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Preserving the right of Malaysians to assemble peacefully

  • All democratic governments must suitably assist their citizens to exercise their right to assemble peacefully.

Sin Chew Daily

The parliamentary sitting that resumed on Monday became a focus of national attention. Among the highlights included the amendment of the Peaceful Assembly Act, lowering the voting age and tabling a motion to require members of parliament to declare their assets.

As the ruling Pakatan Harapan does not yet command a two-third majority in the Dewan Rakyat, it may be difficult to amend the Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

As for the requirement for MPs to declare their assets, it is widely seen as a step towards greater transparency and is therefore well received by the public. If the motion is eventually adopted in the Parliament, it will further boost the surveillance effects and prevent lawmakers from engaging in acts of corruption.

An amendment is also proposed for the much watched Peaceful Assembly Act. The government has proposed to remove the article on banning street protests, meaning demonstrators will soon be able to take to the street to voice up their displeasure once the amendment bill is adopted. This will open up a wider door for peaceful assembly in this country.

While admitting that Malaysians are indeed entitled to the right to peaceful assembly, the Act has nevertheless incorporated some unreasonable limitations, including street protests and demonstrations, designated no-assembly zones, barring non-citizens and minors below the age of 15 from taking part in rallies, and police notice at least ten days in advance, among others.

Citizens in a democratic country have the right to express themselves, including the right to street protests.

Owing to poor democratic awareness in the past, the government had been able to outlaw street protests and distort the meaning of assemblies.

Now that such awareness has grown and become unstoppable, it is imperative that the government respect the people's right to peaceful assembly.

Of course, we must not equate peaceful assemblies to violent riots. While the former is an acceptable approach of self expression, the latter is nothing more than an irrational outburst of frustration and anger.

The Peaceful Assembly Act amendment bill tabled by the PH government will further preserve Malaysians right to assembly, showing that the government is indeed making the right move towards greater openness and democracy.

However, there is still deficiency in the amendment bill, such as shortening the period for advance police notice from ten days to seven, which is hardly significant.

As a matter of fact, Malaysians in general have hoped that the government will hold a more liberal attitude towards street protests. Lawyers For Liberty (LFL), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and other organizations have advocated complete abolition of the Act.

Since peaceful assembly is a right of the people and an acceptable norm in democracy, all democratic governments must come to realize its significance and must suitably assist their citizens to exercise their right to peaceful assembly.


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