Beatings, tear gas and water cannons a setback for Najib’s reforms

The violence could perhaps have been avoided if Najib had responded to a letter requesting for a meeting to discuss among others, the ISA , sent by PR leaders. And instead of looking for a middle ground or a diplomatic approach, BN ministers defiantly defended the police action and insisted that the ISA would remain.

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid, The Malaysian Insider

The brutal scene of police beating PAS lawmaker Hatta Ramli, which was captured on camera during yesterday's anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) rally, and the force in which the authorities put down the protest will certainly leave a black mark on Datuk Seri Najib Razak's fledgling rule.

The arrest of some 400 demonstrators including women and youths, the sight of tear gas fired towards peaceful demonstrators will not do much good for a prime minister who is just about to enjoy a bit of support from a sceptical public.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders will definitely ride on the public anger generated by the excessive force used by the police to crush a peaceful rally that saw some 20,000 people taking to the streets to protest against the ISA.

Ultimately the protest was a larger attempt by the federal opposition to reclaim its reform agenda from the Najib administration.

Since taking power, the prime minister has portrayed himself as a reformer, by pledging to review the ISA, making concessions for the non-Malay communities and taking steps to free up the economy.

The force with which the protest was crushed yesterday will certainly provide fodder for PR to say that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government does not tolerate any dissent.

It will also provide an opportunity for the opposition to use the ISA as a symbol of BN's intolerant approach in governance.

The city was transformed into a war zone yesterday, much of it due the fact that the authorities were not prepared to tolerate what was planned as a peaceful march.

Tear gas filled the air and the streets were covered with chemical-laced water sprayed towards demonstrators, forcing them to scurry for cover in nearby malls.

Shops were closed and businesses were brought to a halt. Instead of entertaining customers, shop owners and their staff had to cover and wet their faces constantly as tear gas seeped into the malls.