DAP strongly   protests  against Mahathir and UMNO Supreme Council’s subtle,  unmistakable and improper   directive to Police not to lift the undemocratic 25-year ban on public rallies in the next general election as advocated by the Election Commission

Statement (2)
 at Kuantan Road market, Jelutong  on the  DAP’s Love Malaysia/Defend Secular Malaysia campaign
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangSaturday): DAP wishes to protest in the strongest terms possible against the subtle but unmistakable and improper directive  to the police not to lift the undemocratic 25-year ban on public rallies in the next general election, as advocated by the Election Commission. 

The Prime Minister,  Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad spoke for the first time on the public rally controversy  after chairing  the UMNO Supreme Council meeting yesterday, and although he couched his language in very subtle terms, there could be no mistake about his message and that of the UMNO Supreme Council – that they are opposed to any lifting of the undemocratic ban on public rallies. 

This explains for the different media headlines this morning, from the ambivalent   “Caution on rallies – they cannot be used to gauge democracy, says PM” (The Star), “Police to decide on rallies – Dr. Mahathir: We must take into account security of the country” (New Straits Times), to the categorical “Rapat umum: PM anggap pembangkang  belum matang” (Berita Harian) and “UMNO tolak rapat umum:  Boleh cetuskan tindakan ganas penyokong parti pembangkang – Dr. Mahathir” (Utusan Malaysia) 

As UMNO Supreme Council is the most powerful body in the country, more powerful than the Barisan Nasional,  the Cabinet and Parliament, and undoubtedly more powerful than the Election Commission and  the Royal Malaysian Police Force, its political wishes   must override any security considerations of the police as what the UMNO Supreme Council desires  are as good as commands to the Police. 

It is most ironic that the UMNO Supreme Council should have shown the  true colours of its political hegemony in the ruling coalition on the eve of the Barisan Nasional’s “Power-Sharing Success” 50th anniversary celebrations with an illegal public rally at Merdeka Stadium in kL today  – demonstrating that “power sharing” is pure misnomer to describe the increasingly unequal and  lopsided relationship between UMNO not only with the other Barisan Nasional component parties, but also the Cabinet and Parliament and all government institutions and agencies.

Mahathir was wrong, whether misinformed or otherwise,  when he alleged that “supporters of political parties, especially the opposition, are  not yet mature enough to gather at open rallies without causing disturbances” and claimed as evidence  the Lunas by-election in 2000 “where opposition supporters were rowdy, including assaulting people, trespassing into a police station, detaining a bus and seizing people's identity cards”. 

Why were Malaysian opposition supporters mature enough  during the premiership of Bapa Malaysia and first Prime Minister  Tunku Abdul Rahman and second Prime Minister Tun Razak to hold public rallies, but not when he became Prime Minister for 22 years? 

Mahathir further alleged that “the country was susceptible to threat, and that some supporters of political parties, especially the opposition, were still immature as regards the ways of democracy because when opposition supporters felt that when they were in big numbers and strong, they would act violently”. (Bernama)

Mahathir said   public rallies do not reflect the existence of democracy in elections, claiming that  democracy had various interpretations and that  in Malaysia,  it meant the people's right to choose their representatives through the ballot box. 

It is clear that to Mahathir, so long as the formal process of voting once every four or five years in a general election is preserved, regardless of the multitude of electoral abuses, especially the three 3Ms abuses of  media, money and government (machinery), there is democracy at work.  By Mahathir’s definition, democracy was also at work in the previous communist Soviet Union as it  regularly held elections for its citizens  to “vote in” their leaders with 99 per cent support of the voters! 

I challenge Mahathir to cite a single public rally by the opposition in the past which had led to disturbances.  Mahathir would not be able to do so because there was never such a single case, although public rallies were allowed in the first 12 years of Independence from 1957 to 1969, suspended for 21 months when Parliament and all political activities were suspended after the May 13 riots in 1969, but when Parliament was reconvened and political activities restored in February 1971, the suspension of public rallies were also lifted. 

Public rallies were suspended 25 years ago in 1978 by the then Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Hanif Omar not because the Opposition were not mature and posed security threats, but because of the police expectation of organized unrest and urban guerrilla attacks in the impending 30th anniversary of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) armed insurrection in July 1948.  

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 Chin Peng,  the MCP Secretary-General,   “My Side of History”  now freely  available in the bookshops, what good security  reason can there be for the continued ban on public rallies?

DAP calls for a full parliamentary debate on the lifting of the 25-year undemocratic ban on public rallies, as this issue should be decided by Members of Parliament and not by a secret conclave in the UMNO Supreme Council.  The Election Commission has declared its stand that public rallies should be allowed at least during the next general election.  The Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman should also declare Suhakam  stand as this concerns  fundamental human rights for which Suhakam had been established specifically to protect and promote.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman