When Datuk Seri Najib Razak returns from a holiday in the south of France soon, he will have a tough job convincing his own Cabinet that the Sedition Act needs to be repealed.
A check by The Malaysian Insider with BN lawmakers at Parliament today showed that the majority said there needs to be more careful study before any decision is taken – in political language, this is often interpreted as a polite rebuff or disagreement with official thinking.
In July last year, the prime minister announced that the 1948 law would be repealed as part of his government’s transformation programme. Last week, he renewed his pledge in an interview with the BBC.
His decision did not find support with Home Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, who argued that without the Sedition Act there would not be any law to regulate seditious content.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim said there needs to be proper engagement on the matter first as it involves public interest.
"Do what is best for the country and the people," she said, adding that it was best that Najib and Zahid meet and reach a consensus on the issue.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom also said that the question of abolishing the Sedition Act needs proper study while Health Minister Datuk Dr Subramaniam preferred to view the PM’s statement on the Sedition Act as a suggestion.
“The prime minister is the leader of the country, he has the right to make suggestions,” Dr Subramaniam told reporters at the Parliament lobby today.
Last year, Umno and BN leaders were more supportive of moves by Najib to repeal the Internal Security Act and other legislation viewed as draconian and restrictive, accepting the position that middle Malaysia would welcome these reforms and then support BN at the ballot box.
But abolishing these laws did not translate to votes. The more conservative elements in Umno now argue that this policy of appeasing the middle ground was a failure. There has been a marked change in the attitude by Umno politicians towards removing what they consider the old structures of the country, which they believe were critical in ensuring proper behaviour by the opposition and maintaining political stability during the Mahathir years.
Some like Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim just want the old laws to be left alone.
He said that as a result of the abolition of the Emergency laws that allow criminals to be detained without trial, the incidence of crime had spiked in Malaysia.
For the opposition, the debate over abolishing the Sedition Act could have a familiar ending – where the Act remains intact. But what was troubling was that Najib was being contradicted in public by a subordinate.
DAP’s Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming wondered: “So now, who is really calling the shots?”
PKR’s strategist Rafizi Ramli said he expected the scope of the Sedition Act to be widened, given the mood in Umno these days. And with party elections due in October, Umno leaders in government will be keen to keep party delegates happy.
What matters is what makes Umno happy, he noted, adding that concerns about freedom of speech and what other constituencies in the country wanted were secondary to what the ruling party deemed important. – July 8, 2013