THE use of gangsters and political violence are now “SOP” in events critical of Umno and the prime minister, electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 said after shoes and chairs were thrown and flares lit at the Nothing to Hide 2.0 forum yesterday.

Bersih said violence was becoming “an alarming trend” in the Malaysian political scene and called for an end to impunity.

“Increasingly, the use of gangsters and political violence are the SOP (standard operating procedure) in any event deemed to be critical of the authorities, in particular, Umno and Prime Minister Najib Razak,” the coalition of groups supporting electoral reform said in a statement today.

“Now is the time for the political leadership to end this violence. The deafening silence by the Cabinet is unacceptable.

“The Home Ministry must set the moral standard as this violence may set the tone for the 14th General Election.”

The Nothing To Hide 2.0 forum, held in Shah Alam yesterday, was meant to host an open debate between Najib and Pakatan Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad, but it was cut short when chaos erupted after flares were ignited, chairs thrown and shoes lobbed onstage.

Up to that point, Dr Mahathir, Najib’s former mentor turned political nemesis, had been taking questions onstage.

Bersih said rough tactics to quell political dissent had been on the rise in recent years, noting that the mass rallies it had organised to promote electoral reform had also been subjected to violence.

“Such hooliganism and political violence were used against the Bersih 5 convoy and rallies last year, which resulted in Bersih supporters being beaten, harassed and threatened.

“Activists have received death threats, cartoon exhibitions by Zunar are frequently targeted and ceramah by politicians have been disrupted.

“This is now being repeated at a forum, where the main aim was to have an open debate between Dr Mahathir and Najib, to discuss critical national issues such as corruption, 1Malaysia Development Berhad and the misuse of powers.”

Centre For A Better Tomorrow co-president Gan Ping Sieu issued a statement, saying there was a “worrying trend of a radicalised society resorting to violence as a form of expression”.

Gan said leaders had not been managing the political tension well, and instead, “aggravated the discord for short-term political gains at the expense of nation-building”.

“Yesterday’s shameful event is the latest in a series of violent flare-ups that have marred what should have been civil discussions.

“In a democratic society, civil debates are the cornerstones for the germination of ideas and to seek consensus.

“Malaysians, especially the youth, should choose dialogue, not brute force.”

Bersih and Gan said police must conduct a full investigation and bring the provocateurs to face justice, to show that the force had zero tolerance for those who resorted to violence.

Umno leaders who have criticised yesterday’s violence are Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak.