Even before the historic speech by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on the eve of Malaysia Day, there were rumours swirling around that this was a speech that should not be missed.

The Star reported earlier that day that, “The Prime Minister is expected to announce measures that will make it less restrictive for people to express themselves” and those who have seen the speech say that it “will redefine the political landscape of Malaysia”.

I then exchanged BBM messages with a broadcast journalist who told me that I would be very interested in the speech that night.

According to his sources, something major in respect of the emergency and the draconian Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) will be announced tonight.

So that night, I found myself sitting on my sofa, eyes glued firmly onto the television. I hung onto the Prime Minister’s every words, waiting, wondering and listening.

The first announcement came; the Government will table a motion in both Houses of Parliament to annul the emergency.

Then the second announcement; the ISA will be abolished. A few more announcements regarding the Banishment Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (‘PPPA’) and the unconstitutional S.27 Police Act 1967 requirement of a police permit.

With every announcement, I found myself clapping with joy and shouting like a child. I could not believe my ears. These are issues that are dear to my heart.

I have written articles on the emergency, the ISA and the Police Act (some of which are in this column). I have spoken about these restrictive legislations in public forums before. So I could not contain my joy when I heard the proposed changes.

In Court, I have represented those detained under the ISA and the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 (EO 1969). I have seen the anguish of families whose loved ones have been taken away from them without any effective means to challenge the arbitrary orders. I have seen how the machineries of government will stack the odds against the detainees and all they have is that counsel arguing their case, futile though that effort may be.

I have seen, with my very own eyes, a mother weeping for her banished son and a father telling his child to be strong in the face of adversity. I have heard a family pinning their hopes on the team of lawyers representing them, through a phone call from a country many miles away.

I have seen the struggles of lawyers like Amer Hamzah Arshad and Edmund Bon who, time and again, take up public interest cases pro-bono for cases of detention without trial; or activists of SUARAM and Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) who do so much good work without any desire for publicity, including taking care of the families of those affected by these much-maligned laws.

Those who actually advocate for the retention of such laws could not have seen all which I have described. For if they had done so, they could not possibly still take the stand that the emergency should continue or that the ISA is needed.

The sheer injustice caused by these laws outweighs any good that might come out of their retention.

What is hilarious to me is that these staunch supporters of the ISA are now singing a different tune altogether. They now say the abolishment of the ISA is a ‘welcome reform’ when before this they were willing to defend the legislation come what may. Such hypocrisy.

Some say that the announcements were politically motivated. To me, even if they were, I would still gladly take it. We should not begrudge something which can only be good, even if the intentions may not entirely be pure. Far too long have the status quo remained for us to reject it merely because some of us are suspicious of the motives.

Of course, civil society still needs to be vigilant. The proverbial perjuangan has not ended. It was also announced that two new legislations will be enacted under Article 149 of the Federal Constitution with the view of preventing threats to national security and to preserve public order.

The Government has not provided details of these new legislations but once a bill is available I am confident that civil society will scour through them with a fine-tooth comb. We must ensure that these new legislations would not merely be ‘ISA 2.0’.

As for the emergency, at long last, the farcical situation in which we are legally in an emergency despite enjoying peace and harmony for decades would be rectified. The impact of the proposed end to the emergency is still being studied, but we are looking at scores of emergency laws and regulations which will no longer have any legal effect six months after the emergency ends.

I believe that in order to prove to the people of the Government’s sincerity, one of the proposed changes must take place in the next Parliamentary sitting in October. Specifically, the motions to annul the proclamations of emergency should be tabled at the Dewan Rakyat first, and thereafter the Dewan Negara, and this can be done at the October sitting.

This would give the Executive six months deal with the various emergency laws and regulations which sprung forth from the various proclamations. If this means that the drafters in Putrajaya will have to work overtime, so be it.

These are exciting times. The Prime Minister’s announcement has sparked many debates and elicited much analysis on what has happened, why it happened and what will happen. Due credit must be given to him for having the courage to announce these bold reforms, especially when they are many in his party who seem to be hell-bent on preserving the status quo.

For those who have been fighting against the laws, the announcement vindicated their struggles. This was tacit acknowledgement from the Government that these laws are way past their expiry date.

Someone on Twitter said it aptly; on the eve of Malaysia Day, we are finally Merdeka!

*this article was first published on 22 September 2011 in The Star iPad for my fortnightly column, ‘A Humble Submission’.


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