My Anthem

Saturday, May 26, 2012

PONDER: article touching on WSJ commentary wrt Bersih.30 428 and Anwar...

and police and AG's follow-up selective prosecution, especially against PKR leaders; via, but first, the ORIGINAL WSJ article for reference. ~~~


I blog, therefore I am–Chris Bowers

Malaysian People's Court

Anwar's civil disobedience and the next election.

The Malaysian government charged opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim this week for illegal protests urging electoral reform. Considering Mr. Anwar's past legal travails, having twice been tried on trumped-up charges of sodomy and twice exonerated, one might assume this is another politically motivated prosecution.
But this case is different. Mr. Anwar was practicing civil disobedience, and now he is paying the price. The real verdict will come at the ballot box in the next general election, expected later this year, when voters will get to decide whether Prime Minister Najib Razak's political reforms are proceeding at an appropriate pace, or Mr. Anwar is right to press for faster change.
European Pressphoto Agency
Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (2-L) arrives at the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 22 May 2012.
Prosecutors accuse Mr. Anwar and two of his party members of taking part in a street protest last month, which is illegal under the new Peaceful Assembly Act. He also allegedly violated a court order when he encouraged demonstrators to enter an area that was off limits. The prosecution says it is enforcing the law without fear or favor. Mr. Anwar says he's innocent and that the charges are "politically motivated."
Behind these claims is a contest for the hearts and minds of Malaysian voters. The demonstration in question, called "Bersih 3.0" after the Malay word for clean, was the third in five years that brought NGOs and opposition parties together to demand an end to electoral fraud. And like the last two rallies, this one ended in violence, mostly from the police side.
Most significantly, the public reaction to these spectacles has been different from what many expected. The ruling United Malays National Organization thought it would rally its base by repressing last year's protest, but Bersih 2.0 created such a storm of censure—at home and abroad—that it forced Mr. Najib to push political reforms. He trumpeted the Peaceful Assembly Act, passed late last year, as giving protesters more freedom.
However, the law is only slightly more permissive than its predecessor. Demonstrators no longer need police permits, but the act contains two serious restrictions: protesters are limited to designated arenas and can't take to the streets. That's the basis for the charges against Mr. Anwar and his associates this week.
Last month's Bersih rally occurred because many urban and middle-class Malaysians are unhappy with Kuala Lumpur's half-hearted reforms. Mr. Najib is changing laws—including the notoriously repressive Internal Security Act that allows detention without charges—but he's replacing them with piecemeal improvements that still include draconian measures.
While Mr. Najib deserves credit for his reforms, the opposition also has good reasons to criticize them as inadequate. The real question is whether Malaysian society is best served by a faster pace of change and the opposition's confrontational tactics. If Mr. Anwar wants to practice civil disobedience, he can't pretend to be innocent at the same time.
A more straightforward way to convince the public that the Peaceful Assembly Act is an unjust law would be to plead guilty and pay the fine ahead of the election. Both sides have to learn to put their faith in the electorate rather than the courts.

May 26, 2012

WSJ Editors misunderstand Malaysian Politics

by Rusman Ahmad–Guest Writer
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial on on May 24, 2012 titled “Malaysian People’s Court“. In it the influential newspaper challenges Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to admit to committing “civil disobedience” at the April 28 Bersih Rally and accept the consequences of that action.  The paper says rather cynically “If Mr. Anwar wants to practice civil disobedience, he can’t pretend to be innocent at the same time.”
The Wall Street Journal seems to believe that the primary purpose of the gathering on April 28 was to protest the Public Assembly Act, which states in Section 4(2)(c):
“a person commits an offence if he organises or participates in a street protest.”
It’s clear however that the April 28th demonstration has nothing to do with the Public Assembly Act, just like the previous BERSIH rallies in 2011 and 2007 had nothing to do with the predecessor laws to the Peaceful Assembly Act that restricted public assembly in Malaysia and presumably rendered those public gatherings technically illegal under Malaysian laws. The April 28th demonstration had the stated purpose of protesting electoral fraud. Subsumed within that protest are a whole litany of laws that prevent free expression and assembly of Malaysians.
What exactly did Anwar do that is illegal? Currently he has been charged withviolating the Public Assembly Act and pleading not guilty. What legal tradition does the WSJ belong to that suggests an accused must prove himself innocent when charged with a crime?
Such an upside down approach to the law is usually the modus operandiof the Malaysian Attorney General, where politically motivated trials place the burden of proof on the defendant and not the prosecution in a true perversion of the justice system.
If indeed Anwar Ibrahim was engaged in an act of civil disobedience by participating in the April 28th BERSIH Rally then so too were the 200,000 other Malaysians gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur, not to mention the thousands of others who demonstrated throughout the country. Why is Anwar Ibrahim and his two associates the only ones to be charged by the government? And why would the WSJ place the lions share of responsibility on Anwar Ibrahim and not BERSIH chairperson herself Ambiga Srenavasan?
Additionally, if the BERSIH gathering was deemed legal but it was the breaching of the barriers at Dataran Merdeka in particular that are considered the illegal act which Anwar was expressing civil disobedience over, then the WSJ’s point is also fundamentally flawed. Anwar has denied giving any instructions for people to breach the barrier and in fact the extended video of him near the barrier shows he tried to get the people to disperse, rather than cross the barrier.
A legitimate, independent investigation needs to be conducted to figure out what happened. The likely conclusion will be that those near the barrier were dead set on crossing over and prepared to face the consequences. There was no mechanism for Anwar, Ambiga or anyone else to control that sentiment. However, it’s also clear that a truly independent inquiry is virtually impossible in Malaysia and even when inquiries do happen, their results are ignored.
So why then should Anwar plead guilty to an act of civil disobedience when 1) he was not expressing civil disobedience but rather demonstrating in support of electoral reform and 2) when doing so would necessarily land him in jail or with a fine that would disqualify him from contesting in the upcoming general election?
Is now the time for Anwar to willingly banish himself to prison or to the political wilderness just to prove a point that the opposition is willing to adhere to the rule of law in a country where the laws are themselves fundamentally flawed. Is the Wall Street Journal trying to make a point that Malaysia is a reformed nation now and that both government and opposition should be held to the same high standard of adhering to the rule of law?
What laws are we talking about here? Whose laws? The Public Assembly Act was forced through parliament just like all of Najib Razak’s so called reform measures. They are in each case an example of giving some rights out with their right hand and taking away a series of other rights with their left hand. The net effect is pretty much zero. Is the WSJ drinking the Kool-Aid that Najib’s administration is mixing with the help of well paid international media consultants, including some journalists formerly employed by the WSJ?
Instead the WSJ should have read the latest polling results from the MerdekaCenter that show 90% (i.e. virtually all) of Malaysians want to see the electoral roll cleaned before the next election and that nearly half of all Malaysians do not have faith in the integrity of the electoral process. There are also a large percentage of Malaysians, Malays in particular, who remain unclear about the stated goals of the BERSIH movement. Presumably, if given the chance to be informed and educated, a large percentage of these people will also question the integrity of the electoral process.
Is this not the real story that the WSJ missed by zeroing in on Anwar’s act of civil disobedience? The fact that an election is likely to take place in Malaysia within the next 11 months in the midst of the revolutions of the Arab Spring and the return to public office of Aung Sun Sii Kyi where 50% of voters do not believe in the integrity of the process and are thus likely to question the integrity of the counting and results?

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