Down2Earth - Desperate measures or a necessary evil

"My late father was one of the founding members, founding leaders of the nation. I cannot let him down …"

THE quote is from Datuk Seri Najib Razak from an interview that I conducted for The Malay Mail on Dec 7, 2012. It was close to the 13th general election and the premier was discussing various issues including the need for a big mandate to enable him to fulfil the aspirations of the people.

Najib was appealing to the electorate that he is after all his father's son and has Tun Abdul Razak's legacy to preserve.

"For me to complete my job I would require a strong mandate from the people. Then, with a strong mandate from the people I can say: 'Look, the people have spoken. They believe in the policies that I propounded and therefore those policies need to be really enshrined and Umno and BN must reflect those policies …' "

However, his appeal had fallen mostly on deaf ears. The GE13 results saw more seats going to the opposition. And the prime minister had to return to the drawing board. The going has been rough for Najib since the interview three years ago, as new issues have cropped up, including allegations that threaten his administration and political career.

These extenuating circumstances perhaps derailed his efforts in pursuing his agenda for reform.

Hence on Friday Malaysians woke up to the news that the Dewan Rakyat had passed the National Security Council (NSC) Bill which gives unprecedented powers to the prime minister. These include the power to declare an emergency, no-go zones and the use of deadly force.

Looking back at his words three years ago, the NSC, as well as certain actions in the past few months seem inconsistent with his agenda for reform.

As an anti-terrorism law, the NSC may on the onset seem a good piece of legislation, but then why introduce the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA 2012)?

And is it reasonable to assume that the NSC will be prone to abuse by those who implement it?

In the interview, the prime minister was particularly proud of being able to do away with unpopular laws such as the dreaded Internal Security Act: "I took the political risk in removing the ISA."

But then the introduction of Sosma, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 in its place appears to be a case of same wine in a different bottle – a reasonable conclusion seeing that the first people to be charged under this Act were political critics.

Now, the NSC has an uncanny resemblance to the National Operations Council (NOC) or Majlis Gerakan Negara which was set up immediately after the May 13, 1969 riots.

Parliament was dissolved and Tun Abdul Razak, the then deputy prime minister, became the director of operations. The NOC governed the country for only two years.

Despite the powers that he enjoyed as the head of the NOC, and then when appointed prime minister in 1970, Tun Abdul Razak had always intended for this controversial, undemocratic arrangement to be a temporary one.

The NOC was a necessary evil as race relations were fragile in this relatively young democracy. This was also compounded by the threat of the communist insurgency and Indonesia's ambitions in the region.

Hence with the world being on constant security alert today, can one reasonably conclude that Razak's son also honestly believes that the NSC is a necessary evil?

Could it be possible that the NSC – which appears to even supersede the Federal Constitution in many ways – is the one thing that will guarantee us a good night's sleep?

Perhaps, but, as in the case of Sosma, it could also be the cause of lack of sleep for political opponents, dissenters, critics, civil society leaders and members of the press.

A debate between morals and practicality often ensues when suppressive and authoritarian enactments are introduced, even if they are passed with the best of intentions.

In such situations, it would be advisable to contemplate and be guided by Razak's own viewpoint when he headed the NOC: "I am a dictator. I rule by decree. It's an unpleasant business and it's best to quickly get it over and done with. Unless we restore power to where it properly belongs, to the people through the Parliament, all the struggles for independence, the struggle against communism, all that will have been in vain." (as related by former Straits Times Editor-in-Chief Tan Sri Lee Siew Yee in Tun Abdul Razak, A Personal Portrait.)

Terence is the former deputy editor investigations at theSun. After a four-year hiatus, he has resurrected his column Down2Earth. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com