(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): This morning, top Opposition party leaders met the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai and top police officers for two-and-a-half hours at Bukit Aman Police Headquarters on the police role in promoting democracy in Malaysia as well as the restoration of public confidence in the professionalism of the police force.
Opposition party leaders were KeADILan President, Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, KeADILan Deputy President Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, PAS President Ustaz Datuk Fadzil Noor and Central Committee member Datuk Hishamuddin Yahya, PRM Secretary-General Dr. Sanusi Othman and Sivarasah Rasiah, DAP National Chairman Dr. Chen Man Hin and myself. All Opposition leaders spoke and gave their views at the dialogue.
At the very frank and wide-ranging exchange of views between the top leadership of the Opposition and the Police, Opposition leaders stressed that the Opposition had always respected the Police which is playing the important role as the upholder of law and order, and that the Police must similarly respect the Opposition parties which are committed to the improvement and betterment of the Malaysian society - as Opposition leaders are as patriotic as the Police officers.
Opposition leaders stressed that the public image of the police had fallen to an all-time low in its history, and there is an urgent need to restore public confidence in the independence, professionalism and integrity of the Royal Malaysian Police Force.
Three important issues were raised. Firstly, the need for the police force to be neutral in the political arena. It must not side with the ruling parties against the opposition parties, and such police neutrality must not only be felt by opposition parties but also seen by the people at large.
Under this item, many complaints about the unfairness of police processing of permits for opposition ceramahs or public meetings were raised, as police in different states and even different divisions in the same state have different requirements - whether in rejecting police permits, lateness in giving permits or imposing unfair restrictions on the ceramah speakers.
Tan Sri Norian Mai agreed to standardise police procedures and that applications for police permits for ceramahs and public meetings should be submitted two weeks before the event, while the police will give their decision on the application three days before the event so as to allow appeals to be made to higher police authorities as provided for by the law.
The second issue raised was professionalism of the police, which was seriously undermined not only by the infamous assault of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the very inner sanctum of the police high command in Bukit Aman, but also by police abuses of power, such as police brutalities and shoot-outs, such as the police shooting and killing of five suspected kidnappers including an eight-month-old pregnant woman, N. Selvamalar, in Kuala Lumpur and the shooting and killing of six persons in Tumpat, both of which happened in October last year; and the fatal police shooting of a Bank Simpanan Nasional teller, Mohd Zailani Mohd. Salleh in January this year.
Reference was also made to the statistics revealed in the April Parliament that 635 people had been shot dead by the police in the past ten years, and whether the police could satisfy the Malaysian public that no innocent people had been killed in all these 635 cases.
One way for the police force to demonstrate its seriousness in wanting to restore public confidence is for it to support the establishment of an Independent Police Ombudsman with powers to receive and investigate public complaints about police misconduct and abuses of power.
Although Norian Mai said that it is up to Parliament to decide whether to establish an Independent Public Ombudsman to provide a mechanism for public oversight of police accountability, Opposition leaders stressed that the Police leadership should be prepared to take a pro-active stand to support such a proposal to demonstrate its commitment of professionalism and accountability for its actions to the public.
The third issue discussed was the responsibility of the Police Force to promote the democratic way of life in Malaysia, which is one of the dedicated objectives of the nation enshrined in the Rukunegara.
As part of its commitment to the promotion of democracy in Malaysia, the Police leadership was asked to ensure that there is more democratic space for Malaysians under existing laws and regulations, as allowing for peaceful demonstrations which is a form of freedom of assembly guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution, and ensuring that opposition parties could use public halls and grounds for their meetings and ceramahs - as well as proposing to the government the amendment or repeal of repressive laws.
The Police was also asked to take action to ensure that the next general election will not be the "dirtiest" in history, but the most free, fair and clean. With this objective in mind, the Police should convene an all-party meeting to draw up the ground rules to ensure that the next general election is not only trouble-free but that no political party will go round threatening violence if support is given to its political opponent.
In the dialogue, Norian Mai said the Police force is committed to promoting democratic values while upholding law and order.
He said that state-level co-ordinating committees involving the police and political parties would be formed once the general election is called to provide a mechanism to deal with problems that could arise as well as to ensure that the next general election will be incident-free.