Rashid’s announcement of lifting of public rally ban an empty gesture without full police endorsement and guarantee, as it was the police and not the Election Commission which banned public rallies 25 years ago on the flimsy pretext of impending 30th anniversary of  MCP armed insurrection

Media Conference Statement (3)
at the launch of the  Love Malaysia/Defend Secular Malaysia campaign at PJ Old Town
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaWednesday): The announcement by the Election Commission Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman of the lifting of the ban on public rallies in the next general election is an empty gesture without police endorsement and guarantee, as it was the police and not the Election Commission which banned public rallies 25 years ago on the flimsy pretext of the impending  30th anniversary of the  Malayan Communist Party (MCP) armed insurrection in July 1948 with the police expecting disturbances and unrest. 

At that time, the Malaysian public were given the assurance that the ban on public rallies was temporary – but it has continued for a quarter of a century up till today, in utter violation of the fundamental human rights of  freedom of speech and assembly. 

The ban on  public rallies for the past 25 years had been one of the black spots of  police and government abuses of power and human rights violations in the past 25 years, made even more blatant and flagrant with the   end of the MCP armed struggle in its peace  accord reached with the government in Haadyai in 1989.  With  the  biography of the MCP Secretary-General,   “My Side of History”  now freely  available in the bookshops, what reason can there be for the continued ban on public rallies during normal times and not just during election campaigns? 

Although Rashid said the police had given the greenlight for public  rallies to enable all political parties to explain their views and manifestoes to as many people as possible during the campaign period, and that organizers of such gatherings are  required to get police permits, the Police must give a categorical assurance that there would be a full restoration of the freedom to  hold public rallies in the country which was the feature of the Malaysian political landscape in  the first two decades of  nationhood.  

Public rallies were temporarily suspended in the 21 months of emergency rule by NOC after the May 13 riots in 1969, but when Parliament was reconvened and the suspension of political activities lifted, public rallies were also restored. This was why there were public rallies between 1971 till 1978, including during the 1974 general election.

A pertinent  question is whether there would be a full restoration of the freedom to hold public rallies to pre-1978, when public rallies were held at padangs and public grounds with no obstruction by the local authorities such as refusing to give permission for their use. 

I am rather skeptical about the lifting of the ban, as the silence on the part of the police would reinforce suspicion that there would be  undemocratic  restrictions which would be imposed by the police on the holding of public rallies, as even now open political ceramahs are banned. 

This morning Rashid is meeting representatives from Opposition parties after meeting Barisan Nasional parties yesterday on the Election Commission’s proposed code of ethics to ensure free, fair and clean elections. 

I have had a quick look at the 20-page proposed code of ethics and I am not convinced that it would have any major impact on ensuring free, fair and clean elections, and I shall dwell on it in my three-part response to Rashid’s three-part interview with Malaysiakini, beginning  on Friday. 

Just two quick comments. The code of ethics  proposed, among others, that no campaign material could be aired by the electronic media during the election campaign season. 

Is this for real? As electronic media includes not only Internet but also radio and television, is Rashid seriously suggesting that the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and other Barisan Nasional leaders would not be appearing on television during the election campaign period to conduct electioneering campaigns – which would be the sole purpose of their TV appearances? 

If Rashid could achieve this result, then he is on the way to be the greatest Election Commission Chairman in the nation’s history, as he would be achieving a great breakthrough to ensure free, fair and clean elections in Malaysia. 

A fatal flaw of the Election Commission’s code of ethics meant to ensure ethical electoral  conduct of political parties, candidates, election agents and workers is the glaring  omission to cover the ethical conduct of a key election player – the Election Commission itself, to ensure that it functions with independence, professionalism, accountability and integrity above all suspicion and prejudice and bias against Opposition parties.  Is Rashid prepared to fill up this “black hole” in the Commission’s proposed code of ethics?


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman