Saturday, July 16, 2011

I was there - Ron CK Sim

In pursuit of true democracy

July 9, 2011, the day a new independent nation was born. Is it the end of the struggle? No, it’s just the beginning. Many challenges lie ahead, no doubt. Nonetheless, it’s a historic milestone that all citizens of the new nation can be proud of. What nation am I talking about? The world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan.

I’ve always dreamt of living in a different age, a different era. More specifically, the era when my beloved nation gained her independence from arguably the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

Standing right in front of the historic Merdeka Stadium on July 9, 2011, brought back my school memory of a photographic image in which our founding father, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, raised his right hand towards the sky, proclaiming the word “MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA!”, each time followed by the thunderous echoes of 20,000 fellow Malaysians in the stadium. Sentimentally, I wish I lived that day.

Before I carry on “sentimentalising”, I was brought back to the harsh, present-day reality. Yes, still standing where I was, I was horrified by the scene along the hilly street leading to the main entrance to the stadium. Red FRU trucks lining the street with scores of FRU personnel (which we’ve not-very-fondly called the “red head army”) in their full gear.

I was wondering for a moment, who were their enemies of the day? The communist insurgents or the Al-Qaeda terrorists? No, their enemies were just the unarmed Malaysians from all walks of life marching for a just cause — to demand for free and fair elections! It’s living proof how much this nation of ours has descended to.

Seeing the scores of brave, unselfish and patriotic Malaysians on the locked-down streets of Kuala Lumpur was a touching moment to behold. They were undeterred by the heavy downpour that greeted them at 2pm.

Under my umbrella I was thinking, the heavy downpour must be a God-given help to the demonstrators to minimise the effects of chemical water and tear gas, reportedly fired at their fellow demonstrators at various locations downtown!

In many instances, I was moved to join in the crowd near the stadium compound, to march and scream along with them. You might be wondering, “Aren’t you one of them?” No, I was not. In fact, I was one of over a hundred “monitors” the Bar Council had called upon to volunteer for the defining event — an event the authorities had warned cannot be mentioned by name or symbolised by its colour!

Our duty was purely to monitor the situation, with a view to record any human rights violations by the police or any violence by the demonstrators, all “without fear or favour”.

Abiding by the spirit of the Bar, I was as impartial as I could ever be. Here’s briefly what I observed during the time I was in and around the stadium compound from 12.30pm to 4.30pm. I witnessed two congregations of demonstrators at two different entrances to the stadium compound, both of which were barricaded by the police using barbwires.

In contrast to other locations in the city, no tear gas or water cannons were used at all to disperse the crowd at the stadium compound — though there was once when the FRU personnel looked like they were getting ready to fire, presumably to intimidate the crowd. The crowd, though in high spirits, behaved peacefully and sensibly. There was not one occasion that I feared violence might possibly break out among the demonstrators.

To my little surprise, I thought the police at the stadium compound acted and behaved reasonably well and professionally (contrary to their counterparts elsewhere in the city I was told). At least they allowed the crowd to assemble, and to shout and gesture whatever they wanted until they started to disperse on their own at 4pm.

The police also allowed political speeches to be made by the likes of Chua Jui Meng, Husam Musa, etc and one high-ranking police officer also spoke gently and politely to National Laureate A. Samad Said. For the most part, I personally did not witness any clear violation of human rights by the police/FRU personnel but all that came to an abrupt end at 4.10pm, when they suddenly charged towards the remaining demonstrators without any warning!

By that time, the remaining demonstrators were just hanging around taking picures, and chatting among themselves. This action by the police/FRU personnel was unprovoked and utterly unnecessary, considering the majority of the crowd had already dispersed, or in the midst of dispersing.

After a while, I saw around six to eight demonstrators get arrested. But the good thing was the police did not beat up any of the arrested demonstrators, though they dragged the demonstrators in quite a high-handed manner. I must also add that all the BC monitors (and reporters/journalists) were allowed access into the stadium compound and literally had a free rein walking up and down the area. We were allowed to snap pictures without any restrictions whatsoever!

The truth is, Malaysians are a peaceful lot. They deserve to exercise their Constitutional rights to assemble peacefully and responsibly. The freedom of expression and assembly is a fundamental right of every “true” democracy. Having free and fair elections is the essence of any state that aspires to be recognised as a “truly” democratic state.

Why wouldn’t our government allow its people to exercise their Constitutional rights but instead chose to clamp down hard on innocent Malaysians? Didn’t our government realise by doing what they did in the past few weeks (well, one might say in the past three decades!), they were radically dismantling the very essence of democracy upon which our nation was founded almost 54 years ago!?

The Most Honourable Prime Minister, isn’t Malaysia a democratic state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice? Didn’t you agree with the late Tunku who proclaimed that the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu “shall be forever a sovereign, democratic and independent state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice, and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”?

Just as July 9, 2011, is a milestone for South Sudan, July 9, 2011, is another milestone for Malaysia in pursuit of being a “true” democracy. Our next milestone? Surely it ought to be our nation’s SECOND proclamation of independence post-GE 13! And where will it be? Where else but at Stadium MERDEKA…

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