By Aidila Razak
The Dewan Rakyat passed the contentious Peaceful Assembly Bill after less than four hours of debate by six parliamentarians.
The Bill, which bans street demonstrations but allows regulated assemblies, was passed by voice vote, in the absence of Pakatan Rakyat MPs who had staged a walkout in the middle of the second reading.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim (PKR-Permatang Pauh), Abdul Rahman Dahlan (BN-Kota Belud), Lim Guan Eng (DAP-Bagan), Abdul Hadi Awang (PAS-Marang), Ibrahim Ali (IND-Pasir Mas) and P Kamalanathan (BN-Hulu Selangor) had debated the Bill.
Debate began at about 11am and resumed after lunch. The Bill was passed at 4.15pm.
The amendments tabled at committee stage were also passed by voice vote without the presence of Pakatan MPs.
The opposition MPs were absent when Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, wound up on points raised during the debate.
Referring to the opposition’s absence as “cowardice”, Nazri (left) said the Bill is not unconstitutional as Section 2(b) of the federal constitution allows Parliament to enact legislation to protect public order and safety.
He also took on the Bar Council, which had marched in protest this morning, for going against the provision calling for advance notice of demonstrations by organisers.
“If (the Bar Council) calls the Bill messed up, then I think their heads are messed up….They don’t agree with the provision for advance notice but they gave the police seven days’ notice for their assembly this morning.
“Why did they give notice? They want protection from police for fear of provocation….The provision for advance notice is not to block the assembly but to protect the demonstrators. The Bar Council knows this.”
He said the government had followed a European standard in deciding the length of advance notice, which says it should not be “unnecessarily lengthy but allow adequate time to allow authorities to fulfill necessary obligations”.
“(The standard was not from) Zimbabwe or (Burma) as claimed by opposition. Europe. If Europe is not good enough then who should we follow? The moon? The stars?” he asked.
Burma’s new law on public assembly requires five days’ notice, while the UK requires six days’ notice.
Under an amended provision, Malaysia’s Peaceful Assembly Bill requires 10 days’ notice.
Bar Council in line of fire
Raging against the Bar Council again, Nazri took on council president Lim Chee Wee who had told the press earlier that the Bill goes against the nation’s history of street protests, including that led by Onn Jaafar against the Malayan Union.
“But Lim, that was a colonial government, not one chosen by the people… If you’re unhappy then fight it out in an election. Let me tell you than the BN government has been chosen (to form) the government for 12 elections,” he said.
Like Mohamad Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) who had interjected during the debate, Nazri said that if the Bar Council is so brave (anak jantan) then it should register itself as a political party and contest in elections.
Nazri also said that the opposition has been misleading the rakyat by harping on the maximum fines provided by the Bill for those involved in illegal assemblies.
“The fine is up to RM10,000. Section 27 of the Police Act has a maximum fine of RM10,000 and a minimum fine of RM3000.
“This Bill does not state a minimum…so it can be RM1 or RM3. The Bagan MP said the court should decide on an appeal if an application (to assemble) is rejected. He should be consistent.
“How can he support that the court is to decide on this but not allow the court to decide whether to fine up to RM10,000? What is this?”
He added that the Police Act had provided for a jail term upon conviction, but this is not so in the Bill, where the provision has been replaced with a maximum fine of RM20,000 for certain offences.
“The opposition and the NGOs are not ready (to be free), that is why we have this Bill,” he added. – Mkini