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Foong Li Mei brings to you another edition of REFSA Rojak, a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA).

REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”

Picture credit: aka-sha | Creative Commons

The curtains may finally close for the draconian law that has kept many Malaysians shut away without trial for over half a century. A new bill to replace the Internal Security Act (ISA) was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat – almost seven months after our Prime Minister’s promise last year.

The proposed Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill (SOB) detailed that `all security offences shall be tried by the High Court’, and the period of detention cannot exceed 28 days. The SOB also does not allow one to be arrested for his or her political beliefs, or for being involved in any political activity. This is a step forward from the much-chastised ISA which allows for detention without trial for up to 60 days, and can further extend to two years upon orders from the Home Minister.

The new law is, unfortunately, not providing a rosier picture on human rights in Malaysia. In fact, its denial of basic liberties is a thorn in our side.  Global civil liberties watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised it for ‘setting the stage for future abuses’, as its provisions may allow for ‘abusive interrogations’ and arrest without warrant. The Malaysian Bar Council has called for a review of the SOB, urging the government to use a more precise definition of security offences under Section 3 of the Bill.

More ‘hate laws’ under the Home Ministry are also expected to be tabled soon. However, de facto law minister Datuk Seri Nazri declared that the proposed Race Relations Act will be dropped as current laws are adequate to regulate racial extremism.

More laws do not equate better justice. We can have the most comprehensive provisions, but at the end of the day, it is the enforcement that counts. How many times have we seen extremists unashamedly incite hate and hurl baseless accusations against certain groups of society, usually the minorities, yet face no repercussions? In contrast, high-handed arrests and bans have gagged groups that threaten the status quo of the federal government.

REFSA cheers for the repeal of the ISA, but remains watchful and alert to any political manipulation. A judicial reform includes both impartial prosecution and comprehensive law. Justice, after all, should be blind, not a ‘close-one-eye’ exercise .

LGBTs are humans too

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib announced that the reason security laws are undergoing reform is because the function of the government is to ensure that ‘basic rights protected by the Constitution for each individual is assured’.

Perhaps Najib’s words would ring a tad less hollow if the ‘each individual’ he refers to, includes the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Instead, we saw the ban last year on Seksualiti Merdeka, a festival aimed at educating LGBTs of their rights. Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin went one step further, calling the LGBTs’ sexual orientation a ‘disorder’ that could be tackled with counselling.

Recently, an anti-LGBT campaign by Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) was reportedly conducted in a school.  To its credit, the Education Ministry has denied any involvement with the campaign, and ordered a stop to all such activities in schools.

Will the rest of Putrajaya follow suit to curb the hostility against the LGBT groups? Seksualiti Merdeka co-founder (Ed: And LoyarBurokker!) Pang Khee Teik gives them a reason to do so by illuminating the power of LGBT votes in Malaysia.

Anti-LGBT movements may defend their beliefs on moral grounds. However, is it righteous to incite hatred against a segment of society and attack their already shaky footing in society? You do not have to approve of the LGBT community; you just need to respect that they, too, have rights.

The price of free education

Is a free-for-all education too expensive for Malaysia? The opposition says no, but Barisan Nasional says yes.

Pakatan Rakyat has promised to abolish the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) and provide free tertiary education should it come into power. Najib’s administration and several experts charged that this move will only weaken our economy.

PKR’s strategic director Rafizi Ramli waved away such concerns, saying that the PTPTN loans could be paid off using Petronas’ contributions to the government’s coffers. He further declared that to clear off students’ debts would only cost RM25 billion, and not RM43 billion as Najib claimed.

One would expect Malaysians to be very receptive to the word ‘free’, but they seem split over their support for the opposition’s promise.

On the one hand, an anti-PTPTN rally by students is expected to kick off in Dataran Merdeka on April 14. On the other, netizens cautioned that annulling students’ debts sends out the message that one does not have to be responsible for one’s borrowings.  Many also opined that this is unfair to students in the past who have diligently paid off their loans.

REFSA concurs with these  views. Easing repayment options for those genuinely hard done by is a better option instead of writing off the PTPTN debt.

Another clean-up

Kuala Lumpur will be awash with Bersih 3.0 again! The yellow movement has gotten the green light from the government to proceed with its sit-down protest on April 28.

However, Putrajaya advised the election watchdog to communicate its plans to use Dataran Merdeka with the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL). Bersih 3.0 Chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan agreed, but stressed that in her book, approval from DBKL should automatically follow the nod from the federal government.

The upcoming rally focuses on three demands:

  • The Election Commission (EC) must resign;
  • The electoral process must be cleaned up before the next general election; and
  • International observers should be allowed to monitor the polls.

Jom! Let’s give our electoral process the good scrubbing it needs before GE-13.

Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.

It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!

Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive...