ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Malaysia to replace Sedition Act, says Najib
Publication Date : 12-07-2012
Malaysia's Sedition Act will be repealed and replaced with another law to protect racial harmony, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced yesterday, as part of his continuing series of political reforms.
He said the government realised that the people perceived the Sedition Act to be a law to suppress dissenting views.
"Although this perception is baseless, we have to abolish this perception. Hence, the new provisions will not prevent the people from criticising the government or the administration of justice," he said at a dinner of the Attorney-General's Chambers.
The new law will be called the National Harmony Act.
Najib said the government had to find a mechanism to best balance the people's right to express themselves and the need to handle the complex nature of the country's multi-racial and multi-religious society.
"With this new Act, we would be better equipped to manage our national fault lines," he said.
"The fact is that the vibrant efforts to colour Malaysia's political canvas have just begun."
The Sedition Act was passed in 1948 to make it an offence to stir up racial enmity. It also became an offence to question certain matters such as the special position of the Malays and the sovereignty of the rulers.
The Act was intended to preserve racial harmony but has become seen as a tool to suppress dissenting views.
Singapore's Sedition Act has its genesis in the Malaysian Act of 1948. It was invoked for the first time in 2005 when three bloggers were charged with making seditious and inflammatory racist comments on the Internet.
Malaysia's repeal of the Act is the latest political reform to be rolled out by Najib, who began the process last September when he repealed several unpopular laws such as the Internal Security Act, which allowed for detention without trial. He also lifted the proclamations of Emergency that had existed since 1960.
The laws to curb public gatherings were later relaxed, while the requirement for annual printing licences of newspapers was abolished along with the ban on university students participating in political activities.
These political reforms are part of Najib's wider reform programme that began in 2008 with a revamp of public services such as education. That was followed a year later by economic reforms that aimed to double incomes by 2020.
The government yesterday also announced that Malaysians abroad might be allowed to vote by post in the next general election, which is expected to be held soon.
"We are studying the matter and, if it requires any change in the law, it will be brought to Parliament in the coming session to start in September," said Election Commission chief Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof.
He said only Malaysians who had returned to Malaysia at least once in the five years after the date that Parliament was last dissolved, would be allowed to vote by post.
"This is to make sure that they know our political situation well before voting," he said.
Under current rules, the only Malaysians living overseas who are allowed to vote via absentee ballot are government workers, military personnel and full-time students and their spouses.
There are an estimated one million Malaysians working abroad, a significant number in an electorate of 12.6 million voters.