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Who ‘owns’ Dataran Merdeka?

 | April 14, 2012

It is annoying how the ruling government is going in a roundabout manner to kill off the April 28 rally.

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Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz has curtly asked electoral watchdog Bersih 3.0 to obtain consent from the owners of Dataran Merdeka if it insists on using the site for its April 28 sit-in protest.

Now that is new. Who really “owns” Dataran Merdeka? And each time the federal government or big-wig corporate companies uses the square to organise events, do they too seek perrmission from the “owners”?

It is annoying how the ruling government is going in a roundabout manner to kill off the April 28 rally, sparing no effort in trying to wear down Bersih 3.0 which is not about to scout for another location.

Bersih 3.0 steering committee chairperson S Ambiga is determined to proceed with the sit-in protest at Dataran Merdeka due to its historical relevance to the people’s struggle for independence and a democratic Malaysia.

“We do not agree that there is a necessity to change the venue to other places,” she said in a statement.

Ambiga added: “We certainly do not see any reason why Dataran Merdeka is unsuitable in the light of the many events that have recently been held there, including 205th anniversary of the Royal Malaysian Police [PDRM].”

But Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein is unwilling to cooperate and instead wants Bersih 3.0 to be “sincere” and “realistic” and compromise on the location.

Hishammuddin is contradicting himself when, on the one hand, he says the government does not view the April 28 rally as a security issue and, on the other, objects to Dataran Merdeka being chosen as the venue.

If the Bersih 3.0 April 28 protest is no security threat as claimed by Hishammuddin, then there would be no reason to make matters difficult for the coalition. And unlike Bersih 2.0 and “all things yellow” which were banned, Hishammuddin will also see to it that Bersih 3.0 would not suffer the same fate under the excuse that it was inciting people and creating an atmosphere of unrest.

Hishammuddin has cautioned Bersih 3.0 that the rally would only be given the greenlight if it does not break the laws, which translates to not being stubborn in holding the rally at Dataran Merdeka.

As was the case with its July 9, 2011 “Walk for Democracy” rally, the election watchdog has yet again given its commitment in working with the police to ensure its April 28 rally takes places smoothly.

Ambiga hoped the police would assist in facilitating the traffic flow on April 28 for Bersih 3.0 as the authority did for several public gatherings.

Meanwhile, Hishammuddin remains firm that Bersih 3.0 discusses with the police to determine a suitable place that guarantees the rally will not interfere with the daily lives of the people.

Government in no mood to help Bersih 3.0

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government is sending out a false message that it is not against the Bersih 3.0 April 28 rally but the truth is otherwise. By refusing to allow the election watchdog to use the Dataran Merdeka as its preferred venue, the government is doing what it did to Bersih 2.0 during its July 9, 2011 rally.

Eventhough Bersih 2.0 had planned to march through the streets of Kuala Lumpur on July 9, the coalition after consultations with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, decided instead to organise the “Walk for Democracy” at Merdeka Stadium.

But the venue compromise by Bersih 2.0 was far from being appreciated by the BN government. The demonstrators were unable to congregate at Merdeka Stadium as they were forced to disperse by police who were heavily deployed throughout the city. Then, police arrested more than 1,600 demonstrators including Ambiga and several opposition figures.

The police had also detained six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members, including Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, for 60 days under the Emergency Ordinance in relation to the July 9 rally.

But come April 28, should the BN government use a high-handed approach in cracking down on the gathering as it did during July 9 last year, Ambiga warns that an international condemnation was likely, a stark reminder of the castigation that the federal government suffered at the hands of the global community vis-à-vis the July 9 rally.

Hopefully, Najib has put on his thinking cap and is all ears to what Ambiga is saying. To play “hide-and-seek” with Bersih 3.0 will worsen matters and further malign the already tainted BN government.

BN has to ‘grow up’

Thus far, the BN government’s reaction to the coming April 28 rally has been far from favourable and marks a sign that its leadership has yet to “grow up”.

Instead of cooperating and giving Bersih 3.0 the benefit of doubt, the Najib administration has come out with nonsensical demands or remarks which tell that BN has either failed to learn or refused to learn its lesson from the July 9 episode.

It is still not too late for the federal government to take cognisance post-July 9 and ensure that democracy is no longer manipulated to suit the agenda of the “powers-that-be”.

Najib has hinted that the 13th general election is not far away and this, to Bersih 2.0 co-chairperson and national laureate A Samad Said, makes the April 28 sit-in protest all the more necessary, for it served to warn the rakyat that Malaysia was about to face its “dirtiest” polls ever.

That is not all. Should Najib and his cousin Hishammuddin get busy plotting ways and means to extinguish the April 28 protest, they should bear in mind the shame their “conspiracies” would bring to the nation.

Ambiga had put it well when she said that it was “shameful that Burma can propose a more democratic law,” referring to Myanmar’s military-dominated Parliament which passed a law last year allowing citizens to protest peacefully with five days’ notice instead of the 10 required here under the Peaceful Assembly Act, which Ambiga said despite being passed in Parliament recently had yet to be given an “effective” enforcement date.

Looks like Najib has forgotten the basic tenets of democracy which include personal liberty, the practice of electing representatives to make laws and a legal system based on a constitution – all which for a long time now have been exploited and abused by the “powers-that-be”.

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.


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