Malaysia: Rich but not free
The Jakarta Post
The leaders of Malaysia are laboring under an old paradigm that says you can have development or democracy, but not both. We have news for them: You can be rich and free at the same time. Malaysians deserve both and they deserve it now — not sometime in the future.
The lengths the government went to in trying to prevent and then break up the Bersih 2.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday shows that the nation’s leaders were still not prepared to let go — even when an increasing number of Malaysians of all races have been pressing for more freedom and justice.
The rally, defying a government ban, went down as the largest in Malaysian history. It was significant that representatives from all three major races participated.
The government vainly tried to play the race card, suggesting it was a concerted move to undermine the dominant Malay race. Earlier it suggested that the rally was a communist plot.
There was nothing subversive about the rally. It was held to demand electoral reforms ahead of the next election in 2012.
The demonstrators, who numbers were independently estimated to top 10,000, were simply trying to exercise their rights of free speech and assembly.
They may have defied the law, but they were still marching peacefully. A few clashes erupted when the police tried to break them up. When they did disperse, they did so peacefully.
The police clearly overreacted. They did not need to invoke the Internal Security Act to arrest some of the protest’s leaders before Saturday. They certainly did not need to detain more than 1,600 on the day of the demonstration.
Aspirations for freedom and democracy are universal. Governments everywhere will, sooner or later, have to make accommodations. You cannot suppress the people and deprive them of their freedom forever. You must give them their due — or else they will get it by force. The Arab Spring is a case in point.
Given its current economic strength, Malaysia is in an enviable position to allow greater freedom and democracy. It can afford to take some risks without necessarily undermining development. A few powerful people may stand to lose their economic privileges, but they should have been phased out by now.
The Bersih 2.0 rally is the clearest sign that Malaysians want freedom and justice, as well as wealth.
Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The "soft authoritarian" government of Malaysia overreacted by arresting 1,667 demonstrators who were demanding electoral reforms over the weekend, activists said.
"The response by the Malaysian government and security personnel was so overwhelming that they violated human rights principles in their efforts to control freedom of expression," Indonesia's representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Rafendi Djamin, told The Jakarta Post.
"(The arrests) should not have happened. Every single citizen should have the right to... express their opinions and assemble," said Rafendi, who is also the executive director of the Human Rights Working Group.
Malaysian authorities made the mass arrests and used tear gas on the approximately 20,000 demonstrators who marched under the slogan "Bersih 2.0" (cleaning 2.0) for electoral reforms on Saturday, although they freed the arrested demonstrators on Sunday without filing any formal charges.
Amnesty International called it "the worst campaign of repression we've seen in (Malaysia) for years", while the Human Rights Watch said it was a "maelstrom of the Malaysian authorities' own making".
Rafendi said civil society members and opposition groups often rallied against the ruling government ahead of or during elections.
"But no repressive measures such as arrests were carried out against the demonstrators. On the other hand, (the Malaysian government) had already begun arresting people one week before (Saturday's rally)," he said.
"If violence takes place like this here, at the end of the day, civilians who are unarmed will be the victims."
But even as Indonesia's AICHR representative, he could do nothing to stop what the Malaysian government was doing, he said.
University of Indonesia Southeast Asian political expert Cecep Hidayat said, in comparison to Indonesia, Malaysia was not a democratic country and was even classified as "soft authoritarian" in several pieces of literature. "Malaysia has so many undemocratic policies. It has an Internal Security Act, which can suppress the freedom of expression and assembly," he said.
He said activists and the opposition were demanding electoral reforms because Malaysia's existing electoral law only benefited its three major parties - the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which is the largest party and is comprised of Malay descendants, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) that represents the Malaysian Chinese ethnicity, and the Malaysian India Congress (MIC) that represents the Indian community.
Rallies that were carried out on the weekend were to show to "locals, people in the region and the international community that there is something undemocratic in Malaysia and thus it needs to be reformed".
"The young people in Malaysia now need to realise that there is injustice and authoritarianism that their government is enacting and raise this issue before the opposition and let it be a snowball rolling on in social networks," Cecep said.