Najib’s had a good start but…

By Baradan Kuppusamy (The Malaysian Insider)

KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 — A reasonably good start but not enough. That’s the verdict of lawyers, human rights activists and opposition leaders on newly appointed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s first day in office.

“He could have done better, done more and created a greater impact,” said Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan.

“At the moment it is just nice rhetoric. Only when the rhetoric is translated into action can we make a valid conclusion.”

Ragunath, however, welcomed the release of the 13 ISA detainees and the promise to undertake a comprehensive review of the ISA but added that former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had also done a review before.

“All new prime ministers have done reviews of the ISA but all have swept their reviews under the carpet,” Ragunath said. “How different will Najib be?”

Najib, when addressing the nation last night, had summarised his goals under three broad concepts — One Malaysia, People First and Performance Now.

“These are beautifully crafted slogans and can be meaningful if translated into action. Abdullah also had nice slogans but there was no action. We have to wait and see how the slogans are transformed into action,” said Ragunath.

He said Najib should act fast to resolve race and religious issues that Abdullah had promised to resolve but did not follow through.

Two immediate steps Najib can take, Ragunath said, is to extend NEP help to all Malaysians who are poor and need the help, and secondly to take immediate steps to end race-based politics.

He also urged Najib to drop tolerance as a national ideology and promote respect — respect for diversity in a multi-ethnic society.

“With tolerance we only learn to tolerate. We don’t understand or appreciate differences by merely tolerating. By promoting respect we can learn to understand and appreciate differences,” he said, adding respect is much more enduring then mere tolerance.

Rights activists and opposition leaders remain unconvinced with Najib’s first day in office.

“We don’t want a comprehensive review of the ISA… we want it repealed immediately,” said Suaram’s anti-ISA campaign co-ordinator Enalini Elumalai.

“We want all ISA detainees released or charged in court,” she said, adding all previous prime ministers had released ISA detainees on taking office but later had used the ISA to detain political opponents.

“As long as the ISA is there, it is a danger to human rights and democracy,” she said, adding that “if Najib wants to convince us he should repeal the Act and release all detainees.”

PKR information chief Tian Chua said the release of 13 ISA detainees means nothing if the ISA law is not repealed.

He said Najib should also repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 and “all other laws that give the government power to curb human rights”.

“Najib brought a lot of negative baggage to the job and he needs to address these issues before he can win approval from the people,” he said.

He also said it was because of opposition pressure that the Najib took the action to release ISA detainees, echoing a statement by Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who said yesterday that Najib would not be “liberal” if not for opposition pressure.

“It is because of us that the government is forced to free them. We need a strong Pakatan Rakyat to ensure the government does not bully the people through repressive laws,” he said a statement.

Anwar added that the opposition will continue the fight to repeal the ISA and other draconian laws.