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Friday, September 16, 2011

Najib disappoints again: Glamour ISA announcements but little real change

Sulaiman Kamal | 2:13 AM | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Prime Minister Najib Razak's promise to repeal the Internal Security Act 1960 and several other oppressive laws were cautiously greeted by PKR leaders as a victory for the people, including the thousands of activists both local and foreign who fought through the decades for their removal.
However, they slammed Najib for trying to give a false impression to Malaysians that they could look forward to greater democracy and social justice, when effectively, there was little real change and a possibility that new laws made to replace the ISA could contain similarly oppressive clauses.
"Firstly, we don't know what new laws will be made to replace the ISA and Emergency Ordinance. They could be worse. Also, if Najib was really sincere, he would have lifted the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act, which they are already using to force the people into obedience. We have always said there was no need for the ISA. The Sedition Act and the OSA were bad enough," PKR strategies director Rafizi Ramli  told Malaysia Chronicle.

Malaysia Chronicle also spoke to several professionals working in the Golden Triangle area. One of theman investment director who only wanted to be known as MK, said what was more important was how the laws were carried out by the people entrusted to do so.
"What Najib has done is he has effectively admitted that outdated laws like ISA and EO have been abused by the government and the police to achieve ends which the laws were never designed for. Now he calls for their repeal, which of course is a good thing, but for real changes to be felt by the people, it is not only the law which needs change, but the manner in which they are used," MK told Malaysia Chronicle.
"Until the government stops the systematic abuse and misuse of not just the legal system but also institutions like the police and the election commission, civil liberties remain out of reach for us Malaysians.  After all, we used to have an independent judiciary who interpreted the law without fear or favour. Nowadays, the government can enact all the shiny new laws they want, because it is the interpretation and administration of those laws which can be perverted."
Freedom of expression and speech is as curtailed as before
PKR leaders were also not impressed by the lifting of a requirement for media firms to renew their publishing licenses on a yearly basis. They pointed out that a licence still needed to be obtained from the Home Ministry, and that the power to rescind such licenses at any time and for any reason whatsoever was still available to the Home Minister.
"All the mainstream media are already owned by the political parties like Umno, MCA and MIC. They will toe the party line whether or not the license needs annual renewal. For the alternative media, the beneficiaries are the PAS papers like Harakah. But even then these can be banned at anytime," PKR vice president and Batu MP Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
"Also notice, Najib did not uplift the ban on Suara Keadilan. In other words, he uplifted a superfluous clause. If you don't believe, try applying for a licence to publish a Malaysia Chronicle daily or weekly and see whether you can get any approval?"
Still refusing to acknowledge a two-party system
Indeed, it does not augur well and implies that the current chaotic political environment will continue until even after the next general elections, which many believe will be held within the next few months.
Najib's tacit refusal to grant greater democratic space, or any acknowledgment that a two-party political system is already in place in the country, signals a refusal to embrace real reforms.
"The governments stranglehold on our freedoms remains. It is particularly striking that the PM throughout his speech uses the language of oppression and underlying menace to declare apparent new freedoms. Every pronouncement is accompanied by warnings, caveats and restrictions. This does not augur well as a precursor to a new freer Malaysia," N Surendran, human rights lawyer and PKR vice president, told Malaysia Chronicle.
Electoral reforms ignored
While he promised to review the law forbidding Malaysians to assemble in public, agreeing to allow freedom of assembly according to international norms, seasoned human rights activists said Malaysia has long been a signatory to the United Nations human rights declarations and still flouted the prescribed standards. What guarantee that Najib - known for his flip flops - would keep to his word?
"He should have declared the abolition of the requirement of a permit for such assemblies," said Surendran.
Najib was also ominously silent on the electoral reforms demanded by the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally. Already, a Parliamentary Select Committee for election reforms that he set up last month has run into trouble after a heady start, much like Thursday night's glitzy show. Najib soon made clear there were limits as to what he would allow, prompting rebuke all round and a threat by the Pakatan to boycott the PSC.
"This is the core of democracy - the right to vote and to be sure your vote is properly accounted. The current system is so corrupt and skewed it is a mockery of our fundamental democratic rights," said Tian.
"I cannot believe Najib could completely ignore electoral reforms. he could have at least renewed his promise to ensure that the electoral roll is cleaned up before he calls for snap polls."
The announcements
In his Malaysia Day eve address televised live on prime time TV, Najib had promised to revoke the ISA and the thre Emergency laws once Parliament begins on October 3. Other changes he announced included:
*Government to table motion in parliament to repeal all 3 Proclamations of Emergency currently in force so that Malaysians can move forward
*Internal Security Act to be repealed; replaced with anti-terrorism laws limiting detention without trial; no one to be arrested for their political ideology
*Banishment Act 1959 to be abolished; Restricted Residence Act 1933 to be reviewed
*Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, that requires yearly renewal of publishing licence by media companies, will be abolished
*The law forbidding assembly in public places will be reviewed to allow freedom of assembly according to international norms
Najib also said that new laws would be enacted to protect the peace, harmony and security of the country.

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