Malaysia se­cu­rity law at­tacked as lurch to­ward ‘dic­ta­tor­ship’

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - © AFP

Crit­ics have hit out against a new Malaysian se­cu­rity law grant­ing un­prece­dented emer­gency pow­ers to the gov­ern­ment, which they say is aimed at quash­ing chal­lenges to scan­dal-tainted Premier Na­jib Razak and is pro­pel­ling the coun­try to­ward dic­ta­tor­ship.

Malaysia’s par­lia­ment passed the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Bill on De­cem­ber 3 - the fi­nal day of the cham­ber’s 2015 sit­ting - just two days af­ter it was tabled, spurring op­po­si­tion ac­cu­sa­tions that it was quickly rammed through to thwart scru­tiny and de­bate.

It gives a coun­cil headed by the prime min­is­ter author­ity to de­clare emer­gency pow­ers to ad­dress se­cu­rity threats, ar­rest peo­ple with­out war­rants and oth­er­wise curb ba­sic con­sti­tu­tional free­doms with­out ju­di­cial over­sight, crit­ics say.

The leg­is­la­tion has struck a nerve in Malaysia, where Na­jib’s gov­ern­ment al­ready has been ac­cused of erod­ing civil lib­er­ties and demo­cratic rights as it digs in fol­low­ing elec­toral set­backs and a dam­ag­ing scan­dal.

It comes as Na­jib’s rul­ing party pre­pares for its an­nual meet­ing next week, the first such gath­er­ing since the ex­plo­sive al­le­ga­tion in July that the premier had re­ceived nearly $700 mil­lion dol­lars in still-un­ex­plained pay­ments.

“The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil bill is noth­ing but a brazen at­tempt at si­lenc­ing all crit­i­cism of the Na­jib ad­min­is­tra­tion, par­tic­u­larly Na­jib him­self,” said Azmin Ali, a top op­po­si­tion leader.

“This law will take us only to one path, and that is the path to dic­ta­tor­ship.”

The op­po­si­tion and other crit­ics com­plain of es­ca­lat­ing pres­sure by au­thor­i­ties -- in­clud­ing dozens of ar­rests for sedi­tion and other charges -- since a 2013 elec­tion set­back for the long-rul­ing coali­tion dom­i­nated by Na­jib’s United Malays Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UMNO).

Spec­u­la­tion is ris­ing that the fi­nan­cial scan­dal could be the fi­nal straw that dumps the coali­tion from power af­ter nearly six decades, and that the gov­ern­ment is ma­noeu­vring to pre­vent that by any means.

The next elec­tions are due by 2018.

‘Tool for re­pres­sion’

In­tro­duc­ing the bill ear­lier this week, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials de­nied it was an un­con­sti­tu­tional “power grab”, say­ing it was needed to pro­tect na­tional se­cu­rity.

But Malaysian Bar Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Steven Thiru said all fun­da­men­tal civil rights in re­gards to “ar­rest, search and seizure of property can be ig­nored or sus­pended”, un­der the law.

“This is a grave in­fringe­ment of the fed­eral con­sti­tu­tion,” he said.

Hu­man Rights Watch on Thurs­day called it “truly fright­en­ing” and “quite clearly a tool for re­pres­sion”.

Crit­ics say Malaysia al­ready has an am­ple ar­ray of tough se­cu­rity laws.

Na­jib came into of­fice in 2009 with UMNO’s coali­tion al­ready fac- ing sliding sup­port over its au­thor­i­tar­ian ways, hard­ball pol­i­tics and fre­quent cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

He pledged a new era of open­ness, scrap­ping some re­pres­sive laws, but op­po­nents say the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil move con­sti­tutes two steps back­wards.

Na­jib’s fi­nan­cial scan­dal has rocked UMNO, with some in­flu­en­tial party fig­ures call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion.

But he has purged or side­lined key crit­ics and re­tains a firm grip on the party lead­er­ship. He is not ex­pected to face sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion to his con­tin­ued lead­er­ship dur­ing next week’s party as­sem­bly.

While deny­ing wrong­do­ing, Na­jib re­fuses com­ment on the source, pur­pose or ul­ti­mate fate of the funds he re­ceived. In­ves­ti­ga­tions by his gov­ern­ment ap­pear to have stalled, and whistle­blow­ers have been ar­rested or ha­rassed.

The fund­ing rev­e­la­tion fol­lowed months of al­le­ga­tions that huge sums were miss­ing from a sta­te­owned in­vest­ment firm that Na­jib launched. No clear link has been made be­tween the two episodes.

Malaysian PM Na­jib Razak, right, with US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Kuala Lumpur in Novem­ber. Photo: EPA

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