Peaceful Assembly Bill may affect ceramahs

By Tarani Palani, FMT

PETALING JAYA: With the Peaceful Assembly Bill it looks like the police will have the final say on political ceramahs.

Now, a police permit is no longer required to hold an assembly. But the orgnanisers must inform the police 30-days in advance before organising such gatherings or assemblies.

The Pakatan Rakyat MPs fear that this new ruling will hamper their election campaigns.

During a debate over the matter, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim had raised that the fact that the bill further complicates the opposition front’s capacity to hold ceramahs and to reach out to the people.

DAP MP for Rasah Anthony Loke said political ceramahs was a major way to reach-out to the voters.

Under the current law, he said opposition political ceramah activities are already at the mercy of the OCPD. However, with the new law in place, it is more difficult to reach out to the public through these talks.

“Usually the crowd, especially the Malay crowd depends heavily on political ceramah. With the current Police Act, we are already heavily depended on the discretion of the OCPD.

“If you get a reasonable OCPD, its easier (to attain a permit). If you get an unreasonable OCPD it gets harder,” he said.

Loke also took issue with the lengthy notification period.

“Political activities don’t work this way. Within 30 days, the issues would have already died down,

“Within two, three days when an issue come to the fore, you need to have forums or briefing sessions to inform the public. Thirty days is unreasonable when we live in an age where information flows within seconds,” he added.

Huge fines

Fellow MP and DAP publicity chief, Tony Pua agreed that ceramahs were an important means to reach out to the public.

“We have no control over print and broadcasts media. Our opinions only get published in (the) online media which have limited reach.

“We rely on direct communications on the ground to get our message across,” said the Petaling Jaya Utara MP.

Another issue, which may land MPs in a sticky situation is the of fines imposed on wrong-doers which can disqualify MPs as parliamentarians.

As it stands now, MPs could lose their seat if they are fined an excess of RM2,000 or a jail sentence of one year is imposed on them.

If a MP is found guilty, under the new bill, he could face a maximum of RM10,000 and RM20,000 for some offences.

Loke brushed aside arguments made by Barisan National MPs that it is up to the judge’s discretion to issue the fines which may not reach the maximum amount stipulated by the Bill.