ISA – one for the dustbin of history

By Sim Kwang Yang

I remember distinctly my earliest impression of Malaysian politics when I was just a scrappy secondary school boy in Kuching. It was one of revulsion at the injustices inflicted by the Internal Security Act, and the massive arrests of social and political activists in Sarawak under this law in the 1960s.

I consoled myself that the country was in a real state of emergence then, with the security forces fighting an armed communist insurgency throughout the country. At times, there were almost daily reports of casualties suffered from both the belligerent parties on the radio (there was no television then).

Some of my former school mates and former teachers in my Chinese primary schools either disappeared into the jungle, or were arrested and detained under the ISA. Not being mature enough to take side, I reluctantly accepted that some kind extra-constitutional police powers were necessary.

Unfortunately, I was cursed with a superior education, in preparation for the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate. In Form Three history lessons, we had to study about the Glorious English Revolution, the Bill of Rights, the doctrine of separation of powers, and the general principle of fundamental civil and political liberties.

The arrest and indefinite detention of mere suspects without trial in an open court under the ISA were the most offensive insult to my budding political consciousness. It exemplified all that was unpalatable about the new nation state of Malaysia. That sentiment has persisted through till this day.

Of all the reasons why I went to the opposition party, the ISA was probably the most powerful motivation. A democracy that requires the ISA to maintain order remains as a Third World guided democracy. It needs room to grow and mature.