A lot of friends have been asking me what to make of the 1 August 2009 street demonstrations. For the first time, two demonstrations were planned and held on a big scale, albeit separately, by two opposing groups on the same issue, one for and one against. They were also asking me if the Federal Government had backtracked on its earlier promise to review and revise the Internal Security Act (ISA) because the demonstrations all centred on the call for the abolishment of ISA.
Well, first and foremost, I checked around and I can confirm that the Home Ministry is serious in reviewing this Act, and a lot of other Acts also to make them more relevant with times. I am told the Ministry had formed a preliminary committee to look into the ISA Act. Yesterday, YAB DS Najib himself again reiterated in public that the Federal Government is committed to reviewing this Act.
So, why all the fuss? Why the need to demonstrate against the ISA when the Federal Government had promised and repeated time and again that they will take action to review the Act? The answer is – I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know why they did it after the Federal Government had promised that the Act will be reviewed and had also started the ball rolling by forming a committee. You cannot expect the review and revision to be done overnight. You have to give time for the experts to go through the Act thoroughly before announcing the proposed revisions. Or else, the Gerakan Mansuh ISA(GMI) which is backed by the Pakatan Rakyat politicians will just say the Government is rushing it and further criticise it.
From another aspect, if the opposition politicians are saying that they want the Act abolished and not reviewed and that they will not accept anything else, what about those who want the ISA to remain but with revisions? Are their voices and opinions less important compared to those who demonstrated against ISA that day? As it is there was another group, from Pakatan Rakyat itself who also demonstrated and sent a memorandum to the palace calling for the ISA be maintained with some revisions. The Pakatan Rakyat politicians using the GMI platform must also respect the opinions, wishes and voices of others. Or is it that we have changed the rule of the game, that it is now "whoever can demonstrate must be listened to and the Government should not care about others?"
Commenting on what happened on that day itself, I was sad that GMI went ahead with the demonstrations. Apart from being totally irrelevant because the Federal Government had already announced that the Act will be reviewed, the demonstration caused a lot of problems to many people. Cab drivers, businesses, the public and Malaysia as a country whose image is further tarnished by all these. And don't forget about the hours of traffic jammed up because of the demonstration. Then there are the indirect effects –investors’ negative perception of the political and security situation in Malaysia, potential tourists and others. I was also aghast when the Women Heads of PKR, PAS and DAP actually issued a joint press statement that the demonstration actually boosted business because many people came and had lunch around the area. Silly! Ask the business folks around there if they agree with that statement.
The police were I believe also overzealous in wanting to maintain peace and harmony. I appreciate that the police psyche is one that is to maintain law and order at all times and costs. I can also empathise what the police force might have been going through during the demonstration but I believe crowd control and prevention tactics are better than arrests. Maybe the police could have identified the ring leaders who are the troublemakers and arrest them whilst just cart away with a warning those who follow without knowing what the demonstrations were all about. However, in their defence, I was not there and do not really know in detail what transpired as a whole. I was told that there were many rabble rousers and some trouble makers who joined in because the demonstration was an opportunity for them to have fun. Whatever it is, it is not a bad idea if our police force were to be sent on a crowd management programme and come up with new methods for crowd control in the Malaysian context.
Anyway, I wish all of us would from now on pause a while, take a deep breath, think about our loved ones and what we want for our nation before we do something like this. We all love Malaysia and all of us have our own little idea what "utopia Malaysia" is. However, don’t forget that we are one of 26 million population in Malaysia, and that our opinions and ideas might not be what the other person is thinking of. From what I see, YAB DS Najib and his team of ministers have generally learned from the mistakes made in the past and are trying hard to rectify them. Give them space and opportunity to work. If they make mistakes, definitely tell them, but tell them in a proper manner. Never has it been our culture and way of life to demonstrate as what had happened on 1 August 2009, especially when the Government had listened to the Rakyat and promised to review the ISA.
I am also very happy that the YAB DS Najib had announced and the police had said they will consider allowing demonstrations in stadiums and so on. This will ensure public safety and those who are not interested in the demonstrations are not affected. You can also have petty traders there to sell their wares and so on. This option will allow whatever complaints and grouses still be heard , yet in a controlled and safe environment for both the public and demonstrators.
We have a lot of avenues and opportunities to make our voices heard, street demonstration is definitely not one of them.
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