Anwar Ibrahim on the new coalition:’We’ll rise with new friends, become stronger’


June 23, 2015

Anwar Ibrahim on the new coalition:’We’ll rise with new friends, become stronger’

http://www.malaysiakini.com

anwar-ibrahim-1

The Architect – who brought three parties with opposing ideologies to sit at the same table under the banner of Pakatan Rakyat – today confirmed of a new realignment in the opposition.

 Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently serving a five-year sentence, believes the opposition would rise stronger from the ashes of Pakatan. “I have no doubt that the Opposition, reorganised with new forces including NGOs, will emerge united and stronger from these troubles. I assure you, that I will never give up this struggle as long as there remains breath in this body,” he said in a statement released through his lawyers. Anwar’s statement is the clearest yet of efforts to create a post-Pakatan coalition.

Today, PasMA President Phahrolrazi Mohd Zawawi had announced that it will be joining a new opposition coalition that is to be formed with DAP. This is despite Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali’s insistence that Pakatan wasn’t dead.

Partnership to better serve the rakyat

PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang had also insisted Pakatan has not been dissolved as it still comprise PAS and PKR.

Lim Guan Eng

DAP had last Tuesday declared Pakatan dead in response to PAS, under its new conservative leadership, passing a motion at its muktamar which proposed the severing of ties with DAP.  DAP had insisted that Pakatan comprises three parties and cannot exist without any one of them. Anwar said in spite of recent events, the purpose and strength of the opposition in its struggle against BN’s “poor governance and authoritarianism” endures.”We are now working to forge a stronger and enduring partnership, to better serve the rakyat,” he said. In the interim, Anwar assured that there is a “functioning and robust” opposition at both state and parliamentary levels.

Despite being in jail, Anwar urged his colleagues to press on with the opposition’s struggle. “From behind these iron bars, I urge you, my colleagues in the opposition and my fellow Malaysians, to press on with this great struggle until victory is achieved, and the nation saved,” he said.

Malaysia’s Long Road to Change


June 21, 2015

Malaysia’s Long Road to Change

by Asia Sentinel Editors

http://www.asiasentinel.com/opinion/malaysias-long-road-to-change/

Taken in the current context, it is remarkable that Prime Minister Najib Razak remains in power. In an actual democracy – instead of the kind of purpose-built one-party state in Malaysia – he would presumably be long gone and perhaps in the dock.–The Asia Sentinel Editors.

Adam AdliAdam Adli- A  Rebel with Causes

The headline issues behind Malaysia’s current political crisis often puzzle outside observers, not just for the specific and sometimes bizarre details but for what they reveal about a system designed to maintain the status quo at all costs. Taken in the current context, it is remarkable that Prime Minister Najib Razak remains in power. In an actual democracy – instead of the kind of purpose-built one-party state in Malaysia – he would presumably be long gone and perhaps in the dock.

Najib's ScandalsThe 1Malaysia Development Berhad debacle, with its overtones of greed, political favoritism and inside deals is exactly the kind of sleaze that should and does bring down governments worldwide. Add to that the lingering issue of the 2006 murder of the misbegotten Mongolian party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu by bodyguards linked to Najib, the shamelessly cooked-up jailing of long-suffering opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the poisonous stew of bitter racial politics manipulated by the ruling elite and the widespread disgust with the acquisitive ways of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and it is a wonder that anyone can keep a straight face while claiming Malaysia’s system is anything but a thinly disguised playpen for the Barisan National and its cronies.

Still, and finally, we may be witnessing the endgame in the country’s painful transition from the 20th century politics and governance that started with the transition from British colonialism to rule by the Barisan Nasional, the race-based coalition of political parties led by the United Malays National Organization. In power since 1957, the Barisan is the world’s longest-ruling parliamentary coalition.

Malaysia, a much richer and more sophisticated country now than it was when the kampungs could so easily be fooled by the elite, may finally have no choice but to adapt to the demands of the 21st century and the digital era.

Finding its own way

If it happens it won’t be anything like the Arab Spring, the sudden downfall of Indonesia’s Suharto or the tumultuous and joyous chaos favored by the Philippines when its people and elites overthrow governments. Instead it will be the result of a long, frustrating process that began with Anwar’s premature and frustrated effort to supplant then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 during the chaos of the Asian Financial Crisis.

anwar_ibrahim2Curiously, 17 years after those first attempts at reformasi, it almost looks as if the country is back where it started. Mahathir is lashing out, only this time at the sitting Prime Minister; Anwar is back in prison on trumped-up charges; the PM is again facing a financial scandal.

But in those days, Anwar’s movement had virtually no media voice. His supporters dreamed to no avail of a radio station that might take up the cudgels. But in keeping with the digital age, today’s political drama is being played out on the Internet by contending blogs and social media chatter that even has the royalty getting in on the act, such as the Johor Crown Prince’s recent weighing in via Facebook. Malaysians are also skewering Najib and Rosmah with vicious spoofs on YouTube.

It remains for the system to catch up with the popular mood and realize that Malaysia will stand still or go in reverse if racial gerrymandering and rank corruption prevail over change. Perhaps the real significance of the recent tantalizing news that Najib’s powerful banker brother, Nazir Razak, is poised to lead an NGO that will seek to build a unity government is that big business may finally be putting the nation’s best interests ahead of the payoffs and perks handed out by UMNO

Indeed, if UMNO chooses to align itself with the medieval minds of PAS in imposing sharia law and hudud amputations in parts of the country as a cynical way of clinging to power, an admirably modern business sector that has accomplished much could see itself mortally damaged.

The long race

Here is one way to look at this marathon drama. 1998 marked the year when Malaysians first threw off the shackles of fear by protesting in the streets. They marched, they had no fear of being arrested, they began speaking out. Later, Internet sites like Malaysiakini, Malaysia Today and Malaysian Insider kept the flames of free thought alive at a time when the mainstream media were all owned by the ruling political parties.

In 2008, a decade later, this manifested itself in the electoral field. The ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament to the Anwar-led opposition; the then-PM was shown the door by his party colleagues led by Mahathir; and Najib took over. But in the 2013 election, the BN did even worse. It’s taken 17 years to get to this point, but the once-unthinkable question is finally being asked by more and people: is Malaysia’s single-party-rule system finally in its death throes?

Unlike more obvious dictatorships such as those that once existed in the Philippines and Indonesia, Malaysia’s collective party-certified dictators could hide under the guise of legality. That curtain is falling away and the only system most Malaysians have ever known seems as close as it has ever been to real change.

That such change carries with it risks and unease is certainly the case. The alternative – a seemingly crooked and ossified elite clinging to power through corruption, court manipulation and racism – seems far worse. Just as other countries have found a way forward without their once-entrenched despots, we are certain Malaysia will find its path.

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice


June 1, 2015

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice

Tiananmen Square
Malaysian activists who appeared to suffer from political fatigue are told to embrace the never-give-up spirit in Hong Kong’s social movement. “What we should learn from Hong Kong activists? Persistence,” said political analyst Low Chee Chong at the ‘Remembering Tiananmen Square Massacre’ forum last night.

He related the emergence of Hong Kong’s social movement which was sparked by the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where a Beijing student movement demanding for political reforms was brutally stamped out by Chinese troops.

According to Beijing, 200 were killed in the massacre, while the international media reported up to 3,000 deaths.

“The Hong Kongers commemorate the Tianamen massacre every year without fail. They have the July 1 rally as well as the recent 79-day Occupy movement,” said Low.

Likewise, Malaysians were inspired by politicians and activists who stood up against oppression, he added. The social movement here gained traction particularly after the 2008 general election, where hundreds of thousands of Malaysians poured into the streets of Kuala Lumpur to demand free and fair elections. However, the clamour for democracy seems to have died down after the 2013 general election.

Low, who is former PKR Deputy Treasurer, conceded that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has failed to live up to the people’s expectation.

But he argued Malaysians who want to see a two-party system should continue to back Pakatan as an alternative to the ruling BN.

“Bear in mind, political change is a long-term struggle. You will not see all your targets achieved at the various stages of the movement,” he said.

The ‘Remembering Tiananmen’ forum, which was attended by 300 people, saw Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung sharing their experience on video after they were deported on arrival in Malaysia earlier this week.

Hong Kong teen’s advice

Wong, who rose to fame at the tender age of 14 for protesting against changes to the education system imposed by Beijing, urged Malaysians to continue to fight for democracy through his pre-recorded video message.

“While I am not familiar with Malaysian politics, I want to encourage you to continue to fight, (just like) Hong Kong is fighting to uphold its core values of justice and democracy,” said the ‘Umbrella revolution’ activist.

Malaysians can reclaim their democratic rights if they persist in their struggle despite facing suppression by the government, he said.

Wong also shared the difficulties faced by youth activists, which include the likelihood of being banned by local universities, defamed by pro-Beijing media and being rebuffed by the older generation, who prefer not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, Wong Ji-yuet, a 17-year-old Hong Kong student activist, admitted they made some mistakes in the Occupy movement, dubbed the ‘Umbrella revolution’, which saw thousands of protesters setting up camps in the territory’s business district for weeks last year.

“We tend to go to the streets, but forget to go back to the community and do advocacy work. This needs to be strengthened,” said Ji-yuet, who is spokesperson for student movement Scholarism. Unlike Joshua and Leung, Ji-yuet was allowed to enter Malaysia to attend the forum.

Malaysia’s Ms. Reformasi speaks her mind in OSLO


May 26, 2015

Phnom Penh

Malaysia’s Ms. Reformasi speaks her mind in OSLO

OSLO, May 26 — Five years ago my father, Anwar Ibrahim, delivered a speech right here on Nurul-Izzah-Anwarthis very stage entitled ‘Half A Century of One Party Rule’. He was talking about my country, Malaysia, which has been dominated by the same party for more than 50 years.

That same year here at the Oslo Freedom Forum my father spoke on the same stage as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who declared that: “When you meet Anwar, be careful.” During his visit to Malaysia, Julian was detained by secret police just hours after speaking to my father.

My father – a popular and unifying figure in my country’s history – is seen as a very dangerous man by the UMNO party regime. When he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the 1990s, he amended the corruption act to further strengthen it – which displeased the political elites – and by September 1998 his anti-corruption campaign led to his sacking from government, arrest, his beating under custody whilst blindfolded and handcuffed, and his eventual sentence and imprisonment in trials that were condemned by rights organisations and governments worldwide.

Initially, it was announced that at least 20 charges would be brought against my father; including treachery, being an American and Israeli agent, corruption and sodomy. They did forget to throw in the kitchen sink. They jailed him for six years, much of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Anwar’s trials earned Malaysia our own International Commission of Jurists report– the very same body that observed Nelson Mandela’s flawed trial. It was entitled: Justice in Jeopardy, Malaysia 2000.

As I speak to you today, Anwar, my father, and the former Opposition Leader of Malaysia, is behind bars again on his second trumped-up charges of sodomy.

I have been told that of the nearly 200 speakers in this conference’s history, only four are in jail right now: my father, Nayeel Rajab from Bahrain, Thulani Maseko from Swaziland, Leopoldo Lopez from Venezuela. The Malaysian regime keeps some very authoritarian company.

Malaysia without AnwarSpecifically, for my father, this is his third incarceration since 1998. He is now in urgent need of medical attention. My father was also a political prisoner in his youth; when he was about my age. Thankfully, he grew more handsome over the years but no less rebellious.

The year 1998 brought the historic Asian Financial Crisis and my father’s imprisonment to Malaysia. Equally important for me, it marked my own political awakening.

As a child I wanted to be an engineer, and I would have pursued that if it wasn’t for the events of 1998. Well, I owe the Malaysian government many thanks for getting me involved in politics. Really, I do.

If my government didn’t abuse institutions – influencing the Judiciary, rigging votes, controlling the media, if they didn’t use force to shut their opponents up – my father would be free, and I might be working for Shell or any other decent oil and gas company. Or maybe not – not with oil at 60 dollars a barrel.

Well, now it is not just Anwar who is Malaysia’s most wanted. It also includes me and the whole opposition, the movement for free and fair elections (Bersih), and many others demanding for a democratic and just Malaysia.

In our last national elections in 2013, Anwar Ibrahim led the opposition to victory, winning 52 per cent of the popular vote. But he was defeated by extreme gerrymandering, malapportionment and election fraud. The ruling coalition clung to power by holding on to 60 per cent of the seats.

The Electoral Integrity Project, based in Sydney and Harvard University recently rated Malaysia as having the worst electoral-district boundaries in the world and among the worst election rules. This places Malaysia alongside countries like Zimbabwe, Angola and Egypt.

The government’s gerrymandering was compounded by the abuse of postal votes. In fact, out of 222 seats we lost almost 30 to postal votes and early votes alone! And since those flawed elections in 2013; almost 20 Members of Parliament and state legislators have been charged, arrested, and locked up, along with 150 others including lecturers, students, journalists, even cartoonist and ordinary citizens.

So now you might be thinking, “What about you, Izzah?”

Growing up, I was a prefect, and like the rest of you here – never smoked pot in my entire life. I played by the rules. I was a model example of a compliant citizen who wanted to go along and get along.

But, mind you, thanks to the corruption, oppression and sheer injustice of the Malaysian government, this girl scout is now a second term Member of Parliament – defeating two sitting Ministers along the way – thanks to my electorate who voted in favour of reforms.

In March, I was recently arrested and locked up for a speech I made on behalf of my father in Parliament.

Yes, beautiful, sunny, twin towers-clad Malaysia. But Members of Parliament have zero parliamentary immunity and can be arrested for sedition.

The whole experience of being a political prisoner in Malaysia is quite bizarre. We have a draconian 67-year-old prison rules that forbid slippers, for example, as the government claims they could be used for suicide. The colonial British laws the Malaysian government loves to preserve.

So you spend the night sleeping on the floor only to be asked questions such as:“Who is this Devil you referred to in your speech made in parliament?”

You see, I had condemned the Federal Court judges in my father’s case for having sold their souls to the Devil. I said this because Malaysia needed judicial reform. Along with electoral reform and fighting for a multiracial Malaysia – where diversity is seen as a strength, not something that divides us.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) and his wife Rosmah Mansor (R) arrive at the airport in Tokyo on May 24, 2015. Najib is on a three day visit to Japan.   AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) and his wife Rosmah Mansor (R) arrive at the airport in Tokyo on May 24, 2015. Najib is on a three day visit to Japan. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO

Reformists in my country are the most wanted, and the most feared by our government. Why? Because we are the future – with a zeal for reforms.

Malaysia’s most wanted are those who clamour for an end to the unequal distribution of wealth and against corruption and extravagance of the men or women who govern over us.

Malaysia’s most wanted are those who despair that our children receive low international education rankings – at one point we were surpassed by Vietnam!

Malaysia’s most wanted are those, who reject the use of racial and religious extremism to scare indigenous Malays into voting for the status quo.

Malaysia’s most wanted are those, who realise anti-terrorism laws are often just guises to justify the detention of political dissenters in the name of ‘security and stability.’

Malaysia’s most wanted, who are sick to the bone with failed governance and mammoth financial scandals. Most recently is the controversial government investment fund, 1MDB has burdened Malaysia with a RM42 billion debt.

The Prime Minister also the Finance Minister is the chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisors. Dubious financial dealings now go hand in hand with the Malaysian government.

Shout out to Mr Tom Burgis – meet our very own Sam Pa.Malaysia’s most wanted are the young generation of Malaysia, who up to 88 per cent voted for my party in the recently concluded Permatang Pauh by-elections.

