KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 2 — The brutal scene of police beating PAS lawmaker Hatta Ramli, which was captured on camera during yesterday's anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) rally, and the force in which the authorities put down the protest will certainly leave a black mark on Datuk Seri Najib Razak's fledgling rule.
The arrest of some 400 demonstrators including women and youths, the sight of tear gas fired towards peaceful demonstrators will not do much good for a prime minister who is just about to enjoy a bit of support from a sceptical public.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders will definitely ride on the public anger generated by the excessive force used by the police to crush a peaceful rally that saw some 20,000 people taking to the streets to protest against the ISA.
Ultimately the protest was a larger attempt by the federal opposition to reclaim its reform agenda from the Najib administration.
Since taking power, the prime minister has portrayed himself as a reformer, by pledging to review the ISA, making concessions for the non-Malay communities and taking steps to free up the economy.
The force with which the protest was crushed yesterday will certainly provide fodder for PR to say that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government does not tolerate any dissent.
It will also provide an opportunity for the opposition to use the ISA as a symbol of BN's intolerant approach in governance.The city was transformed into a war zone yesterday, much of it due the fact that the authorities were not prepared to tolerate what was planned as a peaceful march.
Tear gas filled the air and the streets were covered with chemical-laced water sprayed towards demonstrators, forcing them to scurry for cover in nearby malls.Shops were closed and businesses were brought to a halt. Instead of entertaining customers, shop owners and their staff had to cover and wet their faces constantly as tear gas seeped into the malls.
There were scenes of mothers trying to calm their crying children hurt by the burning sting of tear gas and chemical-laced water sprayed all over them.
"Oh God, please help us," one of the mothers was heard calling out. About a few metres away from her was a young man with blood all over his head, cut by the tear gas canister that hit him.
The violence could perhaps have been avoided if Najib had responded to a letter requesting for a meeting to discuss among others, the ISA , sent by PR leaders.
And instead of looking for a middle ground or a diplomatic approach, BN ministers defiantly defended the police action and insisted that the ISA would remain.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, in an immediate reaction to the rally, showed no sympathy towards those brutalised by the police, saying they had been forewarned not to join the rally.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said there was no way the government was going to repeal the ISA, declaring that "as long as BN rules, the law stays."
Whether these BN ministers know it or not, it will be precisely such statements that could make the public forget about the problems in PR and give them enough ammunition to rally the public behind them.