Demonstrations: A fundamental right of citizens

by Tunku Aziz

It would be an untruth if I said I was ever a fan of Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Be that as it may, I am sorry about his coming into office, unlike all his predecessors, weighed down by the heaviest baggage imaginable, stuffed up to the neck with allegations of impropriety that I’d rather not bore you with.

I will not enumerate them either as they are too many. Also it would be pointless to waste our time dwelling upon unproven allegations that should have been nipped in the bud before they got out of hand, but for some unexplained reason, Najib had allowed them to fester like tropical sores on his credibility and honour.

I, like many other Malaysians, want very much to keep an open mind. We earnestly hope that he will give serious consideration to confronting, in a court of law, those who have defamed and reviled him.

His studied indifference might be considered by some to be an appropriate response, but he is not helping his own cause. He is pandering to the insatiable appetite of the noisy rumour mongering, chattering classes.

People are not giving Najib the benefit of the doubt that he craves for. His moral legitimacy to govern is being seriously challenged because of his cavalier attitude to these extremely damning allegations.

I am not about to dispute his legitimacy to govern based on the mandate given to the Barisan Nasional by the people as part of the electoral process, but that, without an underpinning of high ethical standards of behaviour, renders a leader morally deficient.

Conventional wisdom has it that in the sticky situation he has found himself, the only recourse is for Najib to take those who have maligned him to court and clear his name, once and for all. People are asking “Why is he fighting shy of seeking justice in a court of law unless he has something to hide?” They have a point there.

For the sake of what is left of the country’s already battered reputation, and his own, he should clear his name sooner rather than later. Najib’s 1 Malaysia requires of him that he put the interest of the nation above his own.

We cannot have a prime minister who is not prepared to answer these serious allegations about his involvement in some seedy criminal activities, or those bordering on the criminal, and yet who expects us to embrace his yet hazy and unclear 1 Malaysia and to shower him with our trust and affection.

I know all these allegations may have no basis in fact and, therefore, all the more reason for Najib to let the criminal justice system be the arbiter of truth. Perceptions may not have any basis in fact, but they are real.

Najib wants so desperately to be loved, and to be well thought of. I see nothing wrong with that. It is just a silly bit of misplaced, self-serving egoism, a very human weakness most of us suffer from, but it is a harmless desire. However, there is everything wrong, if as rumours have it, public funds are being used to pay international and local spin doctors to bolster up his position.

Mahathir, when he was prime minister, so we are told, used public funds to have a meeting with President Bush arranged to boost his flagging international reputation. We expected this of Mahathir, a man of many contradictions with few scruples, but I should like to think that Najib is made of stronger and finer moral fibre, but then I could be wrong.

I am ecstatic, more than any one can imagine, by Najib’s strong rhetoric against corruption. I use the word “rhetoric” advisedly because while we have heard many populist pronouncements rolling off his smooth silvery tongue on a variety of issues, we are still waiting to see the colour of his money. Will he deliver as promised?

For someone who has been on the receiving end of countless allegations of perceived unethical public conduct relating to purchases of military assets during his watch as defence minister, he is right to want to distance himself from any further insinuation of impropriety.

Defence contracts are notoriously susceptible to corrupt practices the world over and because of this, people simply will not believe that a defence minister can be clean and pure as the driven snow, or be like Caesar’s wife, completely above suspicion especially when the procurement process is shrouded in secrecy and mystery, as ours is and has been for years.

For this, if not for any other reason, if I may be so bold as to advise Najib, he should order a complete review of the defence ministry’s procurement rules and procedures at once and bring them in line with best international public procurement practice.

The purpose of any procurement systems review is to ensure the highest degree of transparency. Without transparency, there is no accountability. Najib has a lot on his plate, and as they say, he has his work cut out for him, lucky him.

Minutes before writing this article, I had just finished reading, for the second time after a lapse of some years, F.W. De Klerk’s “The Last Trek – A New Beginning.” He was, of course the President of South Africa who dismantled apartheid and gave the people of that troubled nation a new democratic constitution which saw the once proscribed African National Congress in the seat of power after winning the general elections in 1994.

