New wine, old wineskin | Selangor Times
Issue 118


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New wine, old wineskin
Writer: Azmi Sharom
Published: Fri, 14 Sep 2012

It is telling that during the Suhakam inquiry into the Bersih 3.0 rally a police officer revealed when questioned that he did not know that the right to assemble was constitutionally guaranteed for the people of this country.

This lack of knowledge is of concern naturally because we are talking about a public servant with a great deal of power (he can shoot us with his pistol after all), and it is important that he understands that the limits on his power does not depend simply on whatever Standard Operating Procedure he may have but also our rights as citizens.

However, knowledge can be gained. Police officers do take courses and some of these courses will have components of Constitutional Law in them. I have taught a diploma course on Constitutional Law and the officers in my class appeared to have grasped the concept.

Knowledge, therefore, is not really the issue here; it is the corresponding attitude towards that knowledge which truly matters. 

In the past few weeks there have been many incidents that illustrate the paradox that occurs when one pays lip service to a principle without truly understanding its importance and ideals.

The Peaceful Assembly Act was supposed to be a law that would allow a more liberal approach to public gatherings, but instead we see it being used to actually hinder such gatherings. 

The Janji Demokrasi gathering was deemed illegal before it occurred because proper procedures for asking permission was not followed as demanded by the Act. Investigations on organisers and participants of Janji Demokrasi are also currently being conducted, again under the auspices of the Act. A green rally in Pahang is being investigated because a person who is deemed underage by the Act was suspected of taking part.

All this fuss over what were peaceful gatherings. 

I have said before that there was little wrong with the previous laws (the Police Act) regarding public gatherings. The Police Act gave a lot of discretion to the police to allow or not allow public gatherings, this is true; however if there was a proper understanding and appreciation of the Constitution, the police should, by and large, allow any public gathering as long as it is not dangerous or violent in nature. 

The problem with the Police Act was one of attitude and not the law per se.

This same attitude persists and it can be seen in the implementation of the new Peaceful Assembly Act. 

What is needed in the country therefore is not even more, so called liberal laws, but a true appreciation and respect for the human rights of the people of this nation. The police have to understand that their role is not simply about enforcing the law for whatever government is in power. 

Their role is to enforce the law in the spirit of the Constitution and the freedoms that it guarantees for everybody.

Speaking of attitudes, the furore over some people stepping on the pictures of Datuk Seri Najib Razak also reflects an unfortunate attitude that is still prevalent amongst Malaysians, or at least some segments of Malaysians. 

Frankly, it does not bother me in the slightest that photographs are being stepped on. It bothers me if the actual person is being stomped or if there is a real threat to their life, but stepping on the picture? So what? Big deal.

It is rude sure, but we are not talking about some deity or religious symbol here. We are talking about an elected official; and obviously an elected official that some people dislike very much. 

The outrage and subsequent investigations and arrests show that there is still this feudal mentality amongst some quarters that raises what are essentially public servants onto the pedestal of Rajas.

There is far too much subservience in our society. Observe functions where a minister turns up. Immediately there will be the sound of shuffling chairs as people stand up. Why should we do so? Why the grovelling and hand kissing? Democratically elected officials are just like any one of us and to afford them such obsequiousness is unseemly and an affront to the entire idea of democracy and equality amongst all people.

Recent events have thrown into clear light once again how far we have to grow as a nation in order to be a true democracy. How much there is still to be done before there can be a deep and meaningful appreciation of our rights as human beings and the need to cast off any remnants of feudalism from our shoulders in order for us to live with the dignity that those same rights are meant to ensure.


 Selangor Times



Also by Azmi Sharom:

Ethics, morals needed more than ever

SOMETIMES reading the news makes one rush to the bathroom for a long hot shower. 


We live in warped logic

DON’T get it. I just don’t get it.

Greater professionalism in police

Peaceful is as peaceful does

1AI was sitting in Merdeka Stadium on Saturday with a couple of friends, watching the venerable old lady of independence fill up with people, I playfully wondered if  photographers from the mainstream media had been there earlier to take a photo of an empty stadium to be used as “evidence” that no one turned up.

Rotating parties for better governance

IN my last article I wrote about the importance of changing the system of local government that we have. By that I meant we should reintroduce local government elections as well as overhaul the Local Government Act in order to ensure a more transparent and accountable local authority.

Importance of local government elections

THE Batu Caves condominium project has raised some interesting talking points. The most obvious of these, the one taken up by the many comments I have read on the internet, is the sheer bald faced cheek of the BN government.

Can bully boy tactics win?

Oh what a glorious night! Twenty-three years of humiliation, with nothing but self-deprecating humour to comfort oneself, finally laid to rest on that one glorious night.

Really, you can’t make it up

Rais Yatim should be given a present from people like myself who write current affairs articles. 

Scripts for Tinseltown

Hollywood, having run out of ideas, has turned to Malaysia for inspiration. Below are two potential blockbuster movies which draw their plots from the pages of Malaysia’s newspapers.

And so it begins...

The scare tactics that are so beloved by the ruling coalition. We have seen it before of course. Like an evil babysitter, the BN has constantly thrilled at telling horror stories to keep us in our place.

Only the uncaring will not care

If the government is not quaking in their boots after last weekend, then they must be in total denial.

Informed, not phony, reasons work better

There have been two consistent arguments used by the Barisan to persuade the electorate to vote for them. The first and more popular claim is that we should vote for them because they have experience.

Nation of idiots in the making

We are on the brink of becoming a nation of idiots.

When silence implies consent

Hope Springs eternal

THIS year, the most amazing political event to have occurred in the world could very arguably be the Arab Spring. Popular uprisings all over the Middle East have seen dictatorships fall like ten-pins in the centre of of a camel race. The process continues still.


Lack of respect for the Constitution

It’s quite apt that it was during a mass circumcision ceremony that Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz made his announcement that Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 is going to be removed. We, the people of Malaysia, just like the poor little nippers at that ceremony, are going to be rid of something.











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