Najib pushes ahead with reform agenda

September 17, 2011

Najib pushes ahead with reform agenda

By Kevin Brown in Singapore (09-15-11)

Malaysia’s Prime Minister has announced the repeal of laws allowing indefinite detention without trial as part of civil liberties measures designed to shore up his image as a liberal reformer.

Najib Razak, leader of the multi-ethnic south-east Asian nation since 2009, told its 28m people in a live broadcast on Thursday that the “historic” reforms underlined his commitment to transforming Malaysia into a modern, progressive democracy.

However, Mr Najib acknowledged that “there may be short term pain for me, politically”, reflecting concern among aides about opposition to change from Malay supremacist elements of the ruling party, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO).

The repeal of the Internal Security Act, introduced three years after Independence in 1957 after an armed communist uprising, will reassure sceptics who had doubted that Mr Najib’s repeated promises to reform Malaysia were serious.

Critics had feared that the act, under which 37 people are currently detained, would be amended rather than abolished as Mr Najib tried to balance competing demands for more civil liberties and a continued tough line on security.

However, his decision to couple the repeal of the ISA with the abolition of Malaysia’s Emergency Ordinance, a separate law allowing detention without charge for up to two years, is likely to reassure liberals that he is serious about change.

The Prime Minister said both laws would be replaced by legislation incorporating greater restrictions on police powers and introducing judicial oversight of the detention process. He also announced the abolition of a requirement for newspapers to seek renewal of press and publication permits every year, a review of restrictions requiring police permission for marches and demonstrations and a review of laws restricting the freedom to choose where to live.

A review of censorship laws and a commission of inquiry into concerns about the electoral system had already been announced.

The reforms follow efforts by Mr Najib to distance himself from Malay supremacist opponents within UMNO in an attempt to recover waning support among urban Malays and the minority ethnic Chinese and Indian population.

UMNO and its ethnic Indian and Chinese based partners in the ruling National Front coalition, have struggled since a relatively poor general election result in 2008 to stem a drain of urban support to a secular opposition grouping led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former UMNO deputy prime minister.

A fresh general election is due by 2013, and is thought likely to be called next year. However, Mr Najib’s political freedom for manoeuvre remains constrained by a tough fightback from UMNO members who fear his attempts to modernise Malaysia will lead to a dismantling of laws that entrench a leading role in the country for the majority Malay population.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.

8 thoughts on “Najib pushes ahead with reform agenda

  1. “However, Mr Najib’s political freedom for manoeuvre remains constrained by a tough fightback from UMNO members who fear his attempts to modernise Malaysia will lead to a dismantling of laws that entrench a leading role in the country for the majority Malay population.”

    Will lead to “a dismantling of laws that entrench a leading role in the country for the majority Malay population”.

    Clearly the writer does not understand. Because he is connecting the affirmative action policies of the UMNO led regime to the security laws of the country which under Najib have been flagrantly abused by the ruling regime to ward off challenges made by opposition members to his rule.

  2. While both Najib and UMNO may wrestle with the Opposition as to who should take credit for the change, the people should not allow themselves to be hoodwinked into believing that this is the end of prevention detention laws in Malaysia. Many had expected an amendment or amendments to the Act like the reinstatement of judicial review a power inherent (if not expressed) in the Constitution, the supreme law of the federation creating the judicial branch and the Federal Court, the highest court in the country.

    The announcement should have been, “We are replacing the Internal Security Act 1960 with a new law doing away with the draconian features of the 1960 to take cognizance of the new realities” – without elaborating what those new realities are. That would have been more credible. Instead Najib went on record as the Prime Minister who hoodwinked Malaysians into believing that he is doing away with preventive detention laws as they are not compatible with democracy and the spirit of the Constitution of 1957.

    He stood proudly on stage, absorbing all the praise showered on him, basking in the limelight while it lasted and it lasted for the brief moments he stood on stage. For those brief moments he appears to have convinced himself that he has at last found his niche as the nation’s born again convert to democracy. This is vintage Najib. When the chips are down, there is nothing like amusing yourself with tales of new albeit imagined realities of “Gua tolong lu, lu tolong gua”.

    Never mind that he left his Minister of Home Affairs to make the announcement that the country’s preventive detention laws will be resurrected under a new name.

  3. Bean suk,
    Just like the same people kenna hookwinded by Mahathir…..Remember the suqiu! To Najib! Nah! Nuts! Just eat them if you can man

  4. If Najib follows through with his repeal of the ISA and the emergency laws after all the fore-play in the media, history will judge him very well… as the PM who turned the corner for Malaysia and made the difference.

    Najib MUST SEIZE the opportunity NOW so that he can leave behind a memorable an positive legacy of his Prime Ministership. He can distinguish away from the 22 years of crony-infested corrupt Prime Ministership of the Mamak-PM which left every Malaysian a sour taste in the mouth. Najib should now know that despite the snippings and keris-behind-his back plots, he still has the power TODAY to CHANGE the course of the nation’s history.

    There may not be another time for Najib to imprint his name into the right side of history of the country. carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero[“Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future”]

  5. “UMNO and its ethnic Indian and Chinese based partners in the ruling National Front coalition,” – clearly a non Malaysian observer. What about all those Sabah and Sarawak non Indian or non Chinese based partners? These are the parties that are propping up the BN government.

    The writer also mention Najib’s attempt to ‘modernise” Malaysia. Malaysia is already modern except for the way the UMNO leaders think. They are trapped somewhere in the mid 15 century before the arrival of the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British. That’s why they consider these people “pendatangs”.

  6. Najib, is doing something almost out of this world because the world is watching, and he cannot do anything else that some had done before because racial politics is now famished in Malaysia. He is suing for peace talks with the opposition. But the opposition has to be very careful, so as not to split up in response to this very tempting sweetener for Najib. The opposition can split up if each of them becomes overwhelmed by the greed to grab as much of this sweetener for itself.

    That could be the danger because Najib could only be teasing with this opening tranche, and if he sees certain reaction from the opposition, there may be following tranches suitable crafted to evoke reaction from the opposition, and perhaps component parties of the BN.
    An interesting perspective, but the opposition will not be split by this move. Pakatan component parties need one and another to prevent the collapse of our nascent two party system. At the same time, anything is possible in politics.–Din Merican

  7. Najib may be dangling many types of baits to lure the tortoise head out of its shell. Once out, the head will be “chopped off”, and the tortoise is cooked for dinner.

    Maybe his advisers went to markets recently and were inspired by this idea for application in politics.

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