This is the article in THE ECONOMIST which was censored.
Political demonstration in Malaysia
Jul 11th 2011, 14:16 by R.C. | SINGAPORE
BY ALL accounts, it was a rough weekend in Kuala Lumpur. A rally on July 9th demanding electoral reform for Malaysia turned nasty, ending in the arrest of more than 1,600 people. The police fired tear gas and water canon into the crowd, and one man died of a heart attack. All those arrested were released fairly quickly, but Amnesty International, a human-rights group based in London, called it “the worst campaign of repression we’ve seen in the country for years.” Perhaps sensing things had gone too far, the home minister today called for an investigation into charges of police brutality. Certainly, in its harsh reaction to what its organisers described as a peaceful protest march, the government demonstrated a great deal of anxiety about how much opposition can be tolerated at all in Malaysia today.
In fact, the crackdown against the protest had begun long before Saturday, ever since “Bersih 2.0” announced that it was going to stage the rally in the first place. Bersih, or the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, is a coalition of NGOs and activist groups that advocates changes in the elections laws, such as giving more equitable air time to all the different candidates and doing more to curb fraud. All very laudable, one would have thought, but the government plainly took fright. Bersih itself was declared an illegal organisation on July 1st, and about 200 activists were rounded up by the police. The march was declared illegal and an offer to give the movement a stadium for its meeting was quickly withdrawn.
Maybe the government was looking back nervously to the first Bersih march, in 2007. In hindsight that rally seems to have paved the way for the results of the 2008 election, in which the ruling coalition suffered it worst electoral losses since Malaysia became independent from Britain in 1957—though even then it managed to retain power. The current prime minister, Najib Razak, must have feared that this second Bersih rally might become a similar portent of things to come. He will have to hold an election (his first as prime minister) some time over the next one-and-a-half years or so. Certainly, there were plenty of opposition politicians quick to jump on the Bersih bandwagon this time round, and 12 of them were arrested along with the hundreds on July 9th. The pre-eminent leader of the opposition himself, Anwar Ibrahim, was shoved to the ground and injured, to be photographed later sporting a neck brace.
None of this bodes well for Malaysian democracy. The lengths that the authorities have been willing to go in order to try snuffing out any sort of protest or dissent are particularly worrying. Few old laws were left untouched to round up suspects: it’s reported that 30 people arrested in Penang were investigated under section 122 of the Penal Code on the antiquated charge of waging war against the king. Mr Najib accused the organisers of merely promoting “chaos”.
Dragging the king into it seemed particularly desperate, reminding many of neighbouring Thailand’s abuse of the monarchy’s position. On the eve of the rally, amid the growing fear that violence might break out between Bersih and pro-government and extremist Malay groups, the king issued a statement reminding everyone that “street demonstrations bring more bad than good although the original intention is good.”
The long-term effects of the weekend’s events are hard to judge. They might help to unite a normally fractured opposition in common cause against what they can all see as an assault on democracy and peoples’ basic human rights. But if Mr Najib should hold off calling an election for some time, everybody might forget about this by the time it matters. Furthermore, there was no actual bloodshed over the weekend, and that should also limit the electoral backlash against Mr Najib.Taken from Crackdown in KL : THE ECONOMIST