Bending to mob rule

  • Along The Watchtower
  • Wednesday, 05 Feb 2020

IT was a display of sheer audacity and utter contempt for the law. A horde of thugs confronted a minister and he was forced to flee.

Although it would be a stretch to say that the aggression against Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman last Friday reflects Malaysia’s slide towards mob rule, it sure looks like that is where we are heading.

If a hostile crowd can make a minister climb over a fence to avoid confrontation, what about the safety of the average citizen in such a situation?

Videos of the incident, which have gone viral, show the shocking blatancy of the 200-strong mob.

The men heckled and badgered the minister at a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia event in Ulu Tiram, Johor, between 8pm and 10pm.

The perpetrators and the puppet masters behind them must be caught and made to face the severest punishment.

Police have since set up a special task force to investigate the case and three men in their 30s have been arrested and are under remand.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador confirmed that the shocking incident is being probed under Section 153 of the Penal Code (provocation with intent to cause a riot), Section 357 (assault or criminal force) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation).

In the videos, the group can be heard yelling curses at the Muar MP and Bersatu Youth chief and demanding that he leaves the state.

Syed Saddiq, 27, was at a restaurant with his parents and Bersatu’s youth and women division representatives and their family members when the boisterous group wearing black or red shirts started a commotion.

The mob had blocked the entrance and tried to surround Syed Saddiq’s table, forcing the minister and two others – Melaka state exco member Datuk Mohd Rafiq Naizamohideen and Johor exco member Mazlan Bujang – to flee the venue by scaling a fence.

Questions have also been raised about the allegedly unhurried police response to the unruly crowd of gatecrashers.

According to a witness, Bersatu Youth exco member Abdul Hannaan Khairy, the minister’s political secretary, had sought help from policemen in a patrol car parked about 500m away but there was no action.Hannaan said he then went over to the policemen and urged them to control the situation, but they did not go to the restaurant.

He said the police chief of the area and several uniformed policemen only entered the premises about 15 minutes after Syed Saddiq personally contacted the IGP.

These are serious allegations that the task force should also investigate.

The impression given is that there were powerful unseen hands behind the impudent mob.

In a Facebook posting a day later, Syed Saddiq accused Umno Youth of instigating the demonstration.

However, this was vehemently denied by Umno Youth head Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, who has filed a police report against the minister and has also threatened a lawsuit if the minister does not apologise to the party within three days.

While the incident may be the first that involves a direct physical threat against a minister, Malaysia is already awash with other forms of mob bullying.

In the wider Malaysian context, it cannot be denied that there is a disturbing trend towards mob rule, no thanks to the Pakatan Harapan government’s inability to firmly take on key issues on race and religion for fear of losing power.

Let’s not forget that it was mob intimidation that led to the government’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year.

The Foreign Ministry had mulled over the statute, which exercises jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, for more than two decades before deciding to ratify it.

But instead of countering the confusion and misinformation among the Malays – for example, people were told that the Rome Statute would undermine the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the Malay Rulers and Islam – the government caved in under pressure from PAS and Umno and withdrew.A year earlier, the government backtracked from its decision to accede to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), again under mob coercion in the form of racially and religiously charged protests.

PAS and Umno leaders declared that Icerd was a threat to the special position of Malays as enshrined in the Constitution and deemed it “un-Islamic”.

They turned a blind eye to the fact that 55 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey ratified it, with some making reservations that the convention could not supersede syariah laws.

The government’s reluctance to keep its election manifesto promise to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) is another example of succumbing to mob pressure.

In the wake of opposition from the usual suspects, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the “sensitivities” of all races and not just any specific group should be considered in the proposal to recognise the UEC.

The intense antagonism against the UEC is surprising because before the 14th General Election on May 9, 2018, it was not only Pakatan that said it would work towards recognition of the certificate. Barisan Nasional had made a similar commitment.

The continuous use of such issues as political fodder and the powerlessness of the government to tackle them shows that when it comes to racial and religious sentiments, Malaysia is becoming less of a democracy and more of an ochlocracy – rule by mob or the intimidation of legitimate authorities.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Edgar Allan Poe: “The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.” The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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