ISA repeal gives Pakatan the edge

By B Nantha Kumar, FMT

PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s repeal of the Internal Security (ISA) Act is a victory for the opposition and a slap to Umno lackeys and pro-establishment bloggers who have been championing its continued existence.

For decades, the opposition has been campaigning for the abolishing of the ISA, and no prime minister has ever “succumbed” to the pressure.

But Najib is different, or is he?

Last Friday, in conjunction with Sept 16 Malaysia Day celebrations, Najib announced the repeal the ISA.

A week earlier, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the government had no intention of doing so.

Najib’s announcement on the abolishing of the ISA was followed by his statement that the 1960 Act will be replaced by two other soon-to-be legislated acts.

Although rumblings of Najib’s previous inconsistencies, political “gimmick” and “farce” are filtering the grapevine, political pundits have nevetheless welcomed the move.

ISA was enacted in 1960 in a bid to curb communism in Malaysia. The act allowed for indefinite detention without trial.

In the years following the enactment, the act became a tool for Barisan Nasional’s hold on the power seat despite agreements between the Malaysian government and the Malaya Communist Party (CPM) in 1989.

The agreement was signed in Hatyai,Thailand. It was a clear indication and acceptance that Malaysia was free from the Communist threat.

No impact on people

But to the BN, the 1960 Act was a “weapon” of choice used to intimidate and instil fear.

The opposition party leaders often accused the BN government of using the ISA for its own political interests, to catch anyone who is not in line with government ideology.

A case in point is the October 1987 Operasi Lallang exercise where some 106 people were detained under the ISA and the publishing licences of two newspapers The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh and another two weeklies The Sunday Star and Watan were revoked.

In the following years, the ISA was used to detain Hindraf leaders, famous blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, parlimentarian Teresa Kok and local Chinese daily journalist Tan Hoon Cheng.

This aside, there have been several other incidents that have made the ISA a matter of public concern to a point that on Aug 1, 2009, tens and thousands of Malaysians took to the street to protest against the controversial act.

But now that Najib has announced the repeal, the question of “impact” is upmost in most minds.

To begin with, the decision to repeal the ISA will have little value in the rural areas. BN can forget about making it a campaign issue in rural areas.

The rural community is not interested in national politics. It’s the day-to-day bread and butter issues that matter to them.

New challenges

But the repeal of the act is of interest to the urban community.

Having said this, the reality is that the scrapping of the ISA will have no impact on urbanites because many of them are already opposition supporters.

So the repeal of ISA will give opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat an upperhand. Pakatan has been consistently calling for the elimination of the ISA.

It could be even said that almost every week, the opposition party leaders talk about the cruelty of the ISA.

Repealing the ISA gives the impression that the opposition is now “more” powerful to the point that it can compel nation’s prime minister to abolish the act.