Thursday 29 September 2011

Constitutional changes needed to set M'sians free

Genuine civil rights reform cannot rely on the abolition of the Internal Security Act and similar repressive laws alone as the country's constitution contains provisions that are against civil liberties, says law professor Abdul Aziz Bari.

NONETo this end, Aziz argued that the country's constitution must be amended so that there will be no provision overwriting the fundamental liberties enshrined in the constitution.

"The suggestion to review the Malaysian constitution is good," he said in response to a question from the floor during a post-ISA forum in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

However, Aziz warned that this would not be possible because neither the government nor the opposition had the necessary two-thirds majority in Parliament to push through the amendments, unless they worked together.

"But I don't think that it is possible (to amend) because the constitution is so rigid. If, by reviewing, we mean amendments, it's not possible because this requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament," he said.

Aziz was referring to two provisions in the constitution, Article 149, which provides for Parliament to create laws that are against fundamental liberties, and Article 150, which allows for the declaration of emergency.

"Both these provisions are worse than they were during the British era. After independence, Article 150 was amended in 1981, allowing an emergency to be declared even before an emergency situation happens.

"So if the government feels threatened, it can declare an emergency on the excuse that it is anticipating or wants to intercept chaos," he said.

'PM pressured by Bersih rally'

Aziz said the people had to change their mentality that the country needs preventive laws.

"The problem is that we have become so accustomed to the fact that there must be such laws...," he said referring to the replacement laws should the ISA be repealed.

NONEEchoing the need for focus to be on the people rather than on laws, political analyst Wong Chin Huat drew parallels to the well-behaved protesters during the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally crackdown.

"There is no law that requires the people to run away from the police in an orderly fashion, but they ran in an orderly manner on that day," Wong said.

He acknowledged Prime Minister Najib Razak's announcement to abolish the ISA as a "smart move", but attributed it to the sentiments of the people, particularly the Bersih rally.

"Why did he (Najib) announce it now? Because 50,000 people took to the streets. The prime minister came under pressure and was reminded of his promise (to review the ISA) three years ago.

"Before July 9, he was led by right-wing group Perkasa and (its chief) Ibrahim Ali but after July 9, he was forced to follow the people's lead," Wong added.

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