Peaceful Assembly Bill may affect ceramahs

Tarani Palani | November 26, 2011

Opposition MPs say that it is now left to the police to give the go ahead to hold a ceremah.

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.

“If the maximum fine is RM10,000, don’t tell me the judge is going to fine RM500. Even 30% of that stipulated amount (RM3,000) is more than the minimum amount of RM2,000 which disqualifies me as a MP.

“Everybody is stuck now. If you go ahead, you face the risk of being disqualified as a MP,” he added.

More complications

PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub voiced his sceptisim over the new bill by raising concern over the eleventh hour change of heart by the police.

“Like Bersih 2.0, they promised it could be held in a stadium but when Bersih demanded Stadium Merdeka, the government gave excuses why the prefered stadium could not be used,” he said .

He also took to issue the appeal which could be made to the home minister and said that the matter only complicates further plans to hold a simple ceramah.

“How can we appeal to the home minister in the last minute after making all the arrangement for an assembly? Will it be his piority, how fast can he get back to us. If you want to meet him in person you have to adhere to office hours.

“Its even more troublesome when the ceramah is outstation like in Rantau Panjang or Johor Baru,” he added.

Pua however said such strict rules have never stopped the Opposition MPs.

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