Prime Minister Najib Razak has just delivered a much awaited speech. It is much awaited because it was hyped up by the media. The speech did contain important announcement of intentions but the first 15 minutes were full of fluff.
The substance came later in the second half of the speech. He said his administration intends to repeal all declarations of emergency still in force. These declarations are frequently cited as anti-liberty and as means to circumvent more rigorous laws. He mentioned that the necessary bills will be sent to the Parliament for consideration.
My first reaction was one of excitement. Yet, questions linger. Will we see the return of local elections? There is no explicit mention of that. There are other questions in my mind that require answers.
With that realization, I take a skeptical position. This skepticism grew as the PM read more of his speech.
The proposed abolition of the Internal Security Act for instance should be a reason for liberals to cheer but two new laws are being proposed to replace the ISA. I fear that this may be merely a renaming exercise, due to the qualifications the PM included in his speech.
Another is the annual renewal of permit for the press. The proposal on the table is to replace that mechanism with a system where a license will only be canceled until it is canceled by the government. Does this mean the government will have the discretionary power to cancel a license just like that? That is not much better than the current setup. I prefer a renewal system where the permit lasts more than 5 years beyond typical election cycle to limit political manipulation by the government, be it one led by Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat or anybody for that matter. It limits discretionary power. The newly proposed system increases opportunity for discretion. The problem has always been the exercise of discretionary power, not the permit system per se.
These qualifications are important because these qualifications will be the true measure of sincerity of this announcement and of any effort at liberalization.
The Prime Minister and his administration deserve a nod for this liberalization plan but let us inspect the qualifications first before applauding the administration.
And I will believe it, after I see it finally done.