I mention all this because in spite of the fact that the Republic of South Africa had been under a state of emergency and under siege, De Klerk, in 1989, a few months before his inauguration as President, made a conscious political decision to legalise protest demonstrations that had been made illegal until then, much to the consternation of his security advisers. They thought it was madness on his part given the circumstances prevailing at the time. Why did he do what he did? Let him tell us in his own words:

“We were faced with the fact that it would be impossible to avoid the gathering of thousands of people committed to the march. The choice, therefore, was between breaking up an illegal march with all the attendant risks of violence and negative publicity, or of allowing the march to continue, subject to the conditions that could help to avoid violence and ensure good order. These were important considerations, but none of them was conclusive. The most important factor, which tipped the scale, was my conviction that the prohibition of powerful protests and demonstrations could not continue. Such an approach would be irreconcilable with the democratic transformation process that I was determined to launch and the principles of a state based on the rule of law, which I wanted to establish.”(Italics mine.)

In terms of the security and public order situation then obtaining in South Africa, and the situation in Malaysia today, where peaceful demonstrations are illegal, the two situations do not bear the remotest resemblance.

The justification trotted out with regular monotony by the government is so outrageously dishonest as to insult our intelligence. A government that sees a need to continue to impose an undemocratic law has no place in a parliamentary democracy. For F.W De Klerk, the man who worked himself out of a job, it was nothing more than “restoring what was regarded throughout the world as a basic democratic right.” (Emphasis mine)

Perhaps De Klerk’s most inspiring statement in defence of democratic principles is “… vision of the future can justify any government to ignore the basic human rights of the human beings involved. No cause is so great that we should allow it to dilute our sense of justice and humanity.” (Emphasis mine)

On that note, as our legal friends would say, I rest my case. Now over to our self-proclaimed reformist prime minister.

  1. #1 by vsp on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 6:03 am

    The problem with Najib is that he is still stuck in the old ways of doing things. He thinks that money, charm and the hope that Malaysians tends to forget and forgive, with little crumbs thrown into their way will do the trick.

    Money he has in abundance. The two stimulus packages were mainly catered for this possibility. Up to this moment no one has really seen how the stimulus packages were put into good uses. Instead it was squandered in political intrigues. Money is being used to bolster his highly doubtful “1 Malaysia” concept with slogans, song-and-dance fantasia and the art of spin doctoring.

    Will Malaysians be still looney to buy into all these shenanigans?

  2. #2 by charlieKC on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 8:14 am

    Because of the demostrations, many ppl jammed up after toll for no reasons due to road block.

    We have no objections, but please find a place without trouble majority of citizen who are rushing and survive on daily income and job.

    MPs, PKR, and Polis had no understanding whatever you all want to do, think of normal citizen first, ‘Kita nak cari makan, kita taada pension seperti MPs dan Polis’

  3. #3 by Joshua on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 8:54 am

    Is not my lodging of 30 Police Reports PR worth RM30 trillions a form of silent protests and nobody take action?

    Do we need a louder or loudest voice like a public demo to push for action on those PR?

    pw: detonate to

  4. #4 by k1980 on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 8:55 am

    He is not using money, charm and empty sloganeering to hang on to power. He is relying on terror tactics to wipe out any opposition to his reign

  5. #5 by OrangRojak on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 9:07 am

    While we’re talking of eroded fundamental rights, I suppose there’s no chance of anybody carpet bombing the people who are open burning is there? I’m not getting much done this morning. The face mask and mopping the office floor every ten minutes in an effort to avoid choking to death is a bit of a drag.

  6. #6 by k1980 on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 2:14 pm

    Naj knows very well that demonstrations have brought down Marcos and Estrada, as well as the dictatorships of Eastern Europe. He is not going to take that chance.

