Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New law to replace Sedition Act just old wine in new bottle, say analysts

BY EILEEN NG

Critics say the Sedition Act in Malaysia has been interpreted in such a way that even criticism of the government is considered an offence. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 9, 2014.
Critics say the Sedition Act in Malaysia has been interpreted in such a way that even criticism of the government is considered an offence. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 9, 2014.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak might want to get rid of the Sedition Act but analysts say the new act will be equally repressive as the prime minister has in the past introduced polices which are just "old wine in new bottle".
While they are confident that Putrajaya will do away with the draconian law, but warned its replacement would keep the spirit of the Sedition Act alive.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) said Najib has a penchant for "keeping the old elements and rebranding it as something else"
He recalled how Najib repealed the Internal Security Act (ISA) and introduced the equally repressive Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or Sosma, and eased affirmative action policies but launched the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Agenda.
"If he does the same with the Sedition Act, then it's a clear indication that he is not the transformation PM we think he is," said Wan Saiful (pic, left).
He said the prime minister is good at making announcements but does not fulfil his pledges with systemic changes.
"My fear is he will succumb to pressure," he said, referring to growing calls from Umno grassroots and even a segment of the public who wanted Najib not to do away with the colonial-era law, which they said safeguards Islam, Malays and the royal institution.
"My concern is maybe the calls to keep the Act are simply a silly reaction to the opposition's call to abolish it because I simply can't see the rationale why people want to retain it."
In recent weeks, opposition politicians and several individuals have been investigated or charged under the draconian law, propmting critics to accuse Najib of back-pedalling on his pledge to repeal the law in July 2012 as part of his reform agenda.
Najib repeated his pledge in an interview with BBC's World News programme a year later, and again three days ago.
Yesterday, speaking to his department staff, Najib said the government would consult Malay groups which have been vocal over the plan to introduce the National Harmony Act, which will replace the Sedition Act.
His remarks closely followed those of Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday, saying the government had yet to make a decision to repeal the Act.
Analyst Dr Lim Teck Ghee said Najib should ignore calls from those in support of sedition laws.
"Giving way to fascist-oriented or ultra-nationalist groups who have an agenda entirely different from that espoused by the prime minister, and want a return to a more authoritarian regime, will mean that he will go down in history as the leader who caved in or ran away at the slightest challenge," he said.
Right-wing Malay groups, such as Perkasa headed by Datuk Ibrahim Ali (centre), has called for the Sedition Act to be maintained. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 9, 2014.Right-wing Malay groups, such as Perkasa headed by Datuk Ibrahim Ali (centre), has called for the Sedition Act to be maintained. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, September 9, 2014.Lim, who heads the Centre for Policy Initiative, said Najib might want to replace the Sedition Act with another legislation to appease hardliners both within and outside Umno, but warned that by giving in, Najib risked an "unmitigated disaster" for his own position both as leader of Umno and Barisan Nasional.
"Rather than lead to greater support for him, it could prove to be the thin end of the wedge which will embolden his conservative and extremist critics; and lead to the swift demise of his tenure as prime minister.
"He has promised a moderate, unifying and liberal brand of leadership. He must stand up to the pressure, fulfil his promises or lose credibility nationally and internationally".  
Lim said there existing laws were already adequate to ward off threats to the country's security.
"The real issue is fair, even-handed and impartial implementation of the existing laws which relate to the exercise of basic freedoms and rights; and where the state needs to step in to curtail them for the national good. New laws are useless if there is selective and politically opportunistic enforcement," he said.
Monash University Malaysia's Professor James Chin said Najib would stick to his resolve to abolish the Act just to prove his critics wrong.
"However, the replacement law will be something that allows for action to be taken against those who criticise the government," he said.
Chin compared the use of the Act with the Commonwealth legal definition, which he said defined sedition as "a call for a violent overthrow of an existing government".
In contrast, Chin, said, in Malaysia, it is applied on those who merely criticise the government. – September 9, 2014.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/new-law-to-replace-sedition-act-just-old-wine-in-new-bottle-say-analysts#sthash.uOLk5liB.dpuf

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