Peanuts, not sweeping reforms

by Kee Thuan Chye
Free Malaysia Today
September 16, 2011

Let’s not be fooled, people. The changes Najib announced are merely cosmetic, and will have to be passed in Parliament first before they become effective.


PEANUTS. That’s what Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s so-called “sweeping reforms” are. They hardly amount to a political transformation.

While it’s cheering to note that the Internal Security Act (ISA) will be repealed – finally, after our many years of waiting – and that the Emergency proclamations are to be lifted – a decision that is decades overdue –it’s disturbing to be told that they will be replaced by two new laws aimed at preventing subversion and safeguarding public order.

And even though the detention period under these new laws may be shorter, with further extensions to be made by court order, the Home Minister is still the one to decide who gets detained for suspicion of being a terrorist.

This means, theoretically speaking, that although Najib has given the commitment that “no individual will be detained purely based on political ideology”, there is no stopping the government from branding a political opponent a suspected terrorist, whether or not he is one. Just to lock him away.

Another so-called “reform” is scrapping the requirement for publications to renew their printing licences annually.

This, also, is nothing to crow about. It still means that publications have to obtain a licence that the Home Minister may or may not grant. It still means the Home Minister has the absolute power to suspend or revoke a licence at any time. And his decision cannot be challenged in court. He does not even have to give a reason.

It also means the Home Ministry can still call up newspaper editors and cow them into submission for publishing something the ministry finds objectionable. Like what happened recently to The Star when it ran the heading ‘Ramadhan delights’ for an eating-out supplement that was not totally devoted to halal food.

The ministry can still practise the double standards it has been practising – turn a blind eye to the race-baiting and rabble-rousing of Utusan Malaysia but come down hard on the minor transgressions of other publications. So where’s the change?

If the government were truly sincere and had the political will, it should repeal the Publications and Printing Presses Act (PPPA) and no longer require publications to obtain a printing licence. That would be in keeping with the spirit of what Najib talked about instituting in Malaysia when he announced the “reforms” on Sept 15 – a “democratic system based on the universal philosophy of ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’”.

Vague reforms

None of the newly announced “reforms” fully cohere with this spirit.

On Section 27 of the Police Act, Najib said there would be a review to take into consideration the provisions under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees Malaysians the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

But in the same breath, he said police permits would still be required for street demonstrations, subject to certain criteria.

If freedom of assembly, which should be a right of all citizens, is still curtailed in this fashion, what is that rubbish talk of Najib’s about forging a democratic system “of the people, by the people and for the people”?

He did say, however, that “permission to assemble will be given in accordance with procedures to be fixed later that will take into account international norms”. But this sounds vague. What international norms did he mean? And when is “later” going to be?

And speaking of Article 10, why doesn’t the government address the other impediments to freedom of speech, such as the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Sedition Act, the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), the Multimedia and Communications Act, the Public Order (Preservation) Ordinance?

No wonder Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was smirking and applauding when Najib made his announcements. His absolute powers remain intact.

Let’s not be fooled, people. The changes Najib announced are merely cosmetic. And of course they will have to be passed in Parliament first before they become effective.

Meanwhile, Articles 149 and 150 are still there to provide Parliament with the power to pass laws that do not have to be consistent with the freedoms guaranteed in Articles 5, 9, 10 and 13, and to allow the Cabinet to declare an emergency. The Emergency proclamations may go, but Article 150 is still around. We the people are still vulnerable.

Some of us may say that we cannot expect the government to make such truly sweeping reforms in one go, and that we should be thankful for the small mercies we are now getting. Some may say this could be just the beginning, and more reforms could come.

That’s well and good. But at the same time, we should give credit where it’s due for this beginning. It’s not Najib we should thank. What we are getting is what has been due us for a long time, what any concerned government should have given us even without our having to pressure them to do so.

