Take the right action at the right time, and address the ‘right’ public sentiment. That's exactly what Najib Tun Razak, Malaysia's prime minister has done in announcing an overhaul to several controversial acts related to national security, censorship, speech and freedom of assembly, while commemorating Malaysia Day.
The timing couldn't have been better in view of recent clampdown on Bersih 2.0 demonstration (to demand fair election) and speculation of next general election. The international media, which has been generally critical of Najib's administration, has also changed tone to be more neutral and cautious, with Wall Street Journal Asia hailing the move which ‘opened the door to major political changes’.
It's not surprising again that we see government's coalition parties and national dailies eagerly praise this move while opposition parties led by Najib's no. 1 political enemy, Anwar, collectively find shortcomings and urge caution.
Independent online news reporter, Anil adopts a similarly cautious tone:
Any celebration is premature. What replaces these oppressive laws is just as important […] What about all the other oppressive laws such as the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Universities and Colleges Act? […] Finally, can we all wear those yellow ‘Bersih’ T-shirts and celebrate the PM’s announcement without being unceremoniously hauled away?
Although details about the overhaul are yet to be released before the changes are introduced in Parliament next year, prominent blogger, Ahirudin takes the give credit where credit is due mantra and says:
Today, 16.9.2011 will go down in history as Najib Razak's day. Nobody expected Malaysia's 6th Prime Minister to have the gumption to scrap the ISA (Internal Security Acts) […] The move stunned the usually vociferous political rivals into silence […] And laud it we Malaysians must
Malaysia Bar council, which has been the most vocal group in fighting for the abolition of ISA that allows detention without trials, lauded the initiative but cautioned:
The Malaysian Bar, Advocates’ Association of Sarawak and Sabah Law Association take the view that Malaysia does not need any detention without trial laws because it has already effectively strengthened its legislative provisions to take into account, and deal with, the threat of terrorism […] Whilst the promises of the Prime Minister are welcomed, their substance will be in the details, and the proof in the implementation. Accordingly, we call on the PM to subject the proposed legislation to public debate and consultation, and to establish a clear time frame within which the promises will be fulfilled.
Free Malaysia Today has also compiled comments from several major political voices in the country, most notably Bersih 2.0 Chairman S Ambiga who said:
Some reforms did not go far enough like the Printing Presses and Publications Act as licensing is still required for publications and this is contradictory to freedom of the press. The statement that street protests will not be allowed also does not accord with freedom of assembly. I hope these can be discussed further.
When it's time to judge Najib's performance at the end of his tenure, he'll be remembered as a ‘reformer’ irrespective of the economic and political outcomes. That's the goal he set out to do since he became the PM, started with a series of liberalization measures leading to the formation of New Economic Model. Recent glowing review by Forbes with comments like ‘impressive policies put Malaysia on track to developed nation status’ only reaffirmed Najib's economic ambition and desire of positive global publicity. Only history will tell if Najib can achieve these political dreams.