What you need to know
The Malaysian government has passed a law that gives its prime minister arbitrary powers not seen since the communist insurgency of the 1960s.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is set to gain dictator-like powers with the passing of the National Security Council (NSC) Act on July 27. The Act will come into force on Monday (Aug. 1).
Under Section 18 of the NSC Act, Najib, also chairman of the security council, can declare a state of emergency over any area in Malaysia that is “seriously disturbed or threatened by any person, matter or thing,” a right previously reserved for the Yang-di Pertuan Agong, Malaysia’s head of state.
Without the balance of power that the Agong could provide, the NSC Act will give Najib extensive powers he could use to silence his detractors and critics, further eroding Malaysians’ freedom of speech and expression.
The NSC bill has been heavily contested since it was hastily pushed through parliament last December, and the government has since decided to pass the NSC Act despite lack of royal assent.
The Conference of Rulers, the council consisting of the rulers and governors of Malaysia’s 13 states, has also called for the law to be referred back to legislature for amendment.
In addition to granting Najib the power to declare a state of emergency of up to six months over any area of any size – the area could be a building, a street, or the entire country – Najib can also renew the period of emergency as many times as he wants, as long as the extension does not exceed six months.
Under the state of emergency, civil liberties will be suspended in any area decreed to be a “security area,” and special police powers can be administered by the security council appointed by the prime minister.
The security council and the prime minister cannot be held accountable for any loss or damage of property or loss of life that occurs within a security area, and neither will these instances be investigated, as legal immunity will be granted for errors while on duty.
Najib claims the NSC Act is crucial to protect Malaysians against the threat of terrorism such as ISIS/ISIL, and criticized detractors for “deliberately misinterpreting” his administration’s motives.
The Act is seen by many as little more than a rebranded 1960 Internal Security Act (ISA), which allowed for detention without trial and was originally intended for use against communists during the Malayan Communist Party insurgency.
However, the ISA was used to detain political detractors and dissidents by subsequent governments until it was abolished by Najib in 2011. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, famed Malaysia Today blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, and current Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng were among those targeted by the government with the ISA. All three were detained without trial for openly criticizing the Malaysian government.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole