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Will the police respect opposition?

A PRIMARY principle of democratic government that can and should be imported into the Muslim ummah is self-regulation by means of dialogue with opposition and political parties. Political opposition, accomplished through the right channel and by reasonable means, is not the same as “sedition”. Therefore, blogs and other forms of detraction from majority party views should not be labelled as “seditious”, as is the habit here in Malaysia.

Sedition” is a weapons-based plan for the violent overthrow of the existing government, and this dictionary definition has been completely deformed in modern-day Malaysia. Indeed, the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) seems to rely on any meaning of “seditious” that the central government finds convenient for expressing its paranoia, whether or not it is reality-based.

Police arresting demonstrators during the anti-ISA rally of 1 Aug 2009 (Pic courtesy of Gan Pei Ling)

Your average public demonstration will not become violent unless it is deformed, when central government or police overexert control. Viewing some of these young citizens being indiscriminately handcuffed and forced into police trucks recently has shown the tragic misapplication of government, and especially of the police force.

It is this tragic misapplication of police force that caused business losses during the recent anti-ISA demonstrations, and it is the government itself that should be held accountable for those losses. These never would have occurred had the demonstrations been allowed to proceed according to their entirely peaceable intentions.

A new IGP?

Accordingly, the recent discussion at the Pakatan Rakyat-initiated Parliamentary Roundtable on a New IGP (Inspector General of Police) for a safe Malaysia seems quite relevant. Four resolutions were unanimously passed at that discussion.

The first calls on the current IGP, Tan Sri Musa Hassan, not to seek a further two-year renewal of his tenure of service due to his failure in his Key Performance Indicators (KPI). In the past three years, the IGP has failed to achieve all three core police functions — to keep crime low, to eradicate corruption, and to protect human rights. A truly civilised IGP would refuse to criminalise young citizens’ participation in public political movements, with the king’s full support.

Musa Hassan (Pic by Ridzuan / Wiki
The second calls for the appointment of an IGP who is capable of providing new police leadership in rolling back the tide of crime which has risen so drastically in the last five years. He or she should ensure a safer Malaysia for the general public, both within and without their homes; as well as to present a new image of democratic policing in Malaysia. The rise of snatch thefts to levels far beyond those of any other neighbouring country is the shame of Malaysian law enforcement. 
The third resolution therefore calls on the prime minister to include in his KPIs, crime prevention. This is not just the 20% reduction in street crime by 2010 (which is a good four years too late), but also a reduction in all categories of crime as proposed by the May 2005 royal commission report on the police.

The fourth reaffirms the demands of the Malaysian public that the prime minister immediately set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as recommended by the royal commission. Only then can public confidence in the police force, so badly eroded ever since their disastrous treatment of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, be restored.

Surely, arrests and jail terms are horrendous penalties for the idealism of Malaysia’s youth who are only trying to defend their convictions of how a democratic, fair, and just Islamic state should be governed. The police, as well as government servants and leaders, must understand and truly become “servants” of the people. They are not “little sultans” and should not be approached with bowed heads as if they were.

The monarchy’s role

Malaysia can never be unified under the 1Malaysia campaign until criticism or even opposition to the majority government is treated with respect and dignity. Royalty must truly stay out of politics, and not interfere in ways that directly change the alignment of freely elected political power. Such neutrality must also be seen to extend to the Royal Malaysian Police.

Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Yogyakarta
(Source: Wiki commons)
This was the thrust of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s efforts during his administration in which he tried to regulate royal powers without fear or prejudice, and of course without disrespecting the monarchy. In fact, Malaysia is fortunate to have retained the monarchy, unlike say the US.

The present Sultan of Yogyakarta delivered an inaugural address in 1988 in which he warned his people not to expect anything from him other than to symbolise and protect the rich heritage of Javanese culture.

Present Malay Malaysian royalty would be most wise to follow his example, by focusing exclusively on perpetuating the finest traditional values of Malay culture and protecting the special position of Islam in the federal constitution. The monarchy needs to allow Malaysian political systems to evolve naturally, wherein the police are seen only to enforce laws formulated within the legislature. Insya Allah.

Azril Mohd Amin is a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer and former vice-president of the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim).

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One Response to “Will the police respect opposition?”

  1. siew eng says:

    The short answer to your headline is sadly – no. Because the federal government itself does not respect the opposition – look at what happened in Perak, and now (horrors!) Penang and Selangor, too? Since the police only serve the government in power all these years, rather than the principles of their profession, even if we got rid of the BN at the next general election their mentality has been ingrained as such that the struggle to restore police professionalism will be harder and longer. Witness also the flagrant insubordination of state civil servants in PR-led states.

    The only way is to establish the IPCMC.

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