July 10, 2011 by staff
Malaysia Protests, Police in Malaysia can have crushed a protest over the weekend, butanlysts say the crackdown has tarnished the country’s democratic credentials and could embolden the opposition before the elections.
A large security operation on Saturday in the capital, Kuala Lumpur stalled plan Bersih, a loose coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups to gather 100,000 people for a rally demanding electoral reforms.
Police used teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowd in the biggest anti-government protests to hit the nation since 2007, when similar demands for reform also ended in chaos on the streets.
More than 1,600 people were arrested, including 16 children, as well as prominent lawmakers, and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was hospitalized after being shot down in chaos.
Analysts and activists said the police action was likely to backfire severely on the country’s image as one of the most democratic countries in Southeast Asia.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has cultivated an image of an emerging nation with a strong economy and open political environment.
“I think it has tarnished the image of Malaysia and its membership in the Human Rights Council,” said politicalanlyst Khoo Kay Peng.
Describing the police action as “completely exaggerated,” Khoo said: “He’s a murderer in our image as a democratic, progressive.”
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has condemned the attacks and arrests and rebuked Malaysia for mock international standards.
“As a current member of the Human Rights Council, the Government of Malaysia should be an example to other nations and promote human rights,” Amnesty International said Donna Guest.
“Instead, it seems to be removing them in the worst campaign of repression that we saw in the country for years.”
Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist at RAM Holdings independent consultancy, said the protest showed a negative light in Malaysia, whose economy grew 7.2 percent last year – one of the strongest in Southeast Asia.
“The biggest concern is the cost of raw material of political risk and caution among investors greater,” said another.
The political opposition led by Anwar had greater gains in the 2008 general election, denying the ruling Barisan Nasional a two-thirds absolute majority for the first time since 1969.
Last April, the opposition continued with victories at the polls upset the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, a traditional bastion of power Barisan.
The opposition, which believes it would have done better in 2008 – a potential threat to half a century, the Barisan Nasional rule – if the vote had been fair.
Protesters said they want to see electoral reforms to prevent fraud, including the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, equal accesses to media for all parties and the cleanliness of the electoral lists.
“Clearly the government is intimidated by the meeting. They did not want the opposition to gain momentum in this protest,” said Khoo.
James Chin, a professor of political science at the campus of Monash University in Kuala Lumpur, said the government had overreacted and warned, “This will blow-back to Najib.”
“The consequences will be felt for Najib in the next general election. People are going to vote against the incumbent government,” he said.
Political observers said the protesters were sentenced on Saturday – to abstain from throwing stones police, looting stores and smashing windows.
Many were young adults and professionals, who are firm in their demands for electoral reforms.
“Clearly the government is running scared. People are not afraid of being arrested,” said Anwar.
Najib said Khoo lacked the political skill to enable the police to block the capital and the launch door to door looking for hotels to detain protest leaders in the run up to the rally on Friday night.
“There is a clamor for better governance and greater democratic principles, but unfortunately the government does not receive the signals,” he said.
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