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FAR-REACHING: With its host of reforms, the nation is set for deeper democracy and greater openness
THE late Reginald Hugh Hickling had worn many hats during his lifetime. He was a British lawyer, civil servant, law academic and author of the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) of colonial Malaya.
Hickling served from 1941 to 1946 in the British Royal Navy during World War 2, and later joined the colonial legal service. In 1955, Hickling was posted to Malaya, where he was involved in the drafting of the Constitution. He also served as commissioner of law revision and in 1960, wrote the tough security law that provided for indefinite detentions without trial.
In an interview with the New Straits Times in 1989, Hickling said it was not for him to say if the ISA should be scrapped.
"As a lawyer, I'm all for its review but on whether it should be scrapped, I don't know. You've got a multiracial society (in Malaysia), in which emotions can run high quickly."
He died in 2007.
Malaysia will usher in a new era when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tables tomorrow the second reading of the bill replacing the ISA, the latest and the most significant yet of a slew of political transformation initiatives that is fast taking shape.
Najib has conceded that it was tough for the government to give up powers to detain suspects without trial but did so in line with the people's expectations.
He also said the ISA, introduced in 1960 to counter communist insurgency and which had worked well, had outlived its usefulness.
The ISA replacement bill will, among others, remove the home minister's powers to detain a suspect without trial, shorten the investigation period, allow for full judicial oversight and guarantee that no one can be detained because of his or her political beliefs and activities.
With a host of other outdated legislation being repealed, rescinded, updated or amended during the current and previous Dewan Rakyat sittings, the nation is set for deeper democratic reforms, greater openness and higher political maturity.
With other reforms to the electoral process, campus politics and media censorship on the cards, the nation is embracing the most sweeping and far-reaching political transformation in 55 years.
It is a defining moment for us, a history in the making, and I believe the momentum is set to gather pace in the coming years. The prime minister highlighted that point in his address at the installation of Sultan of Kedah Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah as the new Yang di-Pertuan Agong last Wednesday.
"We are now ready to enter a new era where the function of government is no longer seen as limiting an individual's freedom but, instead, ensuring that an individual's basic rights are protected under the Constitution."
Of all the existing laws, the ISA had arguably been the most controversial because critics argued that the government had used the law to silence political opponents instead of just going after terrorism suspects.
I am sure none of the ISA detainees now in the Kamunting camp are being held because of their political beliefs. In fact, one of the gestures that Najib made when he became prime minister in April 2009 was to release 13 ISA detainees who had been held for nearly two years. He even insisted that those remaining would not be held even a day longer if they no longer posed a threat to national security.
Last year, he announced the release of 125 people held under the Restricted Residence Act 1933 and the cancellation of more than 200 warrants yet to be served.
The opposition had obviously been trying to claim credit for the repeal of the ISA and other related laws, saying that the government had acted on pressure from the opposition and human rights groups. The government has countered that no one has pressured it to do so.
The era of greater political maturity should be embraced by all, including opposition leaders. Some of them have not really grown up, judging by a report in a Malay daily during the installation of the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong last week.
Some had reportedly "ridiculed and mocked" Malay rulers who walked past them in the throne hall, Utusan Malaysia reported.
One Malay opposition leader even refused to wear songkok to the function and rise when the rulers walked in. For some, things have not changed.