Najib’s ISA step a ploy?

But new PM says releasing 13 detainees is in best interest of people and nation

By Hazlina Hassan/Elizabeth Looi, The StraitsTimes

PRIME Minister Najib Razak on Saturday rejected accusations that a decision to release 13 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees was simply a ploy to win votes ahead of three by-elections this week.

'We think (it is) in the best interests of the people and the nation,' he told reporters a day after taking office.

The move also proves that the Malaysian government was not repressive, he added at a press conference at his new residence in Putrajaya.

Critics and the opposition have questioned Datuk Seri Najib's motive in announcing the release of ISA detainees in his first speech as Prime Minister last Friday.

They accuse him of fishing for votes ahead of three by-elections – Bukit Gantang in Perak, Bukit Selambau in Kedah and Batang Ai in Sarawak – on Tuesday.

'Their release has been turned into political collateral to show a caring prime minister,' the Abolish ISA Movement said in a statement.

The group urged Mr Najib to free about 40 other people still held under the law and to scrap the ISA to show his sincerity in strengthening democracy.

When asked to comment on such views, Mr Najib said: 'If we don't release them, they will say the government is repressive. If we release them, they will say we are populist.'

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday gave his backing to Mr Najib's move. 'I think it is a good move. I don't know if you remember but when I became prime minister, I released 21 people who were held under ISA,' he said. 'So I thought if it was good for me, it must be good for Najib too.'

But opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim sounded a note of caution in his response last Friday: 'Don't let them go free just to arrest them again a few years later…although I welcome the move, we want the draconian law to be abolished altogether.'