KUALA LUMPUR: Pakatan Rakyat leaders and rights activists today maintained that the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) was merely an act of political mileage to bolster Prime Minister Najib Tun Razaks reformist image.
In a forum themed Malaysian Politics Post ISA, four panellists said the Barisan Nasional government has thrived on the law which allowed for detention without trial to crush its opponents and would not easily relinquish power.
Key to maintaining the status quo, said PKR leader R Sivarasa, was Article 149 of the Federal Constitution, the foundation of which the ISA was built on.
As long as the Article remained as law, the ruling coalition will always have the means to quell dissent through the enactment of new laws even in the absence of the British-inherited ISA.
Article 149 gives power to the Parliament to pass special laws to stop or prevent any actual or threatened action by a large body of persons which Parliament believes to be prejudicial to public order, promoting hostility between races, causing disaffection against the state, causing citizens to fear organised violence against them or property, or prejudicial to the functioning of any public service or supply.
Such laws do not have to be consistent with the fundamental liberties under Articles 5 (right to life and personal liberty), 9 (no banishment from Malaysia and freedom of movement within Malaysia), 10 (freedom of speech, assembly and association) or 13 (rights to property).
He also pledged freedom of political differences and that no laws will be used to suppress them.
Sivarasa, who is Subang MP, said he was confident that the two new laws will be in power in the same spirit as the ISA, meaning that it will be based on Article 149. The vague definition of threat to peace gives BN indefinite power to invoke the law to its advantage.
Many people are not aware of Article 149, so that is why they do not know that the ISA could easily be maintained with new set of laws, he told the audience here.
Observers see Putrajayas reform package as a do-or-die bid to win middle Malaysia amid straying moderate votes made worst by the high-handed response to the polls reform rally on July 9.
Najib also ended three Emergency declarations while promising a review on the Police Act that gives the authorities absolute discretion to issue permits for gatherings.
Why Emergency remained
Another panellist at the forum, political analyst Professor Aziz Bari, said the promised changes also gave the illusion that the prime minister was a man of reform.
He said the emergency threat in Malaysia has long gone since the end of the communist insurgency decades ago but it was maintained to give the ruling coalition power to justify the use of laws like the ISA and the Emergency Ordinance.
That is why the Emergency was never called off.. now that it has, it gives the impression that Najib is promoting reform.
Aziz said the resistance from Umno hardliners and Malay extremists like Perkasa to the reform pledges means Najib risks losing the conservative votes and this in turn could prompt the premier to b! acktrack on his vows.
Threats of retaliation from Perkasa have already forced Najib to delay his vows to carry out economic reforms and dismantle racial quotas.
Surveys showed investors are weary that Najib have the political courage to implement bold measures to stir growth and this have severely damaged his reform credentials.
Last speaker of the night, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, added that the reform packages were nothing but to create an euphoria and gain new support from the fencesitters.
Meanwhile, Najib is expected to discuss the timeline for his proposed reforms at the cabinet meeting tomorrow.