09/16/2011, 00.00
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Malaysian PM to repeal emergency legislation from the 1960s

Current laws allow for indefinite preventive incarceration. PM also promises to ease restrictions on media and public assembly. Elections are set for 2012 and the premier has seen his public approval rate drop by 13 per cent in less than a year.
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance would be scraped. The two laws have maintained the country under a permanent state of emergency that give the government the power to detain people indefinitely.

“The abolition of the ISA, and the other historic changes, underline my commitment to making Malaysia a modern, progressive democracy,” Najib said on television.

The decision comes two months after street protests led to the arrest of more than 1,600 people and a 13 percentage point drop in his public approval from last year, 6 per cent just between May and August this year.

Concern over rising living costs have also undercut his popularity, ahead of an election that will likely be held in the first half of next year.

“It’s a big step forward and will probably boost his standing,” said Singapore-based economist Chua Hak Bin. “Generally there is a clamour for greater openness in terms of the media” and “checks on the government.”

The authorities also plan to ease restrictions on media licenses and public assembly, Najib said.

The Internal Security Act was introduced in 1960 in the wake of an armed insurgency by Communist rebels, giving the police wide-ranging powers to detain suspects indefinitely.

It will be replaced by a law that incorporates more judicial oversight and limits police powers to detain people for preventive reasons, the premier explained.

In the past, opposition leaders have been held under the ISA and 37 people are currently detained under the law.

Najib’s pledges are a “positive development that opens up space for freedom of speech, rule of law and transparency,” said Ibrahim Suffian, a political analyst at Merdeka Center, an opinion research firm.

Najib did not revisit earlier promises to roll back policies favouring the ethnic-Malay majority.

The World Bank said in a report earlier this year the ethnic preferences have stifled economic growth and limited foreign investment, with more than one million Malaysians living abroad, led by ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

The Malaysian measures, implemented in 1971 following race riots, have provided ethnic Malays with cheaper housing as well as priority for university places, government contracts and shares of publicly traded companies.
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