The mainstream press and the ruling politicians are sticking to the description of the Bersih march as `illegal’-but why `illegal’? This question is very important-as it may be where rationality/argument/public choice-based democracy depart from arbitrary/capricious/discretionary/haphazard dictatorial rule! So let us examine the likely `reasons’ for making the Bersih `illegal’!
Does it affect the traffic? Many official functions involved closing of roads eg National Day procession. Traffics are diverted in pre-announced orderly way. There are some inconveniences-but few people will complain about it beyond a short period. So why can’t the police re-direct traffic for Bersih march?
It will reduce business of the shops along the way? Affected they will be -some positively as there are more people dropping their cafe, restaurants, convenient shops etc. Surely some few shops may lose some business-just like what a rain may have caused. This may not be a really likely reason-of all reasons!
Then you have the `threat to national security’ excuse which had been invoked often enough. Does it mean that there will be weapons used by the marchers? Does it mean that there are marchers who have proven tendency to use violence? The first Bersih march in 2007 disproved these suspicions. De-facto Minister Nazri’s reported remark that there is no `peaceful’ gathering in the Malaysian laws speak for itself. If we go by that interpretation surely all government gatherings should also be stopped-including the National Day procession! A derivative of that reason is: the official functions have police permit. But this is a circular argument-which does not excuse the giver of `permit’ viz the police, from giving the reasons why a gathering is considered `illegal’ while others are `legal’. When a police said that a gathering is `illegal’ simply on account of lacking a police permit, it just means that the police had not provided the reason why they don’t approve the permit for the gathering. If they had a good reason they should come out with it to sound more credible and convincing!
In addition there is also another smart sounding argument: demonstrations scare away foreign investors! The facts are: without so many demonstrations foreign investors are leaving Malaysia to other countries! Another fact: foreign investors come from democracies where peaceful protests are daily occurrences and they are going to other countries where there are also common occurrences of peaceful demonstrations! Freedom seems to attract FDI-not lack of it! Obviously some of those chambers of commerce people who regurgitate such arguments against public assembly are from the ruling parties who feel pressured by the issues brought up by the protestors!
Then the un-tendered reasons: is it because it is organised by the civil society and not endorsed by the ruling party? Apart from being discriminatory on political ground this excuse basically disrobe all the `reasons’ above as mere naked excuses to suppress the citizens’ rights to hold a gathering! The related reason that Opposition parties will be involved fall under the same excuse as there is no laws saying that Opposition parties cannot hang around a gathering organised by themselves or others. When the police hide behind their discretionary power to deny the public any credible reasons for them to exercise their power they actually degrade their credibility and professionalism because they open themselves to suspicion of pushing political agenda on behalf of the political bosses!
If Bersih is disapproved simply on political ground then the people are entitled to march without regards as their right to march is then similar to their right to vote freely. It is the people’s rights to make their political choice freely-even though they may suffer the violence from the politicians who abuse their power over the police to get the police to attack their political challengers/opponents. The planned attacks on the marchers certainly is an abuse because the police will not be addressing violence from the people-who are peaceful, but create violence under the order of the ruling politicians! From the keeper of law and order the police would have been mis-directed to become a political lap-dog of the ruling politicians!
The PDRM are also part of the civil/public servants. As such they should act to serve the people-not the ruling politicians especially not as their political attack dogs. The voters didn’t vote them to act this way. The ruling parties lack a legitimate basis to abuse the police who are also paid for by tax payers from all political persuasions. Only dictatorial regimes abuse the state security apparatus to attack its people and to protect not the national security but the security of the regime!
Compare to if you hire a security guard: if the guard start to beat you up for failing to heed his orders to you would you still want the security guards or their supervisor? While the ruling party could be used to assuming the role of the `supervisor’ of the security guards of the nation their abuse is not something the people are ready to put up for too long!
At the end of the day the people do want the police to exercise their power on a rational transparent way. They should act on clearly spelt-out, non-discriminatory set of rules that are free of political manipulations. This is the kind of police force a democratic country would provide. Based on the performance of the police so far it is sad to say that we have a`regime protecting’ police force than a people protecting security force. Their lack of transparency on their refusal to protect peacefully assembled citizens lose them respect. They deserved to be fired at the nearest opportune time-which could be when a more people friendly party take over from the dictatorial regime now!