My father’s seat – which he lost upon his conviction – has been retained by our party, despite the enormous political and financial obstacles put in our way by the regime. Malaysia’s most wanted will not give up. Just last week, the Opposition Coalition chose my mother as Malaysia’s Opposition Leader. They can’t lock all of us up. The reformist might be behind bars but the reform agenda stays true.

We know that more of the world will see beyond the Petronas Twin Towers and give more attention to us, Malaysia’s most wanted, the rising dissidents and democrats who refuse to accept the current government.

So what of the future you ask? I’ll tell you. The future belongs and will be determined by Malaysia’s most wanted.

Long live reforms. Long live reformasi!And thank you Thor and the selfless team at Oslo Freedom Forum for allowing Malaysians to live in truth.

God bless you.

* The above is the text of the speech delivered by Nurul Izzah as the first speaker at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway.

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/malaysias-most-wanted-nurul-izzah#sthash.1LHXfjov.dpuf

Criminalizing Malaysia’s Opposition


May 13, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

Criminalizing Malaysia’s Opposition

by Nurul izzah Anwar, Member of Parliament

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/opinion/criminalizing-malaysias-opposition.html?ref=world&_r=1

World leaders need to tell Mr. Najib and his cronies that trade and economic considerations, including the much talked about Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, will not be placed above civil and political rights. It’s time for Malaysia’s friends around the world to stop giving our leaders a pass on sharply declining human rights and the rule of law.–Nurul izzah Anwar

Nurul IzzahKUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Last Thursday, my mother was elected the new member of Malaysia’s Parliament from Permatang Pauh, a seat that was wrested away from the opposition through the politically motivated conviction of my father, Anwar Ibrahim, a former Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s Opposition Leader. In February, the highest court in Malaysia sent him to prison for five years on trumped up charges of sodomy. He is serving his third prison sentence since 1999.

In March, I delivered a speech in Parliament focused on good governance and judicial reform on behalf of my father. The reading was deemed seditious by the government, and I was arrested and locked up overnight.

The Sedition Act, which criminalizes speech uttered “to excite disaffection” against the government, is one of this administration’s favorite cudgels. Its definition is so broad that it gives the government sweeping powers to arrest and lock up critics under the guise of punishing “sedition” or in the ostensible pursuit of maintaining public order.

In the last two years, it has been used successfully to harass or prosecute scores of people, mostly government officials, including several members of Parliament. The cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, was hit with nine charges under the Sedition Act — mostly based on tweets allegedly attacking the Judiciary over the verdict against my father. His artwork and cartoons were confiscated, and he is now out on bail.

In addition to harassing me and persecuting my father, the state has applied constant pressure on my mother, a state assemblywoman, in hopes that she will wilt both physically and psychologically. The Police have also hinted of their plans to interrogate my younger sister, Nurul Nuha, who is leading March 2 Freedom, a coalition to free my father.

We are running out of family members for officials to arrest on bogus charges. What’s most alarming is that the government’s actions are part of a much larger pattern of threats to the rule of law and human rights. In recent months, every week or so brings news of the politically motivated detention of a government critic. I am out on bail now, but my arrest is intended to silence me and to warn other would-be government critics.

The United Malays National Organization, known as UMNO, and its allies have been in power since independence in 1957. The tempo of state repression quickened two years ago after the 2013 parliamentary elections when the opposition won 51 percent of votes cast, versus 47 percent for the government.

Through gerrymandering and the creation of uneven electoral districts, the ruling coalition clung to power by holding on to 60 percent of the seats. The Electoral Integrity Project, an international organization, recently rated Malaysia as having the worst electoral-district boundaries in the world and among the worst election rules. This places Malaysia alongside countries like Zimbabwe, Angola and Egypt.

The opposition’s showing at the polls two years ago was a political near-death experience for Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling party. It was answered with investigations, arrests and imprisonment.

Meanwhile, UMNO, whose main constituency has historically been the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, with help from its pliant coalition partners, has cynically raised the mercury on issues related to race, religion and the Malaysian royal family, so as to keep the mult-ethnic opposition coalition on the defensive.

