Saturday 10 September 2011

Putrajaya responsible for police handling of Bersih, says law expert

September 10, 2011
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — A constitutional expert has criticised the government for blaming the police for the way the Bersih rally was handled, saying today Putrajaya should be held responsible for the public fallout over the matter as police officers had acted strictly under government orders.

Professor Abdul Aziz Bari said that Malaysia practised a Westminister model of democracy, whereby Article 43 (3) of the Federal Constitution dictates that the police force answers to no one but the government of the day.

“The government cannot blame the police in the Bersih issue. The police force is part of the public service and this, in turn, is under the care of the executive, namely the government of the day.

Constitutional expert Professor Abdul Aziz Bari said today that “the buck stops with the government” over the police's response to the July 9 Bersih rally. — file pic
“Like in other Westminster democracies, the government is responsible for the public servants, including the police force. As they are not elected, it is the elected Cabinet who must be made accountable. That is the essence of responsible government as laid down under Article 43 (3) of the Federal Constitution,” he told The Malaysian Insider today via email. Aziz was responding to remarks made earlier today by Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon. Koh had said that the police’s handling of the July 9 Bersih rally was the cause of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent approval rating decline.

The Gerakan president agreed with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s view that the rally had affected the government’s image, but stressed that Putrajaya had never meant to “stifle” anyone’s freedom of speech or right to express themselves.

Koh, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said measures taken by the police during the rally had given the public the “impression” that the government was “too restrictive”, and that this was not true.

“The buck stops with the government; it cannot point the finger at the public servants ... In the Bersih affair, the police were acting under the instructions of the government,” Aziz explained further.

He said that the Najib administration’s move to pin the blame on the police was not a new occurrence, and that a similar tactic was employed by Dr Mahathir during the infamous Operasi Lalang incident.
“Serve the police right. They have become a guinea pig again,” Aziz added.

Dr Mahathir, in an Astro Awani interview aired yesterday, said that Najib’s recent approval rating decline was due to his administration’s handling of the Bersih rally.

He had agreed with the findings of Merdeka Center’s latest survey, which saw Najib’s approval rating slide to its lowest point of 59 per cent since last May’s high of 79 per cent. He said that the government’s image was badly affected due to the strict measures taken by the authorities to maintain public order on July 9.
The former prime minister pointed out that Putrajaya had acted wrongly by banning people from wearing yellow garments.

A Merdeka Center survey had concluded that the rating drop was fuelled by rising concerns over the surge in living costs and Putrajaya’s handling of Bersih 2.0.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers have basked in the aftermath of the survey results, claiming it indicated a clear voter swing towards the federal opposition, while Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders have chosen to stay indignant, saying the poll may not be an accurate reflection of voter sentiment.

The survey involved respondents aged 21 and above across the peninsula who were selected through a random stratified sampling along the lines of ethnicity, gender, age and state of residency. Of the 1,027 polled, 59 per cent were Malays, 32 per cent Chinese and nine per cent Indians.

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