It was recently reported that 31 members of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) who were on their way to Penang for a BERSIH roadshow were arrested. Deputy Penang Police Chief Datuk Abdul Rahim Jaafar said they would be investigated for allegedly attempting to wage war against the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, which is an offence pursuant to section 122 of the Penal Code.
Dato’ Seri Rais Yatim, the Information, Communication and Culture Minister when asked to comment about the arrests remarked, “Spreading communism is against the law. It is evil and illegal.” It is not clear what implications the Minister’s statement would have on Malaysia-China relations since the Chinese Communist Party is the founding and ruling party of the People’s Republic of China. It is also not clear whether this is official Malaysian Government policy.
Furthermore, it was only recently that Dato’ Seri Najib Razak declared that the People’s Republic of China is a Malaysian trade partner. The current Foreign Minister, Dato’ Sri Anifah Hj Aman, has not made any comment.
Why are PSM members being investigated under section 122 of the Code which is more appropriate for terrorism? Neither the media reports nor the police have mentioned a cache of weapons or any violence on their part. There is nothing remotely close reported about PSM members as compared to the facts in the only case where that provision was used – Mohd Amin Mohd Razali & Ors v PP & Another Appeal  3 CLJ 425. Mohd Amin and his gang in attracting that provision did the following (as summarised in the case):
The evidence as adduced showed that the appellants, as members of an outlawed group called Al-Maunah, had sought to overthrow the Government of the day by force and violence and to that end, had: (i) staged arms heist and seized caches of weapons belonging to the army; (ii) set up base camp at Bukit Jenalik, Perak where they took two police personnel, a civilian and an army trooper as hostages and subsequently killed the trooper; (iii) bombed two breweries and a temple in Selangor; and (iv) caused damage to an electrical power cable in Perak.
The police classifying this case as one under section 122 of the Code without any basis suggests that they are sending a message than actually carrying out a serious investigation.
The message is this: attending BERSIH 2.0 is a breach of national security and we can prosecute you with a capital offence for doing so.
Malaysiakini reported Rais Yatim’s reactions when asked about the PSM arrests:
“Spreading communism is against the law. It is evil and illegal,” he said.
He contends that the prohibition against communism is stamped in our laws and the spirit of the constitution, citing 1948 regulations and the Police Act 1967 which he believed enumerated such restrictions.
“As such, it is appropriate for us to take action, this is for the survival of the majority, not about the minority.”
He contends that the BN, which has obtained legitimacy by the majority vote, has the right to act against the troublemakers and it is proper that the police take action.
Rais suggested instead that those in the disgruntled minority not take part in what he called illegal demonstrations, but to use proper channels like Parliament and discourse to air their grievances.
“Use Parliment, use dialogue, you don’t need to come in the thousands to Kuala Lumpur to demonstrate. This is rampasan kuasa sosial! (social overthrow),” he complained.
We should be grateful to Rais Yatim for making clear why exactly the Government through the police, through all their ministers and other agents are trying to either halt the BERSIH 2.0 event and scare others from participating.
Let us closely consider his statements.
As he said, it is for the survival of the majority, which he claims is Barisan Nasional. So what he really means is the political survival of Barisan Nasional is at stake if BERSIH 2.0 is allowed to proceed.
By saying only those in the majority are legitimate, Rais is implying that those in the minority are illegitimate, disgruntled and can only use Parliament and dialogue to demonstrate.
It is disappointing that he does not explain how exactly the rakyat are supposed to express their dissatisfaction with the state of elections and the Electoral Commission in Parliament and with dialogue (with whom?). Unless he explains this, we can and should dismiss his casual flippant suggestions.
Rais Yatim’s statements suggest a grave misunderstanding of the concept of democracy. The concept of democracy as practiced in civilised jurisdictions allows for demonstrations and facilitates it. The minority are not “troublemakers” or necessarily “disgruntled”. They are simply those that have a different opinion on political issues.
They are not sub-humans or manifestations of evil in this world. They are human beings who differ from what more and other human beings agree on. In a democracy, it is the duty and responsibility of the majority to nurture and secure the minority’s freedom of expression and integrity. Despite passing himself off as a lawyer before, he seems to have blurred the distinction between Rule of Law and Rule by Law.
Rais Yatim’s statements indicate his ignorance about BERSIH 2.0. They describe their initiative as a crusade for clean and fair elections independent of any political party. It is quite simple.
However, his statements help us understand why Barisan Nasional and especially UMNO members are vehemently against BERSIH 2.0.
They oppose it because UMNO, the largest and most influential party in the Barisan Nasional, does not appear to have a clean or fair election independent of any leadership influence in the last 20 years or so.
Tun Mahathir himself was reported to have weeped over the inevitability of corruption in the UMNO elections. Tan Sri Isa Samad was suspended for 3 years from 24 June 2005 on 7 corruption charges for money politics in the 2004 UMNO elections. Then are those found for less serious electoral breaches including Encik Khairy Jamaludin. There are many more such instances if one googles hard, smart and long enough.
Listen and consider the Prime Minister’s campaign speech for the Sibu by-elections on 18 May 2010 to get a flavour of UMNO’s modus operandi and ask whether that speech sounds consistent with a clean and fair election independent of any political party.
UMNO and Barisan Nasional are miscalculating by going against BERSIH 2.0 because endorsing it would only work in their favour. They could take advantage of that fact by playing the responsible government and allowing it to proceed without incident and facilitate its conclusion as quickly as possible.
By doing this they can appear reasonable, responsible, head off another round of human rights violations and international condemnation and outdo the opposition in their initiatives. It would be too easy for UMNO and Barisan Nasional to do that and win back some of society.
That they choose water cannons, crackdowns, Federal Reserve Units, racial and religious agitation over genuine civil society initiatives that would improve and bring benefit to everybody suggests that they still have not learnt important lessons from the 2008 general elections.
They would do well to remember that though pride comes before the fall, arrogance manifests before annihilation.
Fahri Azzat believes that it is the democratic right for every citizen to assemble peaceably and to express themselves.