23 December, 2007

If you don't like the ISA, you have to elect people who don't like the ISA

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed that he was interviewed by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) yesterday over the video clip of images of a person purported to be a lawyer speaking on the telephone on the appointment of judges.

"The ACA interviewed me and they asked me questions and I answered them," he told reporters after the launch of a book, "The Third World and International Law", at the Perdana Leadership Foundation office here today.

When asked on the government's decision to invoke the Internal Security Act (ISA) on the group behind the activities which threatened public order and national security, Dr Mahathir said: "I used the ISA too.

"It is up to the government and the people to decide, as you know we are a democratic country. If you elect people who are supportive of the ISA, naturally the ISA will be there.

"If you don't like the ISA, you have to elect people who don't like the ISA. The choice is yours."

According to Dr Mahathir, he was elected by the fact that he supported the ISA.

"I was elected by the people, so I thought the people approved the ISA, that's why I implemented the ISA," he said.

On street demonstrations, he said the people were entitled to raise (issues) but there were other ways of doing it.

"Not unless they are prevented from making their presentation in other ways.

"If they don't have a choice, of course they may resort to demonstrations. But if they have a choice, they have their own leaders to explain their problems. I think that should be their first choice," he said.

So, folks, you know what to do, Malaysia may go in for early polls, probably March next year,reported Sin Chew Daily.

'Considering the number of issues cropping up that could work against the Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition, it is quite likely that Abdullah might want to hold the election before the situation worsens,'

The newspaper said the Badawi government's decision to go for early polls was not dictated by the fact that former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim would be eligible to contest by April 2008. He was sacked by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1997, charged with corruption and sodomy and is at present barred from contesting the elections.

The Election Commission (EC) has already distributed 50,000 transparent ballot boxes and mobilized 250,000 workers across the country to conduct the polls, The Star said.

Some 10.5 million citizens will be eligible to vote in the next general election, with the EC having recently endorsed an additional electoral roll of 412,756 voters. The EC has also removed 141,063 names from the record of registered voters.

The daily said it learnt that UMNO leaders have been informed the next general election will be held in three months and its state leaders are moving into high gear in their preparations for the polls.

Badawi is known to like the numeral "3". Apart from having a "3" in his No. 13 official car registration, he announced the dissolution of the previous parliament March 3, 2004, Sin Chew Daily said.

"It is school break from March 8 to 16, 2008 and it would not be surprising if Abdullah, who believes "3" is his lucky number, dissolves parliament and calls for election in March."

It is speculated that he will make use of the Chinese New Year open house in February to create a feel-good atmosphere ahead of the election.

TUNKU ABDUL AZIZ: Please, sir, may I have more?

AS 2007 makes way for what we pray will be a better year all round for Malaysia, we should reflect and take a dispassionate look at the events of the last few months.

And draw our own balanced conclusions on the social, economic and political developments that have begun to shape not only our thoughts and reactions, but also the direction of our nation.

Judging from our reactions to matters that in the past were not considered sufficiently important to write to the editors about, let alone take ourselves to the streets and risk being arrested under our law, I detect, almost perceptibly, all the outward manifestations of a society that has come of age. We have truly captured the essence and spirit of Merdeka.

All this is not surprising at all because we are being told repeatedly how lucky we all are to live as a free people in a prosperous democratic country. However, what we see as the benefits of "living in a democracy" fall far short of the minimum "freedoms" we should legitimately enjoy.

Like Oliver Twist, immortalised by Charles Dickens, Malaysians are asking for more, not bread of which we have plenty, but more freedom of action in a democratic parliamentary system.

After 50 years of freedom to decide our own destiny, we consider ourselves entitled, and rightly so, to be treated as mature and responsible adults.

We need a lot more space in which to flex our constitutional rights.

We admit that the government has been a little more open and liberal than the previous administration, and for which we applaud heartily.

However, we cannot expect our people to swallow the same old arguments for curbing fundamental rights. The fact that we live in a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society is no reason to curb fundamental liberties.

It seems to me that instead of embracing diversity as a blessing, we have tended to demonise it and to use it as a justification for diverting the natural course of democratic values, principles and practices.

The development of a democratic society must be premised on mutual trust and good faith. Suspicion and mistrust bordering on open hostility between the government and the governed must be avoided at all costs.

This is a two-way traffic and we who are quick to demand our rights also have responsibilities to carry out so that society may function in peace and harmony.

We are fortunate we have a listening government, and I say this at the risk of being accused of selling my soul, particularly in the prevailing establishment-bashing mood.

I know for a fact that they hear what we say, and I, therefore, hope that they will treat and address the more serious concerns relating to the constitution and, in particular, human rights issues with courage and imagination, in a spirit of sincerity and trust.

It would be a great pity if these "inalienable rights" as we see them were restored purely as a concession to public demands, made under threats of open confrontation.

It would then become a case of too little too late and would then, without a doubt, leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

We understand the security imperatives, but it would be missing the point completely to continue to apply laws that could no longer be justified in today's terms.

I am not even talking about the Internal Security Act.

There is a place for it, but it should be used only after the most careful consideration.

All laws are potentially abusive; the ISA is inherently so, and it is for that reason that its application must be subjected to the closest scrutiny. It must be used as a last resort, not as a law of choice before other less controversial legal avenues are exhausted. No one in his right mind will challenge the need for the ISA in these times, but its application must meet the highest legal and moral standards.

While I am not in favour of street demonstrations, and many others share this view, I believe that the law relating to the right of peaceful assembly needs to be reviewed.

Organisers must apply for a permit which will be ordinarily granted with certain conditions attached to it such as the need to agree with the police the route a procession or march will take to avoid inconvenience to the public.

A permit should be treated purely as part of an administrative requirement to facilitate the movement of a large body of people, and the police like their counterparts in the UK, Hong Kong and Australia should be there to help keep the marchers in order.

In London, police presence is minimal; the bulk is kept in reserve nearby, a street away just in case things get boisterous. At the end of the day, the police is the custodian of law and order.

In several conversations I have had with serving as well as retired senior officers, they are convinced that the issue of a permit should be an automatic process with conditions in the interest of public order.

The present practice is perceived to be unfair because in reality, applications for a permit made by those that are not linked to the government are automatically rejected for reasons which are less than credible and transparent.

There is so much second guessing on the part of the police that in the end, the government gets the blame. In refusing to issue a permit, the police must have evidence that the granting of the permit as such would be against public security and order.

Merely speculating about the possibility of a riot breaking out is not good enough any more.

What have we learnt from the recent events? Laws have to be kept updated, in line with best practices. They must not be allowed to deny ordinary people of their rights under the Constitution.

With 50 years of rule under the belt, I would have thought Barisan Nasional leaders would have been a little more confident in allowing Malaysians a greater degree of freedom consistent with the mood of the time. Bad laws do not make for fair and just governance. Let us work together in advancing true democracy in our country.

To claim as some do that we are a democracy because we have regular national elections is disingenuously disarming, and naive to boot.

There is much more to democracy than the holding of elections. What is more important is to ask, as a one former American ambassador did: "What happens between elections?"

The writer is a former special adviser to the United Nations secretary-general on ethics.
(Taken from The New Straits Times)



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