Refusal to lift 17-year ban on public rallies shows that Barisan Nasional has no intention to make next general elections the most ‘free, fair and clean’ in Malaysian history


by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Saturday, 18th February 1995:

Refusal to lift 17-year ban on public rallies shows that Barisan Nasional has no intention to make next general elections the most ‘free, fair and clean’ in Malaysian history

The announcement by the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Megat Junid Megat Ayub in Kuala Lumpur yesterday that the Government will not lift the 17-year ban on public rallies shows that the Barisan Nasional has no intention to make the next general elections the most ‘free, fair and clean’ in Malaysian history.

It also shows that all the Barisan Nasional ‘liberalisation’ in the past, four years are ‘skin-deep’ and explains why the DAP has described them as ‘Minor Liberalisation’ in contrast to the aspirations of the people for ‘Full Liberalisation’ where the country also embarks on a process of greater democratisation.

The decision of the government is also a rejection of the recommendation of the Election Commission which has proposes the lifting of the ban on public rallies and also for free and equal access for the Opposition parties and candidates in the mass media, in particular the electronic media of television, to ensure that the next general elections could be recognised locally and by the world as a ‘free, fair and clean’ general elections.

This is a great shame for Malaysia, especially as Malaysia has just been elected to the chairmanship of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the person of former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Musa Hitam.

As Chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, Malaysia must not only be prepared to take a clear stand against human rights abuses and excesses and all forms of undemocratic practices all over the world, but should also initiate a process of democratisation inside the country to demonstrate that political and civil rights are fully compatible with socio-economic development of the people and country.

It would be a tragedy for human rights struggle and a shame for Malaysia if Malaysia’s tenure as Chairman of UN Human Rights Commission is not marked by an improvement in human rights conditions all over the world but instead is characterised by condonation of human rights abuses and undemocratic practices.

Unfortunately, the decision not to lift, the ban on public rallies in the next general elections has sent out a completely different message: that the Barisan Nasional government has no intention whatsoever to embark on a process of democratisation to make general elections really ‘free, fair and clean’, loosen the restrictions on the freedom of expression, speech and assembly in the country, give newspapers and the mass media greater press freedom, and begin to remove draconian and repressive laws from the statute books.

What is worse, when the Barisan Nasional talk about ‘liberalisation’, it, has excluded the whole concept of democratisation, as if Malaysians are prepared to accept whatever undemocratic laws and practices of the Barisan Nasional Government wants provided that there is economic growth and progress.

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have shown such assumptions wrong and Malaysians must demonstrate in the next general elections whether they can foe as mature as the Japanese, South Koreans and Taiwanese – that while they want economic development and progress, they also want democratisation in terms of improvement of human rights and civil liberties.

There is actually no good and valid reason for the continued ban on public rallies in Malaysia – making Malaysia the only country in ASEAN which bans public rallies during general elections.

Is the Malaysian society so much more fragile and unstable than Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia that the people in the neighbouring ASEAN countries can have public rallies but not in Malaysia?

The Police banned public rallies in June 1978 not because of general elections but because the Police feared urban unrest and insurrection on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the armed struggle of the Malayan Communist Party.

At the time, the government made it clear that the ban on public rallies was a short and temporary one until after the 30th anniversary of the Malayan Communist Party was over.

In the event, there was not a single incident during the 30th anniversary of the armed struggle of the Malayan Communist Party, and a two month temporary ban meant to deal with a specific security threat has become a 17-year ban stifling the political and civil liberties of Malaysian.

The refusal of the Barisan Nasional government to lift the ban on public rallies signifies that its ‘liberalisation’ does not include any concept of democratisation – when there can be no meaningful liberalisation without democratisation.

This is why the DAP wants ‘Full Liberalisation’ for there can be no meaningful liberalisation without democratisation.

In fact, without the important democratisation component in the Liberalisation concept, we may even run the danger where the Government talks about liberalisation on the one hand while on the other hand acts even more undemocratically, as in launching mass arrests against critics and the Opposition of the Government under the Internal Security Act as happened during the Operation Lalang in 1987, attacks on the vital principle of the Independence of the Judiciary as happened during the sacking of the Lord President and Supreme Court judges in 1988, and imposing even greater restraints on the press and the mass media.

The Barisan Nasional appears very confident and cocksure about its prospects in the next general elections, but form its refusal to lift the ban on public rallies, it is clear that Barisan Nasional has nagging doubts about its ability to win in a decisive and convincing fashion if it allows a genuinely free, fair and clean general elections to take place.

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