We should instead acknowledge that the March 8 effect lives on, and therefore the credit for these changes should go to us the rakyat for voting as we did on March 8, 2008. We voted in a stronger opposition, we denied the ruling party the two-thirds majority that it had abused to increasingly curb our democratic rights over the decades. We sent them the message that enough was enough.

These “reforms” have now come about because Barisan Nasional (BN) wants to stay in power, and it has realised that we have the power to decide whether that will happen. The “reforms” are meant to win back our votes. Ever since Najib took over as prime minister, he has been doing things merely to ensure that BN’s goal is fulfilled, not because he is altruistic or benevolent in spirit. We have seen his meanness in numerous other ways.

Watching him speak on Sept 15 when announcing these “reforms” as part of his Malaysia Day address, we could have contrasted it with his speech to 6,000 Umno members and Malay NGOs at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) a couple of days after the Bersih 2.0 rally, and call him “two-faced”.

Contemptuous chauvinist

At that PWTC gathering, he was far from being the prime minister who cared about reform and the good of the entire country.

He was a truculent thug who roused the crowd with the boast of Umno’s ability to round up a million members to “conquer Kuala Lumpur”. He was a contemptuous chauvinist who exhorted the Malays to unite in order to teach the Bersih 2.0 protesters a lesson and “show them whose country this is”.

No doubt, he has since realised his mistakes in his handling of the Bersih 2.0 rally and is now making amends. His ratings have dropped and he’s trying to make them go up again. Hence these “reforms”. But let’s be wary of his sincerity and be clear about his real purpose.

Let us keep sight as well of the many more ills that the government has not comprehensively addressed, such as corruption, rent-seeking, wasteful spending, Umnoputraism, our pathetic education system.

Let us demand more reforms, especially those pertaining to our institutions, such as the judiciary, the police, the Attorney-General’s Office, the Election Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

There is still a long road ahead. Unless and until the reforms are truly sweeping and the restrictive laws abolished, we should not put our trust in Najib and BN.

Make them sweat, make them work, and don’t let them take us for granted. Never again.

Dramatist and journalist Kee Thuan Chye is the author of ‘March 8: Time for Real Change‘. He is a contributor to FMT.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 3:15 am

    Ya lor, don’t b fooled by d keris-raising demanding-4-nonMalays’-blood NR n HH
    If rakyat want REAL changes, then terminate lah UmnoB/BN’s rule
    UBAH n ABU, Vot4 PR, JUST DO IT!

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 7:52 am

    Najib is using cosmetic reforms to boost his popularity after it has fallen to 59%. That is why we have these quasi reforms.

    True reforms are only possible when the reformer carries them out with a pure heart and not for self-gain.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 8:06 am

    After the isa has been repealed, a new act, the “Grateful Patriots Act” will take its place. Then all “ungratefuls” and “unpatriotic” malaysians will be sent to the cells of hotel kamunting for long holidays.

  4. #4 by k1980 on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 8:10 am

    The Economist pointed out that Najib’s biggest challenge would still be ethnic quotas.

    “Some on the extreme Malay wing of the party grumble that all this reform stuff is going too far, but they will go along with it as long as it does not touch on the most profound sources of oppression and grievance in the country, the institutionalised ethnic discrimination that privileges Malays over the country’s other races, mainly Chinese and Indians.”

  5. #5 by k1980 on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 8:24 am

    National elections are expected in the first quarter of 2012, perhaps in March during school holidays when schools can be used as polling stations. The apparent changes need to be seen in the context of the elections, Najib’s rhetoric about freedom of expression to the contrary. There appears to be no move to abandon either the Sedition Act or the Official Secrets Act, for instance, which are routinely used against opposition figures and bloggers and journalists.

  6. #6 by Comrade on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 9:20 am

    Two new acts to replace the ISA
    No real sweeping reform indeed
    Losing popularity they cannot bear
    Fishing for votes they desperately need

  7. #7 by ktteokt on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 10:56 am

    Chinese call this 换汤不换药!Changing the soup without changing the herbs! What good is that?

