As far as the government and the police were concerned, the protesters were arrested because they did not have a police permit to organise the demonstration.

The protesters did not make any threats during the rally. They turned up to seek redress over bread-and-butter issues. They took to the streets that day to seek minimum wage and show their worry over the continuing price hikes.

The Labour Day protesters comprised estate workers, residents from displaced housing estates and representatives from civil societies. In short, the agenda was to engage in a non-violent gathering until the police decided otherwise. One person who turned up at the Dang Wangi police station to support his arrested colleagues was himself detained all because he was carrying a banner.

Will BN draw the line?

Yet, the very same law was not upheld when it came to the May 20 gathering comprising Umno Youth and ultra-Malay group Perkasa. Both badgered the Malays to unite and support Utusan Malaysia, the Umno-owned Malay daily known for denigrating the non-Malays.

Both Umno Youth and Perkasa decided to take on the non-Malays after the latter were visibly upset with a May 7 article Utusan Malaysia published claiming that Islam’s status as the country’s official religion was under threat from Christianity.

In spite of the many calls for Najib to put an end to Utusan Malaysia’s racist streak, no action was taken by him or Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. The latter, on the contrary, decided to give all mainstream media a warning to not blur the line when reporting on sensitive and touchy issues.

In the May 20 protest, there were 80 protesters representing Perkasa and another 70 from Umno Youth. One highly strung protester was reported to have said: “Whenever anyone insults Utusan and the Malay community, Perkasa will be there. This is a warning to all… you have to cross over our dead bodies first.”

The demonstration took place outside Utusan’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, under the watchful eyes of 30-odd policemen and Light Strike Force personnel who did not intervene. The police submissively watched as 150 people staged the protest to defend Utusan Malaysia. How was it that they managed to converge and make threats (yet again) against the non-Malays while the police obediently stood guard?

But when poor people gathered to oppose price hikes, the same police showed no mercy and chased them away like poachers. Why the discrimination?

Last resort for the people

On Feb 27 this year, Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a banned organisation of the Indians, demonstrated to demand the withdrawal of “Interlok”, the school book it said made disparaging ethnic references to the Indian community.

While there were misgivings about the Hindraf rally, the actions of the police were no less unlawful. The police deemed every Indian out on the streets on Feb 27 an “accomplice” and went about arresting them. Since when have the police started labelling all Indians as culprits? Is that the reason why Indian youngsters caught by the police suddenly ended up dead in cells?

Now, polls watchdog Bersih 2.0 has confirmed that its rally tagged “Walk for Democracy” would take place in Kuala Lumpur at 2pm on July 9. Among others, the rally aims to get the BN government to agree to Bersih’s initial demands made four years ago. Then, Bersih wanted the use of the indelible ink, a clean-up of the electoral rolls, the scrapping of the postal votes and access to government-controlled print and broadcast media for the opposition parties.

Bersih also wants two additional demands met. One is to stop the practice of misusing government machinery as evident during the various by-elections and the 10th Sarawak election held on April 16. The other is stop using laws such as the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act for electoral advantage.

Will the Bersih rally see the light of day, especially after PAS central committee member Mohamad Sabu declared that PAS would galvanise 100,000 of its members and supporters?

Rallies, while not a way of life for Malaysians, are becoming the last resort for the people as more and more pressure is applied to silence the voices of the downtrodden. Violence is never the agenda. People only want their voices heard.


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