SAME OLD GOVERNMENT, SAME OLD WAYS
COMMENT by: SUARAM Team
The Broken Promise
Three years ago, Prime Minister Najib claimed that he had marked the herald to a new era with his promise to grant greater freedoms to the people. With a delicate balance on national security and fundamental freedoms of the people, he repealed the Internal Security Act 1960, three Emergency proclamations, Restricted Residence Act 1933, Banishment Act 1959 and reviewed the University and University Colleges Act 1971 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. However, in practice it appears to be merely a strive for political mileage as the fundamental freedoms of the people are still being denied by the government and its agencies.
The same can be seen in the 13th General Elections. On 5th May 2013, arguably the most ferocious General Elections in Malaysian history, Barisan Nasional was declared the victor and Najib was appointed as the Prime Minister for the first time. Many argued the outcome of the GE13 were marred with fraud, phantom voters, washable indelible ink, irregularities in the gazetted electoral roll and heightened political violence which saw bomb blasts at campaign sites and even a murder case throughout the campaign period. At the same time, various forms of harassment of human rights defenders took place.
The Herald of a New Era
Democracy flourished since the birth of social media and critical alternative news portal. With the luxury came the awareness of the people on current issues in the country. The Election Commission’s findings were indicative, if not evident of the fact that the voters turnout for the GE13 was tremendous and a true sign of democracy.
Many photographic and video evidence indicating electoral irregularities were available on the cyberspace and countless reports and complaints were made to the police against the EC for the lack of professionalism and integrity in ensuring a free and fair election.
The overwhelming dissatisfaction against the EC, coupled with the betrayal of the sanctity of voters’ free will culminated to massive protests against the serious problems plaguing the outcome of the GE13.
Concerted Actions to Quell Legitimate Dissent
There was least to the public’s imagination that the Police, the Registrar of Society and the EC were independent and impartial from what had been demonstrated during the GE13.
The RoS, which had harassed SUARAM for seven months before ceasing following a Judicial Review in the High Court was commissioned again to harass the Democratic Action Party at the eleventh hour prior to GE13 nomination day. DAP’s eligibility and qualification to contest in the GE13 were threatened, and even more absurd, ridiculous tasks were given at the very last minute with a tight deadline.
Serious matters which require immediate attention to were kept in view by the police. These include the death by murder of Murugan, a Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s campaigner, several bomb blasts at campaign sites, countless reports and complaints made to the police against the EC, seditious “Chinese Tsunami” statements made by Ministers and the investigation on Utusan Malaysia’s “Apa Lagi Cina Mahu” (“What else do the Chinese want?”) headline, the racist group attacks on anti-racism student group in Penang, and the investigation on bloggers Papagomo and MiloSuam, just to name a few.
Instead of immediately responding to the cases, the focus was directed to harassing human rights defenders. The concerted actions taken by the government and its agencies in encroaching into the people’s democratic space flew in the face of Najib and his promises. The civil service was perverted before and still is after all these years. As repeatedly stated by SUARAM on many occasions, governments may come and go but the civil service remains impartial at all times and should never act on political instructions from the government.
The Use of Regressive Legislations
Regressive legislations such as the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, the Sedition Act 1948 and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 were used/threatened to be used against human rights defenders pre and post GE13. Prior to the election, threats of political instability and racial riots similar to the May 13 were used to raise fear among the people should anything untoward takes place post GE13.
Several members of the opposition parties were questioned and charged for having allegedly organised/participated in illegal assemblies under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. The act which was rushed to passage without public consultation was used as a tool by government and its organs to quell legitimate dissent.
The Sedition Act 1948, dubbed irrelevant and as the stumbling block to freedom of expression was used, regardless of previous talks and initiatives by the government to repeal the law. Similar to the draconian ISA 1960, the act was used and defended until the last moment before any constructive steps are taken to repeal the act. The use of the Sedition Act on Batu MP Chua Tian Chang prior to GE13 and the latest arrest and detention of student activist, Adam Adli had proven just that.
The threat of possible use of the SOSMA 2012 against “rioters” during the GE13 were floating in the air like an imminent threat, until the government had to resort to a public statement to confirm that it will never be used for the purposes of GE13.
Perhaps, the statements made by the former IGP Ismail Omar who said that the police would still use the old ways to maintain public order, if they are appropriate despite the absence of ISA 1960 and the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1960 would ring a bell.
The new Inspector-General of Police and Home Minister’s comments were worrying for the people. Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi’s suggestions to revamp the Ministry were of SUARAM’s grave concern as the police would now join the ranks of army in training to reduce crime and to ensure public order. It was made public shortly after the present IGP Khalid Abu Bakar had complimented former IGP Ismail Omar’s Ops Daulat operation in Lahad Datu, Sabah. Instead of focussing on how to reduce fatalities of suspects in police lock-ups and fatal police shootings, the police would now undergo their training with the military in firearms related situations to combat crime.
Adding Salt to the Wound
Chairman of EC, Abdul Aziz had on few public occasions answered questions pertaining to the complaints raised by the voters in regard to vote rigging. However most of the answers were bare denials. As the body solely responsible for the operation of GE13, it did little to dismiss the damning allegations of electoral fraud.
With only bare denials and a promise to investigate the complaints thoroughly, the EC had failed to diffuse the tension among legitimate voters. If at all any actions were to be taken to prosecute peaceful and legitimate human rights defenders, it would be the sole responsibility of the EC to stop the police because the EC is solely responsible in creating the tension and disappointment among the voters.
Malaysians had matured and ready to embrace democracy in a legitimate and peaceful manner. On this note, SUARAM calls upon the government and its agencies to cease all forms of intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders. SUARAM beseech that constructive steps be taken to end the various investigations and release the results to the public. The damage to the sanctity of the voter’s choice and free will had already been done but adding salt to the wounds is definitely not the way forward.