Pak Lah May Use ISA To Curb Street Rallies
"When it is appropriate to use it, it will be used," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was quoted as saying by national Bernama news agency.
On Sunday, some 10,000 ethnic Indians clashed with police at a rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur to demand economic equality, two weeks after thousands of people marched in Kuala Lumpur to seek electoral reforms.
Bernama quoted Abdullah as saying that the decades-old Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, "is a preventive measure to spare the nation from untoward incidents that can harm the prevailing peace and harmony and create all sorts of adverse things."
"I don't know (when to invoke the ISA), but ISA will be there," he was quoted as saying. An aide to Abdullah confirmed his comments but couldn't give further details.
Sunday's rally raised ethnic and racial tensions after police used tear gas and chemical-laced water to disperse the protesters, largely working-class ethnic Indians.
Government officials denounced the demonstration as an attempt to create racial animosity and smear the government's image. But activists and opposition parties slammed the police for being heavy-handed.
The rally — rooted in complaints that the ethnic Malay Muslim-dominated government discriminates against minorities — was the largest protest in at least a decade involving ethnic Indians, the country's second-largest minority after ethnic Chinese.
Street rallies are rare in Malaysia, which prides itself on communal and political peace.
However, Indians say discrimination persists because of an affirmative action policy favoring Malays, who form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people. They also complain of religious discrimination, citing several Hindu temples that have been demolished by state authorities in recent years.
More than two-thirds of ethnic Indians, who are mostly Hindus and constitute about 8 percent of the population, live in poverty. (International Herald Tribune)
***** It looks like Pak Lah is trying to say, "no more Mr Nice Guy". Perhaps he's coming round to accepting the views of the more intolerant among his cabinet colleagues such as Zainuddin Maidin and Nazri, who would have instantly wielded the big stick and battered everyone into submission and silence.
But by nature the PM is very different from the above specimens. In fact his personality and approach to issues differ dramatically from that of his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir who would have months ago opted for the ISA to quell even the slightest hint of rebellion.
However with so many questionable characters with dubious records and doubtful mental status having furtively slid into his inner circle of confidants, one cannot begin to guess what Pak Lah will do next or when, or indeed if it is he who takes the decisions or if even that is made by someone else on his behalf.
Having said that, I feel that any use of the ISA in stymieing or frustrating future protests will only cause more public dissatisfaction and could be counter-productive. While it is the PM's prerogative, it would be wise if he exercises great caution before taking the plunge.
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