By Kee Thuan Chye
How ridiculous it is that the prime minister says one thing and his home minister says the opposite. Last year, Najib Razak announced that the Government would repeal the Sedition Act and replace it with the National Harmony Act, but now Zahid Hamidi says the Cabinet has decided to only “amend and review some aspects of the Act, not to abolish it”!
Another minister, S. Subramaniam, is neither here nor there about it when asked about the matter. He takes the typical noncommittal MIC approach by saying that the idea of repealing the Act was a “suggestion” by Najib. “He has to bring it back to the Cabinet and state his suggestions,” Subramaniam says.
Only a suggestion? Subramaniam was a member of the Cabinet when Najib announced the repeal in July 2012 and yet he says it was only Najib’s suggestion? Is it because he dare not tell the truth?
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz contradicts Zahid and confirms that the Cabinet did indeed agree to repeal the Sedition Act last year. He even says the Attorney-General’s Chambers is looking into framing the replacement law. Unlike Subramaniam, he is unequivocal about it.
“It’s a public commitment made by the prime minister. I don’t see why any minister would go against it,” he adds.
It was indeed a public commitment. Najib’s announcement of the repeal of the Act and its replacement with the National Harmony Act was reported extensively in the media, and political observers – me included – commented on it. We certainly didn’t imagine it.
Surely, Najib would have made the announcement only if he had got the agreement of his Cabinet. If not, his action would have been highly irresponsible. So, what gives?
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Nazri showed charity to his fellow Cabinet member when he was asked by reporters about Subramaniam’s comment. Nazri replied, “It was made last year, maybe he doesn’t remember. Maybe it’s (because of) so many cabinet meetings.”
Oh? Really? But the matter was publicly announced, so how could any Cabinet member fail to remember? A case of Alzheimer’s affecting the health minister? Or selective remembering a la Mahathir Mohamad?
As for Zahid, why would he contradict Najib? Is he trying to undermine the latter as the build-up begins for the Umno general assembly in November when elections will take place and Najib could be challenged for his leadership of the party? Is Zahid also working overtime to try and retain his vice-presidency in the party, knowing that the position will be hotly contested?
He says he doesn’t want the Sedition Act abolished because people can start questioning the four taboo issues – the special position of the Malays, the sovereignty of the Malay rulers, the position of Malay as the national language, and the position of Islam as the religion of the federation.
That sounds like the thing to say to impress the Umno delegates who will be voting in November. Let us also not forget that a by-election is coming up on July 24 for the Kuala Besut state seat in Terengganu. Harping on Malay issues could well score points for the incumbent Umno.
But Zahid disingenuously chooses to ignore that these four issues are already protected under the Federal Constitution. Article 181, for example, guarantees the sovereignty, rights, powers and jurisdictions of each Malay ruler within their respective states. Other Articles take care of the other three.
In any case, there should be no harm in questioning these issues if we are to be a true, healthy and mature democracy. Placing a ban on it has only deprived Malaysians their constitutional right to freedom of speech. Besides, what can questioning do? Bring about the removal of these guarantees? Who is going to sanction it? Who would dare to? It’s not going to happen even in the distant future.
The real reason the Government would want to retain the Sedition Act – and Zahid should really be honest about this – is to use it to silent political dissent. And this has been proven in practice over the decades. Only last month, it was again selectively used to prosecute six people – Opposition politicians, activists and student leaders – while pro-Government individuals who made seditious statements got away scot-free.
Really, Zahid doesn’t serve the Government cause well to speak as he does. And Subramaniam doesn’t inspire confidence among the public for his wishy-washy conduct. Both of them can’t seem to get their facts right, and they sow confusion with their befuddling statements. What kind of ministers do we have? It reflects badly on Najib for selecting ministers like these.
Speaking of Najib, why has he said nothing since in response to Zahid’s statement? He may be overseas now, but the least he could do is make a statement to clear the confusion. Unless, of course, he is considering flip-flopping on the idea. Especially now that the general election is over and he doesn’t need to win votes.
Is that the reason why the A-G’s Chambers is taking so long to come out with a draft of the replacement National Harmony Act? After a year and still nothing to show? Is this going to be yet another government janji yang tidak ditepati (promise unfulfilled)?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!