Drop illegal assembly probe against Anwar, Bersih tells cops


(MM) – Bersih 2.0 demanded today that all investigations against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim under the Peaceful Assembly Act be dropped, warning of an alleged ploy by the authorities to create an uneven battlefield for the Kajang by-election on March 23.

The polls reform watchdog pledged to stand by Anwar, who has voiced his intention to contest the polls, and any other candidate whose right to peaceful assembly is violated.

“We see selective use of the Act against any candidate in the by-election as a deliberate act of undermining the level playing field.

“All Malaysians who believe in free and fair elections, regardless of their political persuasion, must also condemn this,” the group said in a statement signed by its steering committee here.

Police have said they are investigating Anwar for allegedly starting campaigning ahead of the official period for the Kajang by-election.

Selangor deputy police chief Datuk Abdul Rahim Jaafar was reported by Malay-language daily Berita Harian yesterday as saying the opposition leader had failed to give notice for his ceramah 10 days ahead as required under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012.

He explained that the matter falls under police jurisdiction as the official campaign period only starts on March 11.

The investigations are being carried out under Section 9(5) of the PAA, which carries a maximum fine of RM10,000 if found guilty of failing to give 10 days notice to the police officer in charge of a given district, the senior policeman added.

Abdul Rahim’s statement follows an earlier one by Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, who likewise said that Anwar could be charged under the PAA for premature campaigning.

But Bersih 2.0 maintained today that the Act, passed and gazetted in 2012 after much controversy, violates provisions in the Federal Constitution.

The polls reform group pointed out that it is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Act in its counterclaim for the suit filed by the government on the Bersih 3 rally. In the suit, the government is demanding some RM112,000 from the group for the damage of police vehicles.

In its statement here, Bersih 2.0 also held that the official campaign period set by the Election Commission (EC) should only be seen as the “minimum timeframe” for candidates and parties to canvass for votes.

“Bersih 2.0 stresses that there is no such thing as voters being overly informed when it comes to their future.

“Unofficial campaign before nomination cannot do voters any harm as they get more time to consider their option and the consequences of their choice,” the group said.

A longer campaign period would also help increase voter increase and boost turnout rate for the polls, it added.

The EC has set March 23 as the polling date for the Kajang by-election, the country’s third since Election 2013 last May.

Nomination will be on March 11, while early voting has been set for March 19.

In Election 2013, PKR’s Lee Chin Cheh won the Kajang seat with a 6,824-vote majority in the constituency that is 48 per cent Malay, 41 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent Indian.