  8. #8 by cemerlang on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 11:02 am

    Here you all are singing your hearts out for
    kita satu bangsa,
    Kita satu Negara
    Kita satu matlamat, oooo
    Kita satu bangsa, satu Negara
    Kita satu Malaysia
    waving all the colourful flags, donned in your Sunday best, smiling, perfect
    and what’s funny is the men on the street say they need another form of ISA
    the men on the street, the ordinary men, not the politicians,
    If what you sing is the truth, do you need the ISA ? or even another version of ISA ?
    if after 50 donkey years, you still talk about insecurity in your own country, that means nothing is being towards making the country whole,
    no wonder you need all your propaganda of 1 Malaysia this and 1 that and all the whatever you are trying to do
    why ? because it is not happening at all
    your minds are still close
    you think you are doing well
    you are not
    you cannot just dish out ISA is abolish
    where are the legal documents to prove that ISA is abolish ? people you have to see the evidence

  9. #9 by cemerlang on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 11:03 am

    nothing is being DONE towards making the country whole

  10. #10 by dagen on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 11:29 am

    Dear Jibby Jib,

    Dont pray pray. Never. Ever. Pray pray with the people’s rights and expectations.

    You are running out of ideas, out of time and out of luck.

  11. #11 by monsterball on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 11:55 am

    You trust anything Najib says….you can be easily fooled.
    He has no absolute power.
    He is an appointed UMNO b PM…for show only and all his blunders….lying…flip flopping…dealing and wheeling…provoking….threatening…and suddenly turned to be a nice guy….caring and sharing have made UMNO b a laughing stock party…managed by his chosen.. back door ministers and clowns.
    This is also ….showing what Mahathir was and still is..with all his puppets performing.
    And you can see…that half cast blaming everyone again…..even his beloved adopted son.
    They can never accept defeat gracefully.
    These are robbers and thieves and Malaysians must stay alert and brave.
    We are holding all the aces now.
    The road to freedom is real and near….no matter what they do..nothing can stop it.

  12. #12 by limkamput on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 12:54 pm

    Thuan Chye, I think most of us agree that the reforms have not gone far enough. However, this is not just because we have restrictive laws and legislations still in force. It is also not because we still have some arbitrary power left in the hand of the executives. Any functioning government is bound to have some elements of restriction and arbitrariness. It is the abuse of restrictive law and the abuse of executive power that are in questions. The ISA, for example, did not state that it will be used against political opponents but it did. I believe so also are the new laws to be legislated later to replace the ISA. They can state it is preserve peace and security, but who is to challenge when they are used against the political opponents.

    To me the abuse of power that comes about is not solely due to the presence of restrictive laws. If the government is fraudulently elected and helmed by dishonest people, the abuse of restrictive laws and executive power are more likely to happen. I believe this is the case in Malaysia for most part of our history. We have successive governments helmed by less than capable people – people who are deviously elected and therefore not gentlemanly enough to face the people honestly and truly when seeking office. Each time when the contest becomes more challenging and unbearable, it is their norm to stifle the oppositions (whether within their own parties or outside) rather than to engage them. Successive governments of Malaysia have grown to believe that it is their divine rights to stay in power forever come what may. We have to break this culture and what is more appropriate than to change the government. UMNO and BN must be made to sit in the opposition bench for at least one term. Only then could genuine reforms and changes happen. Right now, if you look that whole structure of the government, from the PM, cabinet, right down to the ministries, departments and the district offices, the same mentality, the same ethos and orientation prevail – i.e. parochialism, supremacy, undeserved entitlement, bigotry, corruption, and incompetency. These are the areas that need reforms, not just ISA, PPPA or EO. Don’t bark at the wrong tree.

  13. #13 by sheriff singh on Saturday, 17 September 2011 - 12:59 pm

    Peanuts it may be but he has more gumption than his predecessors – Bad Awi, Madhathir.

    But let us wait and see if he will walk his talk or will he need a breathalyser test.

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