KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's opposition-led Upper House blocked an effort to repeal a law against fake news yesterday, presenting the first major challenge for the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Tun Dr Mahathir, 93, secured a stunning election win in May, ending the decade-long rule of former premier Najib Razak and changing Malaysia's government for the first time in six decades.
But the Upper House of Parliament is still dominated by an opposition led by the defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which can block Bills and delay government initiatives.
Malaysia was among the first few countries to introduce an anti-fake news law, although other countries in the region, including Singapore and the Philippines, have said they are considering how to tackle fake news.
Critics accused Najib of using the law to curb free speech ahead of the May general election, as his government tried to fend off criticism over accusations of graft and mismanagement.
Last month, the Lower House of Parliament voted out the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, which set out fines of up to RM500,000 (S$166,000) and jail of up to six years for reporting "wholly or partly false" news.
But BN leaders in the Upper House and members of Parti Islam SeMalaysia yesterday blocked its repeal.
The Bill will go back to the Lower House for another vote.
Just days before the elections, Dr Mahathir was accused of spreading fake news after the authorities said they were investigating him over what they said were false claims that his plane was sabotaged.
Other leaders opposed to Najib were also charged under the Act.