  7. #7 by double K on Friday, 7 August 2009 - 6:10 pm

    Demonstration peacefully is good. It’s people’s voice. In Hong Kong almost every weekend there is a demonstration for people to voice out. They peacefully match to the Gov dept with the help of police force. Businesses not effected at all. Again it’s because Hong Kong has a very strong law enforcement.

  8. #8 by charlieKC on Saturday, 8 August 2009 - 12:13 am

    Political success needs time and good services to people. It is not by demo, rights. It is people choices. But if the choices are forced, manipulated, then the negative effect may emerged.
    There are many Opposition elected by chance of negative feeling against BN, but, as many people watching the result book ok Opposition performances and service within their constituent, there may not be up to the points, Whether they can or cannot work with deep tooted local councils, or authorities, it is entirely strategies that could reflect weakness of oppositions. You cannot have VIPs and think tank of leaders go to fields and wasting time, every actions means alot to the image and impressions of gaining future votes…one day we may all fed up with Hooligan, demo, and choatic actions, and Opposition could just drop to nothing for many silly acts.
    Both sides must look at what had not been done for BASICs living conditions, surronding of their voters, their home ground. WHat the heck a MP every worrying of national issues whereas he can’t even service his home ground. He hero actions can burn his seat eventually.
    We want Politicians to keep our place safe, clean, orderly so business can flourish, can growth and can keep our family out of poverty and hunger.
    Life is tough, don’t waste time…

  9. #9 by Onlooker Politics on Saturday, 8 August 2009 - 2:17 am

    “While we’re talking of eroded fundamental rights, I suppose there’s no chance of anybody carpet bombing the people who are open burning is there?” (OrangRojak)

    The fogs created by open burning might have come all the way from Sumatra, where several ten thousands hectares of tropical jungle had already been cut off by some Malaysian-Indonesian joint venture companies which were given lands for oil palm planting by the provincial government of Riau Province of Indonesia Republic. This problem has been lasting for the past 15 years and it seems that no viable solution can be implemented except for getting Singaporean Civil Defense to send helicopters to Sumatra to perform the duty of fire-fighting. This is an international problem which requires Najib’s personal attention. It is not a local neighbourhood problem.

  10. #10 by Onlooker Politics on Saturday, 8 August 2009 - 2:41 am

    “Now over to our self-proclaimed reformist prime minister.” (Tunku Aziz)

    If Najib really has the genuine intent to kick off a reform, the first thing he should do is to do a raid visit now to the ISA detention camp at Kampung Batu, Jalan Ipoh, nearby Kuala Lumpur. There is no point for Najib to keep preaching the benefits and goodies of the Internal Security Act unless he has really seen the splashing blood stains left by the former ISA detainees in the solitary confinement rooms of the ISA detention camp. The ISA would never provide a lot of benefits to the general public of Malaysia, for the abuse of the draconian ISA by the BN Federal Government would only create problems of social dislocation and family disintegration to the ISA detainees, thereby planted more hatred among some innocent but wrongfully arrested detainees and turned them into the true fugitives because of the mental tortures, physical hurts and financial stresses during the detention and sufferings from social isolation after being released and many other pains and insult like being forced to show naked body in front of many police investigators during the investigation stage. The ISA detainees would receive many cruel treatments while being detained as the BN Federal Government’s Special Guest!

    There is no good reason for Najib to want to keep the ISA intact, except that Najib intends to uphold his dictatorial rule through the use of the ISA.

  11. #11 by grkumar on Saturday, 8 August 2009 - 10:55 am

    There is no absolute ‘right’ to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech or freedom of any other expression. These are myths or exaggrated interpretations of the rights people enjoy or expect to enjoy in any civilised society.

    The expression of any right is subject to its limitations where it may interfere with the rights of others or public order and security. Clearly the latter two are subject to debate.

    When warned not to perform or undertake a specific event by authority, the best and most appropriate form of protest to such a restriction or warning is the forum of the courts. It is there that the relevant legislation can be properly challenged. Not the streets.

    Unfortunately and judging by the way many Malaysian legal practitioners articulate themselves and their understanding of the law, it will never be the preferred way of challenging the law or a right under it.

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