Another indicator that elections are around the corner. The PM apparently has “seen the light” and has morphed into a “democrat” – just two months after his administration used heavy-handed tactics to crack down on the Bersih 2.0 rally.
According to The Star, Najib has just announced the following:
Total repeal of the Internal Security Act
The legislation, introduced in 1960 in the wake of an armed insurgency by Communist rebels, gives the police wide-ranging powers to detain suspects indefinitely. It will be replaced by a new law that incorporates far more judicial oversight and limits the powers of the police to detain suspect for preventive reasons.
Total repeal of the Emergency Ordinance
Introduced following race riots in 1969, the Emergency Ordinance, which allows suspects to be detained without charge for up to two years if permission is granted by a Minister. This too will be replaced by a law that will not compromise on national security and terrorism while increasing democratic accountability and judicial oversight.
Removal of annual renewal of press and publication permits
All licences will now remain valid indefinitely unless they are revoked, in common with broadcasting regulations in many Western nations.
A review of laws relating to freedom of assembly
The Malaysian constitution guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The law requires police permission before gatherings can go ahead, including on private land such as stadiums. This law will now be reviewed to bring Malaysia in line with international standards while ensuring that the police retain the power to prevent violent scenes on the nation’s streets.
A host of other laws, including those governing banishment and residence, will also be abolished or reviewed. Any that are found to be no longer relevant or justifiable will be repealed.
In reaction to these announcements, a Malaysian in Singapore sent me a tongue-in-cheek message: “Woo hoo, Malaysia more democratic than Singapore. Hahaha!”
He added, “Well, however one looks at it, Najib has done something nobody expected: he beat Anwar and was the first PM to repeal the ISA…”
But was this Najib’s genius or an acknowledgement that the ISA had become a serious political liability? This colonial era laws (yes, it was the colonial era!) has been so overwhelmingly opposed by the public that it was only a matter of time before it was consigned to the dustbin of history. It is a remarkable victory for the people.
On the surface, most people would be inclined to welcome these announcements. But any celebration is premature. What replaces these oppressive laws is just as important. The devil is in the details of the new laws to replace the ISA and EO.
What about all the other oppressive laws such as the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Universities and University Colleges Act? What about other preventive detention laws?
We need to ratify all UN human rights treaties such as the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Refugee Rights Convention, etc
When can we have a truly independent judiciary?
Do democratic countries need a “permit” for publishing a newspaper or other periodical? Can the Minister’s revocation of the “permit” be challenged in court?
Will all charges against the PSM 30, who are due to face charges for distributing leaflets and possession of T-shirts, etc, now be dropped unconditionally?
Finally, can we all wear those yellow ‘Bersih’ T-shirts and celebrate the PM’s announcement without being unceremoniously hauled away?