“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
– WB Yeats
Dictators, despots, and crackpots throughout history have attempted to legitimise their oppression by the use of harsh and inhumane laws to stamp their corrupt authority and to cling to power. Few succeed.
As part of its wide-ranging manifesto of reforms promised prior to GE14, Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government said that draconian and outdated laws like the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) would be repealed.
These laws and enactments were used liberally to silence the growing dissatisfaction at the way things were done and to cover rampant systemic corruption.
But, after 18 months, not only were these laws not repealed, but they were even used on members of the ruling coalition with apparent abandon, sending shock waves among the DAP members and much of the nation.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak used these of oppressive laws, including the Sedition Act of 1948 and Sosma to quell the increasing voices of dissent during his tenure as PM.
Over the last month or so, several members of DAP were caught in a dragnet for allegedly supporting the now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) movement.
Nothing apparently had changed with the new government in Malaysia. The laws remained and the excuse given was that the ruling coalition lacked the two thirds majority to repeal the Acts.
It was assumed that while the laws existed, they would never be used again to suppress the people.
Time and again, the PH government has confounded its own supporters by mimicking the policies and tactics of the previous regime and punishing the very people who voted them in.
Now, suddenly, when faced by an embarrassing defeat in an upcoming by-election in Johor’s Tanjung Piai, the Home Minister announces that there would be possible changes to Sosma.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the Act would be amended but not repealed with a change in the length of detention and provisions relating to economic sabotage under proposed amendments.
Currently, the Act allows for detention without charges preferred for 28 days with option of renewing the detention.
In statement, he said “the 28-day remand, (may be) too long and should be shortened, but enforcement agencies such as the police say they need more time to investigate when it involves issues of terrorism so this needs to be studied before the right decision is made.”
But the Act allows for abuse by the authorities as it can be used to detain anyone who is deemed a threat to national security by merely possessing books or video clips or even making a speech that vaguely refers to outlawed groups.
Over the past 48 hours, the PH Presidential Council met to discuss various matters of importance relating to the governance of the country.
Speculation is rife that a strong protest was registered by the DAP and PKR during the meeting at the arrest of its members under Sosma.
However, instead of repealing the law, the government has decided to make cosmetic changes that seemingly de-fang the Act.
Muhyiddin said that the provision was “misused to detained Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s former political secretary Matthias Chang for political reasons” by the Najib Administration.
But these sort of amendments merely give the Act a more palatable look and nothing more. It is still a very useful tool to keep friends and foe in check.
So tight are the provisions that offenses under Sosma are non-bailable and the detainees could be separated from their families for a minimum of 28 days.
PH came in on a wave of promises that included the repeal of such Acts that were used liberally by the previous regime.
With the impending by-elections in Johor scheduled for November 16, and with many touting the results as a referendum on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership, the changes to the Sosma Act are a little too late.
Whatever the outcome of the Tanjung Piai results, what is clear is that Dr Mahathir has an iron grip on the nation and is free to do as he wishes.
Fear, seems to be the key, once again, in getting things done. PH seems to have lost the plot so early in the game.