TIME and again, it’s a similar script that plays out.
Local political parties or NGOs would announce their plans to hold a rally for one of various causes.
This would immediately be followed up with the announcement that the rally would be held at…...you guessed it. Where else, but Dataran Merdeka.
Of course, this would be subject to authorities approving the organiser’s application for a permit, which let’s face it, is as likely as snow falling in KL.
And therefore, cue the obvious plot twist - Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) issues a statement soon after the said rally is announced, for formality’s sake and merely to confirm what we’ve already come to expect: “Dataran Merdeka is off limits”.
The latest rally to be denied the use of Dataran Merdeka is the ‘Himpunan 355’ gathering in support of PAS’ proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, known as Act 355.
In a matter of hours, KL Mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz told The Star that the historic field was a no-go for the Islamist party and its supporters.
Prior to that, there was Bersih 5. And the ‘#TangkapMO1’ rally. And Bersih 4. These are just some of the recent public rallies that were forced to be content with flooding the streets around Merdeka Square.
In fact, if memory serves me correctly, the last rally allowed to take place on the field itself was the pro-Palestinian ‘Save the Children of Gaza’ rally in Aug 2014 - and that was more than two years ago!
Since then, the response from the authorities have always been the same. And so have the corresponding news headlines. “Dataran Merdeka off limits”, “No to rally at Dataran Merdeka”, you get the picture.
It begs the question, if organisers already know that there is no chance in a million of gathering in Dataran Merdeka, then why the pointless show of applying for it to begin with?
In some cases, they stubbornly insist on using the square despite City Hall’s firm objections, causing logistical issues on rally day, not to mention risking police action for gathering unlawfully on the streets.
This isn’t some scholarship application which you might miss out on the first time, but maybe have a shot at being accepted the second or third time around.
If past cases are any indication, a ‘no’ the first time likely means a ‘no’ until the very end. The authorities are usually in no mood to make concessions at the last minute.
It is a ruling that has been applied across the board, though it would seem as being targeted at Opposition-aligned NGOs, who are usually more active when it comes to the business of organising rallies and street protests.
But while the symbolic significance of exercising one’s democratic right on a ground that literally translates as “independence square” has not gone unnoticed, perhaps it is time rally organisers know a lost cause when they see one and move on to other viable venues.
After all, if the rally in question promotes a cause or idea that resonates with the rakyat, it will most certainly achieve its desired effect no matter where the location.
A case in point is the Rohingya solidarity rally that took place at Stadium Titiwangsa last month, which attracted thousands of supporters comprising politicians, activists, and members of the public.
Within an enclosed space and controlled environment, rally-goers were able to protest and convey their message just as effectively as they would have at Dataran Merdeka or on the streets.
The KL Mayor said as much when proposing the same stadium for PAS’ ‘Himpunan 355’ scheduled for Feb 18.
“The (previous) Rohingya rally in Stadium Titiwangsa has proven to be good, so that’s the place,” he had said.
An added bonus is that rallies held in stadiums prevent the inevitable traffic congestion that is an all too familiar sight when these events are held on the streets of the city centre.
Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak attended the pro-Rohingya rally, yet this wasn’t grounds for authorities to offer preferential treatment or simply permit the use of the square for a VVIP.
Perhaps we should realise that there are more reasons in favour of keeping Dataran Merdeka under ‘lock and key’ than against.
Aside from preserving the iconic landmark’s cleanliness (littering is common during public rallies) and upkeep, it is also more practical to just seek out alternative venues from the offset.
It would definitely save the organisers, the authorities, members of the public, and not to mention the media, a whole lot of trouble.
Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller. He is a moderate at everything but eating, and feels people should make sense, not war.