Dr M’s views on democracy ‘archaic’, unacceptable, says Bersih

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(MM) – Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “archaic” view that protests must be curbed ostensibly to protect democracy has no place in today’s society, polls reform group Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah said today.

Criticising Dr Mahathir and Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders for their alleged “continuous accusations that street protests are linked with “wanting to overthrow the government”, Maria said this was a reflection of their purported “intolerance for differing views”.

“Such archaic approaches, I am afraid are no longer acceptable and Malaysian people are much much smarter,” the social activist said in a statement today.

She argued that clean and fair elections, good governance and an adherence to rule of law were all vital elements of the very democracy that Dr Mahathir said was at risk from protests and other forms of dissent.

While street rallies are an infrequent sight in Malaysia, Bersih is best known for a series of iconic mass protests in the years leading up to Malaysia’s 13th general election, held to pressure the government to reform its electoral process.

Maria also dismissed Dr Mahathir’s claim that the group’s previous massive rallies for free and fair elections were calculated to bring down the government, adding that Putrajaya should not limit such gatherings simply to “stifle dissent”.

She stressed that freedom of expression is a constitutional right, which citizens should be able to exercise freely without “fear or favour”.

While acknowledging that limitations may be placed on the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, such as a prohibition on hate speech and death threats, Maria said such restrictions should comply with “international human rights laws and standards”.

“Therefore, the limitations cannot be based on the criteria of wanting to stifle dissent or views that the powers that be do not agree with,” she said.

In a blog post today, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia has yet to experience instability caused by “massive prolonged street demonstrations”, but said there are Malaysians who wanted to overthrow the government through such protests.

“The series of Bersih demonstrations are obviously meant to excite public support to discredit the government and eventually to bring it down,” he said.

Dr Mahathir also said limits must be placed on the freedom of citizens to ensure the survival of democracy.

“Free speech, free press, demonstrations and strikes must be circumscribed to some degree so that they will not destroy democracies in the name of democracy,” he said.