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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Bersih 4 shows peaceful protests, dissent can be ‘new normal’ for Malaysia, says Umno man

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — Last month’s massive Bersih 4 rally proves that dissent, even protests against the government can be held peacefully and should be accepted as mark of democracy, former Umno lawmaker Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said today.
Saifuddin, chief executive of anti-extremism group Global Movement of Moderates (GMM), said peaceful rallies should not be seen as amounting to “treason” but as a “new normal”.
“If we can accept dissent in various forms, including peaceful assemblies including Bersih 4 as a new normal, then we don’t have to go over and again over poorly presented argumentations,” the former deputy minister of higher education said during a roundtable session here.
He noted that those who oppose peaceful rallies have come up with a number of arguments, including alleging street rallies are not a Malaysian culture and even painting rally-goers as “democrazy” instead of supporting democracy.
Saifuddin said an acceptance of dissent as a new norm in Malaysia would also mean an end to “threats and intimidation” against organisers of peaceful assemblies, as well as the use of race and religion by those opposing peaceful rallies.
“We will put a stop to some parts of the society who use the race or religious card to stop or go against such dissent and peaceful assemblies,” he added.
The “Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly: Lessons from Bersih 4” roundtable talk was jointly organised by the GMM and the Association for The Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak broke his silence on the Bersih 4 rally that had called for his resignation.
He said street protests are not a Malaysian culture and labelled the participants as pro “democrazy” instead of for democracy.
The right to peaceful assembly and association is an essential part of a democratic society and process, with this right also tied to the exercise of other rights, United Nations (UN) representative Michelle Gyles-McDonnough said at the same roundtable talk today.
“So in order for us to help our citizens really maximise their fullest potential, this is important,” the UN resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei said.
Limitations on the right to peaceful assemblies must be in line with international laws as this right is important to minority groups, she said.
The 34-hour Bersih 4 rally for institutional reforms ended peacefully in Kuala Lumpur at midnight on August 30, which the UN representative said showed a healthy democracy here.
“I have seen the acknowledgment of progressive change in the authorities’ exercise of their obligation to ensure that people can fully enjoy this right and the clear statement that it makes that the exercise of democracy is healthy and we hope it will continue in this direction,” she added.
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