Sunday 26 June 2011

M'sia a quasi-police state ahead of July 9 rally - by TERENCE NETTO

COMMENT The police have now overtaken Ibrahim Ali in turning support for the Bersih 2.0 march into a going concern among citizens.

Repressive measures they have taken in the past few days are set to make the planned march the object of national attention.

NONEThat dovetails nicely with what the march's organisers had in mind when they set out to publicise it weeks ago.
At that point, the organisers had doubts as to whether the second edition of this event, first staged in November 2007, would be the success the inaugural one resoundingly was.

Thanks to the incendiary fulminations of Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali and the myopia of the police, the upcoming march has had all the revving-up its organisers could have wished for to make it supersede its predecessor in size and importance.

Bersih's organisers must be licking their chops at how their planned event has obtained the assists that a flaming opponent and a maladroit force contrived to render them.

A re-enactment of 1987?

Earlier this year, we had a hint that Malaysia may well be a police state, at certain times at least.

This was when former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad disclosed that he was opposed to the ISA detentions of October 1987 when more than a hundred opposition politicians and anti-government social activists were held under the draconian law.

The former inspector-general of police, Hanif Omar, chimed in to confirm that indeed Mahathir had expressed his misgivings about the police action but the police had gone ahead nevertheless.

This was a flagrant contravention of the ISA Act which expressly vests the power to detain a person in the home minister and not the police.

mahathir and operasi lalangThe home minister in October 1987 was Mahathir. If he had indeed opposed the use of the Act in dealing with the tense situation that prevailed at that time and if detentions had taken place, which was what happened, then police power had overridden civil authority.

Likewise these days, we are witness to re-enactments of what transpired in 1987.

Even before Bersih has applied for a police permit for their march, the IGP and his deputy have issued public warnings against the legality of the march despite constitutional guarantees of citizens' right to peaceful assembly.

Worse, the police, as of yesterday, have begun to arrest political activists in an attempt to preempt the march planned for July 9.

Members of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), in Johor Baru on Friday and in Penang yesterday, have borne the initial brunt of this abuse of police power.

Reports say that the police detained the PSM activists, who were engaged in legitimate political activity, on grounds that they were canvassing for support for the Bersih march.

Cynical display of police power

Selective and politically motivated detentions by the force are an old story.

In this instance, however, it is done in the teeth of the authorities' lethargy in dealing with the purveyors of a widely disseminated video allegedly showing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in a transaction with a sex worker. Lassitude on the part of the law enforcers is cynical and staggering.

It also reflects amnesia about the context in which morally awakened citizens are prompted to act in concert in the face of cynical displays of police authority.

It is undeniable that one of the reasons Umno-BN romped to a landslide victory in the March 2004 general election was that under the newly installed prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the government had on the previous December moved to place police power under scrutiny through the creation of a royal commission on the management of the force.

That decision by Abdullah was widely popular and was instrumental in securing his government a landslide endorsement by the electorate three months later.

Fifteen months after the royal commission was instituted, it made public its recommendations in March 2005.

pak lah and police forceWhat happened was that PM Abdullah wavered in the face of pressure from vested interests in the force against a key recommendation - the creation of an independent panel to look into public complaints of police misconduct.

In retrospect, it can be said that the administration of Abdullah Badawi entered the start of a precipitous decline in its popularity from its heady heights in March 2004 to its loss of BN's two-thirds parliamentary majority four years later because of the PM's waffling on police reform.

Now things have gone beyond the question of prime ministerial vacillation in the face of police power. It is more a case of civil and police authority colluding to shore up each other.

It is in this sense that the Bersih march is fast becoming a gauge of the extent to which Malaysia has become a quasi-police state in which increasingly illegitimate civil authority and arbitrary police power conspire to repress citizens engaged in the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

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