Hornbill Unleashed

September 26, 2011

What will replace the ISA?

Sim Kwang Yang

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced on the eve of Malaysia Day that the Internal Security Act (ISA) and Emergency Ordinance would be repealed. These pieces of legislation have been part of Malaysian political life for the last 50 years.

The announcement has caused some confusion among Malaysians. On the one hand, there is almost universal support for the withdrawal of the ISA, but on the other, questions remain on what the new replacement legislation would look like. The mistrust of the Malaysian public regarding the proposed new laws is understandable.

The ISA was legislated in 1960, at a time when Malaysia was very much under the threat of the Communist Insurgency, while being destabilised by great ethnic tension as a result of the May 13 incident.

Since then, the security situation in Malaysia has much improved, and the Communist Insurgency has been eradicated. The spectre of race riots has almost disappeared, although there are still spates of racial tension from time to time.

The last time race tension became a national issue was during Operation Lalang, when 106 members of the opposition and social activists were arrested. Even that has passed and to many young Malaysians, Operation Lalang is a mystery.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian political scene has gone through some very fundamental and radical changes. Ever since the 2008 general elections, the country has been on the brink of witnessing a two-party system as the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) of PKR, PAS and DAP has emerged as a contender for power.

The political balance of power in Malaysia has changed beyond the point of no return. It is against this backdrop of major shifts of power within parliament that has created the possibility of the abolition of the ISA.

Personally, I would like to see the complete
abolition of ISA-related security laws. Harsh legislation like the ISA were necessary, perhaps, at one point in the early years of our nation’s history. But the political climate has changed drastically in Malaysia and I think it is time we abolish this unpopular law. It was a necessary evil at one time, but an evil nevertheless.

We are a country that proclaims to practise democracy with respect for the rule of law, human rights and the individual. The ISA is an anathema to the democratic spirit that ought to form the basis of the modern state.

The power of the ISA to arrest without warrant and detain without trial is repugnant to civilised societies of the world. Such powers may have been necessary in Malaysia at one time, but they have outlived their legitimacy and usefulness.

We have witnessed how in Middle Eastern countries like Libya, a whole society has been radicalised by sudden changes in the politics of the region. Changes in Libya came almost overnight to end Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.

We in Malaysia do not have to go through that kind of traumatic change. Fundamental changes in Malaysia can cure gradually without causing national trauma.

One of the ways we can be reborn under the same old democracy is to get rid of the ISA without proposing a replacement for it. We have faith in the good sense of the majority of Malaysians, and this seems to be a good time to be rid of the ISA and legislation like it forever.


  1. The other day, I was observing how a Bonzai lover tended to his lovely young plant. Besides pruning the leaves, he also used special copper wires to twirl, twist and bind various branches to bring out the best in its structure and form. According to him, the special copper wires have to remain bound to the bonzai tree for a time sufficient for the branches to take on the desired shape.

    Once the form is set on the tree, the copper wire will be removed and the plant will grow independently without any bindings. Its full splendour and stature will emerge when intermittent light pruncing of the leaves are done.

    The ISA is like the copper wires, which should be removed once the nation after 54 years of independence, and the people has gained sufficient level of maturity in governing its own affairs. Any further regressive and restrictive laws will impede the growth, uniqueness, dynamism, and maturity of its people.

    Therefore, any laws after the ISA should not be restrictive and suffocate the aspirations of the people to express themselves fairly and justly in the fully democratic society. The people are knowledgable and matured enough to face challenges. Perhaps, the government of the day is bound in its mindset and cannot let go of the past. A paradigm shift urgently needed.

    All Malaysians would want to live and stand tall in a progressive, harmonious, and tolerant country which is well respected by other nations of the world.

    Hence, let us hope tthat the pruning will be intermittent and light.

    Comment by Li Li Fa — September 26, 2011 @ 7:45 PM | Reply

  2. Just to remind you guys again, the Communist regimes are still active.

    Comment by PIO — September 26, 2011 @ 5:27 PM | Reply

  3. Well, SKY sorry to say this but I disagreed with your idea this time. Don’t just look at the surface. Go deeper. Who knows, there you might find the communist regimes are still active on through its close representatives and inherited legacy in our country. Who knows!

    Comment by PIO — September 26, 2011 @ 5:11 PM | Reply

  4. Old wine in new bottle.

    Comment by Smurfy — September 26, 2011 @ 3:38 PM | Reply

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