Religious freedom in a country with sizable Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities is now endangered as public figures vying for popular support among Muslims have supported the persecution of religious minorities. Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have been a prime target.

Last month, for example, in one high-profile incident, demonstrators in Petaling Jaya demanded that Christians remove a cross from the exterior of their church — and the cross was removed. And in 2013, Ibrahim Ali, a leader of Perkasa, a Malay supremacist organization, allegedly publicly endorsed the burning of Bibles.

Instead of focusing on dissenters, government officials should be doing their jobs. For one thing, Malaysia’s economy needs revamping. A sizable portion of the working population in a young country of 30 million citizens still remains eligible for welfare cash handouts. We are too reliant on natural resources. The gap between the rich and poor has been growing and is now among the widest in the region. Our education system remains weak and incoherently structured, creating an unemployable class with poor career prospects.

The Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition that my party is a part of aims to focus on structural reforms in key economic policies with the goal of creating a clean and more effective government. Reducing inequality and the cost of living, providing affordable housing, good governance and a serious fight against corruption are our priorities.

Malaysia’s answer to extremism has been economic opportunity. Now that this deal is faltering, and now that the borders are porous — more than 1,000 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh landed on our shores on Monday — there is a risk that extremism could find a home here.

It’s encouraging that Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s former long-time Prime Minister, has recently become Prime Minister Najib’s fiercest critic, attacking him as corrupt and incompetent.

But we need louder voices to condemn what’s happening here. World leaders need to tell Mr. Najib and his cronies that trade and economic considerations, including the much talked about Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, will not be placed above civil and political rights. It’s time for Malaysia’s friends around the world to stop giving our leaders a pass on sharply declining human rights and the rule of law.

Fortifying Authoritarian Rule in Malaysia


May 3, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Fortifying Authoritarian Rule in Malaysia

by Amanda Whiting

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2015/04/20/fortifying-authoritarian-rule-in-malaysia/

Najib Vs MahathirWeak Prime Minister and the Original Autocrat

The current session of the Lower House (Dewan Rakyat) of the bicameral Parliament of Malaysia has just adjourned until mid-May. During that session, international attention focused mainly on two issues, both of which entailed tension within, and possibly the collapse of  the Pakatan Rakyat (“PR”) Opposition alliance: the fate of jailed Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, now serving his second sentence for “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”; and the possibility (now postponed) that the federal Parliament, at the insistence of PAS, the Islamic opposition party and PR component, would legislate to permit hudud punishments (including amputation, stoning and crucifixion).

Renewed Eftorts to entrench Authoritarian Rule by a Weak Leader

Less attention was given at the time to the passage through the Dewan Rakyat of laws that clearly demonstrate renewed efforts to entrench authoritarian rule in Malaysia, although that is now changing. When placed alongside the authorities’ palpable disregard for existing legal protections for citizens who engage in democratic criticism and dissent, as we see in the crackdown on Malaysians who express dissatisfaction with Anwar’s conviction, it now seems that Malaysia is experiencing not just a return to rule by authoritarian laws, after a brief but perhaps illusory respite, but also rule by authoritarian lawlessness.

Three and a half years ago, to widespread amazement and acclaim, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (PM Najib) announced his government’s intention to put Malaysia more firmly on the path to democracy and respect for human rights. He proposed to do this by ending the legal fiction that Malaysia was in a state of emergency, and repealing the draconian laws that had caused Malaysia to feature so often at the lower end of international human rights rankings. To that end, amongst other legislative measures, from September 2011 to the middle of 2012 his government did the following. It repealed the Internal Security Act (“ISA”), which had permitted detention without trial and had often been used against legitimate political opponents rather than suspected terrorists, and replaced it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (“SOSMA”), a law that substituted preventive detention with a shortened period of investigative detention followed by either a criminal trial or release of the suspect, and specifically provided that no one could be arrested solely for political belief or activity. The government liberalised print media laws by removing the requirement for annual renewal of newspaper licences that had contributed so much to self-censorship, and by restoring the power of the courts to review government decisions to revoke or suspend printing and publication licences. And it replaced the section of the Police Act that mandated police permission (rarely granted to government critics) for public gatherings with a Peaceful Assembly Act (“PAA”) that purported to recognise and regulate the constitutional right to freedom of assembly. There was also some relaxation of the laws prohibiting student politics.

