by Maria Begum, Malaysia Chronicle via Din Merican's blog
Prime Minister Najib Razak surprised the nation on Wednesday night when he announced that the dreaded Sedition Act 1948 will be repealed and replaced by a new act known as the National Harmony Act.
Sad to say, he failed to convince his countrymen that the new law heralded real change. Critics pointed at the slew of new legislation he has introduced in the wake of the July 9 2011 BERSIH 2.0 rally, following which his leadership came under heavy fire for using physical force to quell a peaceful civilians protest for clean polls.
Indeed, instead of expanding the democratic space, Najib’s new replacement laws contained clauses that actually gave the Police greater power than before. And on April 28 this year, when the latest BERSIH 3.0 rally for clean polls pulled in a 250,000-strong crowd, Najib succumbed to insecurity and paranoia that he might be toppled and ordered one of bloodiest Police crackdowns in recent history.
His administration has since charged Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and wo other PKR leaders Azmin Ali and Badrul Hisham Shaharin under the recently tabled Peaceful Assembly Act for allegedly instigating the BERSIH 3.0 police violence.
When Najib first announced the Peaceful Assembly Act, he had promised the new law would bolster the citizens’ rights to peaceful gatherings. However, the new legislation turned out to be an even greater oppression.
“Najib cannot be trusted to repeal oppressive laws. He misled the rakyat (people) and went back on his word when he promised to liberalize media laws and assembly laws. He also replaced the Internal Security Act with more oppressive detention laws,” PKR Vice President N Surendran told Malaysia Chronicle.
“This new announcement is a bad joke upon the rakyat. Najib has made himself ridiculous with this new announcement. The Sedition Act must be repealed in its entirety. Why should there be replacement.”
So much verbiage
At the Attorney General’s Chambers’ dinner in Kuala Lumpur, Najib had said in repealing the 64-year-old Sedition Act, his government would have to find “a mechanism that could ensure the best balance between the need to guarantee the freedom of speech for every citizen and the need to handle the complexity of plurality existing in the country”.
“With this new act we would be better equipped to manage our national fault lines. It will also help to strengthen national cohesion by protecting national unity and nurturing religious harmony,” said Najib.
But as Surendran and other Opposition leaders warned, strip away the verbose and let new National Harmony Act be assessed on its own merit.
Until the details are announced, given Najib’s negative track record, it would be safer to assume that the changes would either be cosmetic or will contain a ‘killer’ clause that hands the authorities greater clout than before albeit in a less obvious or direct way.