Saturday, 28 April 2012

Bersih 3.0 rally: Malaysia braces for electoral reform protests

KUALA LUMPUR (April 27, 2012): The Police have obtained a court order to bar the organisers of Bersih 3.0 and members of the public from entering Dataran Merdeka beginning April 28 until May 1.

Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Datuk Mohmad Salleh said that the court order obtained from the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate Court last night under Section 98 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) bars the respondent and the public from gathering or having any activities in Dataran Merdeka beginning tomorrow (April 28) until May 1.



He added that taking into consideration the safety and peace of the public in Kuala Lumpur, especially Dataran Merdeka, the police have obtained the court order.

The areas that are barred is all the land surface bordering Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, Jalan Raja and Jalan Kelab except the area the area occupied by the Royal Selangor Club.

"Seeing that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has denied the permission for Bersih 3.0 to have its gathering at Dataran Merdeka, therefore the respondents and the members of the public are prohibited from being or taking part in any gathering in these areas beginning tomorrow until May 1," said Mohmad in a press conference at the Kuala Lumpur Police Contingent headquarters today.

He explained that anyone who defies the court order will violate Section 188 of the Penal Code which carries a jail term of six months, a penalty of up to RM2,000 or both.

Asked if there will be road closures in areas surrounding Dataran Merdeka or leading to the gathering points, Mohmad said it depends on the situation.

When probed further on the matter: "We don't need to inform, that depends on us."

Asked if people are allowed to gather at the six planned meeting points by Bersih, Mohmad said they are allowed to gather but are prohibited from marching as stipulated under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011, which was enforced on Monday, adding that those who march or conduct street protests may face possible arrests.

The six planned meeting points are Masjid Negara, Jalan Sultan, Jalan Masjid India, Central Market, Brickfields and Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

Asked if there will be road closures during the marching of environmental coalition Himpunan Hijau which will make its way from KLCC to the Australian High Commission tomorrow, Mohmad said: "It depends on the situation "

On the Bersih related paraphernalia, including the famous yellow colored T-shirts, Mohmad said people are entitled to wear what they want.

At the last year's Bersih 2.0 rally in July, any paraphernalia related to the election reform coalition was banned from making its appearance in public.

DBKL and Bersih 3.0 organisers are deadlocked over Dataran Merdeka as the venue for the rally, with either side refusing to yield on their respective stands.

Both the Home Ministry and DBKL have offered alternative venues, including Stadium Merdeka, Titiwangsa Stadium and Bukit Jalil Stadium, but the election reform group has rejected the suggestion, saying it had come at too short a notice.

By Hemananthani Sivanandam newsdesk@thesundaily.com

Malaysia Braces for Latest Round of Bersih Protests

 By James Hookway and Celine Fernandez

Today is Bersih day in Malaysia. It’s an increasingly regular phenomenon where prodemocracy activists gather to push for more transparency in elections and complicating life for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who previously has found it difficult to keep the country’s riot police under control.

Last year, police broke up a similar rally with tear gas and water cannons, and briefly detained around 1,600 members of the Bersih group, whose name means ‘clean’ in Malay. That earned Mr. Najib’s government international condemnation, and prompted him to move forward on a series of political reforms, including ending Malaysia’s feared Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite, warrantless detention.

Despite the changes, Malaysia’s authorities are still leery of letting protesters do anything they like. Analysts say that Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia’s powerhouse economies and a major global exporter of computer parts, energy and palm oil is still a conservative place where many voters and political power-brokers are fearful of large street protests despite the rapid growth of Internet penetration and a proliferation of independent news websites which often are critical of the government.

For instance, the organizers for today’s rally want to muster at Merdeka, or Independence, Square, the swath of land in downtown Kuala Lumpur where Malaysia first hoisted its national flag after securing independence from Britain in 1957. They are demanding that the country’s electoral rolls are cleaned up to prevent fraudulent voting and that alleged biases within the country’s election agency are removed. In addition, they want international observers to monitor the polls – which must be called by next March – and also ensure that all political parties get similar access to government-controlled broadcasters and newspapers, who dominate the media landscape in Malaysia. The protests also want to enable Malaysians living overseas to be able to cast ballots.

Authorities, though, don’t consider Merdeka Square an appropriate venue, and have offered to provide nearby stadiums for the protesters. Bersih leaders say the offer came too late.

Now, Merdeka Square is cordoned off with barricades and razor wires, and the Bersih protesters intend to mass outside the area instead – a move which could lead to another confrontation with police and further embarrass Mr. Najib who has been trying to make a name for himself as one of Asia’s quieter, but more effective, reformers. Commuter trains leading from Kuala Lumpur’s suburbs to the center of the city meanwhile are carrying large numbers of protesters wearing Bersih’s distinctive yellow t-shirts.

“It is a bit déjà vu, isn’t it?” Ambiga Sreenevasan, one of the Bersih group’s co-founders, said Friday. “To be fair, it is not the same (as last year). There is a recognition that we have the right to assemble. I think no one has disputed that. There is a recognition that we are not a security threat… I think the only dispute is where (we can protest).”

That alone seems to be a difficult point for both sides to resolve, however. Ms. Ambiga said the easiest way for the authorities to handle the problem is to simply lift the barriers to Merdeka Square – but that’s likely a move too far for Malaysia’s cautious leaders.

Malaysia braces for electoral reform rally

Security tightened in the capital as protesters gather to demand reform of the electoral system.


Malaysian authorities sealed off Independence Square on Friday ahead of the sit-in [AFP] 
Hundreds of police and civilian security officers have been deployed in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where protesters began to gather hours before a scheduled mass rally calling for electoral reforms.

Supporters of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections gathered in an open park in central Kuala Lumpur for Friday's demonstration.

The Kuala Lumpur city government on Friday cordoned off the park after securing a court order to prevent the protest.

Protesters have said they will march to the barricades and demand access but vowed to remain peaceful.

"We will march to the barrier," said Ambiga Sreenivasan, chairwoman of Bersih, an electotal reform pressure group.

Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett reporting from Kuala Lumpur says: "Already we are hearing that thousands are near Independence Square, there will be a significant turnout."

"The police say they will intervene if people defy the order and cross into the square," said our correspondent.

Public backlash

The mass rally follows one crushed by police last July, when 1,600 people were arrested, and marks a major test for Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of widely expected elections.

Last July's rally for clean elections brought tens of thousands to the streets of the capital, prompting a police crackdown with tear gas and water cannon.

A resulting backlash prompted Najib to set up a parliamentary panel whose eventual report suggested a range of changes to the electoral system.

But Bersih and the opposition are demanding a complete overhaul of a voter roll considered fraudulent and reform of an Election Commission they say is biased in favour of the ruling coalition.

The rally is a direct challenge to Najib, who since last year's crackdown, has launched a campaign to repeal authoritarian laws in a bid to create what he called "the greatest democracy".

His ruling coalition has governed Malaysia for more than five decades but made a dismal showing against the opposition in 2008, and Najib is under pressure to improve on that.

Elections are not due until next year but speculation is rife that Najib could call them as early as June.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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