In July 2012 PM Najib also promised to repeal the Sedition Act – feared by Opposition politicians, journalists, social activists and progressive lawyers because of its nebulous definition of “seditious tendency” and the government’s well-documented proclivity to use it to silence unwelcome criticism – with a more benign sounding “National Harmony Act”.

1MalaysiaMalaysian’s initial enthusiasm for PM Najib’s reforms soon turned to disappointment and then shock and condemnation. The more hard-line Malay-supremacists within his own United Malays National Organisation (“UMNO”), and the assorted ethno-nationalist and Islamist vigilante groups that hover on the fringes of the party, lamented the loss of the ISA and openly speculated that without preventive detention and the Sedition Act, there would be no way to preserve the sanctity of Islamic institutions, the supremacy of the Malay Rulers and the sovereignty of the Malay race (the concept of Ketuanan Melayu). On the other hand, progressive and democratic voices in the Opposition PR coalition, civil society, journalists, academia, and the Malaysian Bar, protested loudly and clearly that the law reforms were a fraud: SOSMA replaced detention without trial with procedures that ensured detention without an adequate trial; the PAA placed more restrictions on public gatherings than the law it replaced; liberalisation of the media laws barely scratched the surface of the problem of direct and indirect government interference with the press; what little was revealed about the proposed National Harmony Act suggested it would be simply a rebranded Sedition Act; and the UMNO-led government apparently had no intention of removing other repressive laws such as the Official Secrets Act and the Societies Act, nor – perhaps most importantly of all – of cleaning up the deeply flawed electoral system that has ensured its own repeated return to power since independence from Britain in 1957.

Debased and Discredited Electoral System

That debased and discredited electoral system delivered another UMNO victory in the May 2013 general elections, with the opposition winning the popular vote (50.9-47.4%) but UMNO and its Barisan National (“BN”) coalition partners retaining control of the Parliament (133-89 seats). In the aftermath of the bitterly contested election, Najib’s ostensible agenda of democratic transformation was trounced by embattled UMNO warlords fearful of losing power in the next election cycle and needing to shore up electoral support by appealing to their ethnic power base in terms of UMNO’s historic mission to rescue Malays from the threat of immigrants, infidels and other outsiders.

Elsewhere I have explained how in the aftermath of the 2013 election UMNO revived and strengthened criminal provisions in the Penal Code and the Prevention of Crime Act (“PCA”) to prime them for use against political opponents and socio-political activists and critics, under cover of combatting both ordinary crime and local and international terrorism. Crucially, the 2013 amendments to the PCA reintroduced preventive detention.

The Bill for a Prevention of Terrorism Act (“POTA”) that has received approval in the Dewan Rakyat on 7 April also permits 2 year periods of preventive detention, and, like the old ISA and the amended PCA, ousts the jurisdiction of the courts to review detention decisions except on narrow procedural grounds. Given the authorities’ well-documented track record (chronicled in the annual reports of domestic and international human rights bodies) of using criminal and anti-subversion laws against critics who are not by any sensible definition either “criminal” or “terrorist”, the combined effect of these legal changes is ominous for democracy. The new criminal-anti-terrorism regime is complex and convoluted and requires separate treatment. This comment will confine itself to consideration of the Bill to amend and extend the Sedition Act.

Amanda Whiting is a legal historian at Asian Law Centre, The University of Melbourne. She is writing a history of the Malaysian legal profession, and a separate but related history of sedition in Malaysia. This article is part one of a three part piece analysing the Bill to reform the Sedition Act. Part 2 and Part 3 are available HERE and HERE.  

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