When hooligans protest, ignore; when citizens protest, take note!

I was quite amused when I read the report two days ago of the protest by some members of Selangor Umno Youth. They had converged at the state secretariat building and flung pails and mineral water but couldn’t get through because the gate was shut and chained!

As they raved and ranted and misbehaved outside over the recent water cuts in Selangor, inside the secretariat building, things probably went on as usual. The state assembly was in session and no one came out to watch. They may have looked out through the windows but, of course, that wasn’t reported. The point is that nobody cared. As a matter of formality, Azmin’s political secretary came and accepted a memorandum from them. Otherwise, nobody came to watch and validate their presence. They were plainly ignored!

And, that, really is how protesters who protest to create mischief should be handled. The police were on standby. But there was no firing of water cannons or any effort to disperse the protest. When they had given vent to their frustrations — and they are a frustrated lot because they know that if their party doesn’t stay in power they may not have enough money in their pockets! — the protesters left quietly.

The BN government should learn a thing or two from the Selangor government about handling protests. They let the protesters protest which is their right, and they made no nasty statements about it. There was no silly statement by state leaders like “if there are no yellow shirts, there’ll be no red shirts”! Leaders who make statements like that clearly don’t abide by the constitutional rights of people to assemble; it’s ok for them to deprive people of their constitutional right to assemble in order to appease factions on their side who they can’t or won’t control.

I think the Selangor government’s handling of the protesters also helped to diffuse the tension. Selangor government supporters didn’t converge at the same place to harass the Umno Youth supporters nor provoke them with threatening behaviour like the red shirts do. They recognized the protesters right to protest and didn’t make a big hooha about it.

Red shirts should be treated in the same way. Let them protest, and then, ignore them!

Protesters who create all that brouhaha simply to harass and intimidate should be ignored because they are not expressing legitimate concerns but just emitting hot air. They shouldn’t be taken seriously. But, people who protest to express legitimate concerns should be taken seriously because they are exercising their constitutional right to express themselves. These are serious citizens who are making a statement. They are not a public menace — as long as they follow the law. The police should facilitate the protest, intervening only when a law is broken.

This, of course, is the ideal. In Malaysia, though, the ideal isn’t what we aspire for; survival is the current motto in the political scenario, and, clung to, seemingly, at the expense of the rights of others.

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