New security law puts Malaysia 'on path to dictatorship'

Critics say the hastily passed Bill is aimed at quashing criticism of PM Najib

KUALA LUMPUR • Critics have hit out against a new Malaysian security law granting unprecedented emergency powers to the government, which they say is aimed at quashing challenges to scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak and is propelling the country towards dictatorship.

Malaysia's Parliament passed the National Security Council Bill late on Thursday - the final day of the chamber's 2015 sitting - just two days after it was tabled, spurring opposition accusations that it was quickly rammed through to thwart scrutiny and debate.

It gives a council headed by the prime minister authority to declare emergency powers to address security threats, arrest people without warrants and otherwise curb basic constitutional freedoms without judicial oversight, critics say.

The legislation has struck a nerve in Malaysia. It comes as Datuk Seri Najib's ruling party prepares for its annual meeting next week, the first such gathering since the explosive allegation in July that the premier had received nearly US$700 million (S$976 million) dollars in still-unexplained payments.

The legislation has struck a nerve in Malaysia. It comes as Mr Najib's ruling party prepares for its annual meeting next week, the first such gathering since the explosive allegation in July that the premier had received nearly US$700 million (S$976 million) dollars in still-unexplained payments.

"The National Security Council Bill is nothing but a brazen attempt at silencing all criticism of the Najib administration, particularly Najib himself," said Mr Azmin Ali, a top opposition leader."This law will take us only to one path, and that is the path to dictatorship."

The opposition and other critics complain of escalating pressure by the authorities since a 2013 election setback for the long-ruling coalition dominated by Mr Najib's United Malays National Organisation (Umno).

Malaysian Bar Council president Steven Thiru said all fundamental civil rights with regard to "arrest, search and seizure of property can be ignored or suspended" under the law.

"This is a grave infringement of the federal Constitution," he said.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday called it "truly frightening" and "quite clearly a tool for repression".

Mr Najib came into office in 2009 with Umno's coalition facing sliding support over its authoritarian ways and corruption scandals.

He pledged a new era of openness, scrapping some repressive laws.

His financial scandal has rocked Umno, with some influential party figures calling for his resignation.

But he has purged or sidelined key critics and is not expected to face significant opposition to his leadership during next week's party assembly.

While denying wrongdoing, he refuses comment on the source, purpose or ultimate fate of the funds he received. Investigations by his government appear to have stalled, and whistleblowers have been arrested or harassed.

The funding revelation followed months of allegations that huge sums were missing from a state-owned investment firm that Mr Najib launched. No clear link has been made between the two episodes.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'New security law puts Malaysia 'on path to dictatorship''. Print Edition | Subscribe