Malaysians, Burmese march for democracy

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Monks have been leading tens of thousands of people as protests rock Burma

People are on the march in both Malaysia and Burma in their quest for justice and freedom.

The Malaysian Bar Council is organising a march of lawyers from the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya to the Prime Minister’s Office on the morning of Wed, 26 Sept after the explosive revelations in a widely circulated videoclip. They are expected to be joined by activists and other concerned Malaysians.

This is a piece I wrote for Asia Times Online:

Malaysia’s judiciary on Candid Camera
By Anil Netto

PENANG, Malaysia – On May 27, 1988, then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, his party faced with a legal challenge from rivals that threatened his leadership, summoned Malaysia’s top judge, Salleh Abas, and gave him an ultimatum: resign or face a judicial tribunal. That secret private meeting led to suspension of Salleh and five other top judges (three of whom were later reinstated). It precipitated a crisis from which the judiciary has never recovered.

Today, the once-powerful Mahathir, 82, is under sedation in intensive care after surgery to treat a infection following a heart-bypass operation on September 4.

And today, the credibility of the judiciary itself is also on life support after explosive revelations in a widely circulated (including on YouTube) eight-minute video clip featuring what appears to be a well-connected senior lawyer, V K Lingam, purportedly discussing promotions and factionalism among senior judges over the phone with Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, the No 3 judge in the country at the time the clip was recorded on a mobile phone in 2002. Full article

Meanwhile, over in Burma, monks and other citizens have been marching in some of the biggest protests since military rule was imposed nearly 20 years ago. Tens of thousands of Burmese have taken to the streets in protest against military rule, the lack of democracy and the continued incarceration of “The Lady”, the pro-democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Altsean-Burma observes that the brutal military junta there faces a lose-lose situation:

Between 18 and 24 September, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks led massive anti-junta demonstrations across most of Burma’s States and Divisions. In the largest show of peaceful protests against the military regime since 1988, thousands of Burmese civilians joined the rallies.

The military junta faces a “lose-lose” situation. If they crack down harshly against the monks, they will inflame an already angry population into a sustained uprising. If the army remains passive, it will embolden the population to take a stronger stand for their rights.

The mounting protest revived calls for the UN Security Council to increase pressure on the military regime. The current vulnerability of the SPDC will ensure that any positive international intervention is more likely to have an impact. China, India, Bangladesh, as well as ASEAN countries, should be gravely concerned by the regional repercussion of instability inside Burma and work together to pressure the regime for genuine reforms.

Meanwhile, Irrawaddy reports that Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved from her Rangoon lakeside home at University Avenue to the notorious Insein prison even as the military’s top brass hold an emergency meeting.

The Nation newspaper contrasts Asean’s feeble response to the latest protests in Burma to the regional grouping’s earlier reaction following the military coup in Thailand:

Indonesia, which is chairing the Council at the moment, has a pivotal role to play. Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono has made the promotion of democracy a cornerstone of his administration’s policy. This time he better deliver on Burma. Otherwise, he would be seen as a hypocrite. So far, Asean has been quiet on Burma as the grouping is trying to finalise the draft Asean charter.

It is puzzling that when Thailand faced a political crisis last year following a military coup, Asean leaders did not hesitate to comment on it. But when it comes to Burma, Asean leaders suddenly are at a loss for words. While the international community has expressed concern over Burma, the grouping’s recalcitrance and reticence over Burma could belittle the Asean spirit and cheapen the charter it is trying to put together.

Let us join hands with our sisters and brothers who are marching for justice and democracy in Putrajaya and Burma and extend our solidarity in spirit even if we cannot physically be present with them. May God bless and protect these justice-loving people.

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