Race Relations Act not a good idea

December 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm 6 comments

The Sedition Act dates back to 19 July 1948. It was amended (expanded and modified) in 1969 after May 13.

Generally the public is aware that the act preempts people from talking bad about the government – I’m giving a layman’s interpretation with this description albeit its actual phrasing is couched in legalese.

Section 3 of the act sets out what is a ‘seditious tendency’, among which 3(1)(e) also says “to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia”.

As you can see, the definition allows such a wide scope that it serves as a catch-all instrument and is open to abuse by the authorities to employ as a tool for putting away their critics and political opponents.

3(1)(f) makes it an offence to question provisions of the Federal Constitution that are protected. Most know that Article 153, i.e. the Malay ‘special position’ and Article 181, the sovereignty of the Raja-raja Melayu, are protected under the Sedition Act.

However not everyone knows that Article 152, i.e. Malay as our national language, is also made exempt from criticism.

During the recent national debate on PPSMI (the teaching and learning of Math and Science in English), there were a lot of dismissive comments heard from the English proponents about how useless Malay is with regard to its standing as a respected language.

Going by the act, the demeaning comments were possibly seditious.

But even if the anti-BM commentators were punished by the law – the penalty for a first-time offender is a jail term of not more than 3 years, a fine of not more than RM5,000, or both – it would not still not be able to compel those people to think any highly of Malay or encourage them to love our national language.

Hannah Yeoh tweets in English. So much for being the anointed saint of Malaysian First.

If she were to switch to BM, I daresay that 90 percent of her 38,120 Twitter followers would not be comfortable with the changed medium of her prolific messages (7,400 tweets thus far).

To their credit, deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong (MCA) and MP for Hulu Selangor P. Kamalanathan (MIC) tweet in bahasa.

Kamalanathan during the H.S'gor by-election campaign

Kamalanathan was vilified by the opposition supporters over the above photo which was carried extensively in the Internet.

Cium tangan is a beautiful custom to show respect to our elders.

Partly because the Kodak moment did not come off quite ‘right’ on film and partly because his critics, the non-Malays, are so alien to the culture, Kamalanathan’s good intentions were most unfortunately derailed.

Our country is so fractured along racial lines that even well-meaning gestures become cynical fodder among the so-called Anak Malaysia crowd.

A Race Relations Act (RRA) proposed by the government as one of the two laws to replace the ISA – the other piece of legislation on the cards is the Anti-Terrorism Act – may just make things worse instead of better.

The RRA bill is to be tabled in the next parliamentary session.

Opposition Parliamentarians were derelict in their duty by allowing the Peaceful Assembly Act to be passed. (Read, Bagaimana kalau Perkasa nak demo nanti?) They should have raised public awareness much, much earlier so that those of us who oppose the bill could have made a louder outcry to try and block its passage.

In fact, my attention was only drawn to the inhibitive stipulations of the act by a critical letter to the editor written by someone who’s commented in this blog before.

The self-preoccupied Pakatan MPs failed to sound the alarm on the Peaceful Assembly Bill before it was heard in the Dewan.

Suaram director Kua Kia Soong has expressed his reservations on this next piece of new legislation in the pipeline, saying, “As with the recent Peaceful Assembly Bill, Malaysians should be prepared for some outrageous provisions in this proposed Race Relations Act”.

I share Dr Kua’s fears.

In practice, laws tend to favour the rich and those in power who can influence their execution and enforcement.

One example is Nor Azmi Mohd Amin, a jobless man who was jailed two years for stealing six boxes of shampoo worth RM107.40 at a supermarket. Compare with former Selangor Menteri Besar Mohd Khir Toyo who was given a 12-month sentence for the multi-million ringgit corruption involving the land on which his ‘Bali mansion’ was built.

Dr Kua predicts that the RRA “will end up letting off the far right fascists and making dissidents the usual quarry”. I think so too.

His commentary today can be read in full here.

Doubtless ethnic relations are bad but using the law as a big stick to ostensibly curb hate crime will not succeed in regulating Malaysians to like each other any better or treat each other with greater consideration.

As a voter, I want my MP to concentrate on helping trim our access of laws — a suffocating pile that we’re buried under. Some of them are outdated, archaic laws that oppress. In fact, any future law should have a sunset clause and be subject to periodic review.

The less laws we have the better.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. salhas  |  January 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I think the govt. had been ill-advised in repealing the ISA which, as a consequence, they have to plug the void by a number of other new legislation. Even RPK, in today’s Mingguan Malaysia, contends that it’s not the ISA, but its abuse, that is objectionable.

    I, too, think there’s far too many laws in the country which gives the impression that we’re a people not given to self-regulation. The KPI for the Minister of Justice ought rightly be the number of laws repealed.

    Reply
    • 2. Calvin Sankaran  |  January 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      Salhas I agree with you on ISA. The act has been abused but more importantly it has politicized to look like tyrannical. The US and the UK too have laws that allow preventive detention but we don’t see people taking the streets to protest. Most of the people arrested under ISA were not for political purposes though Pak Lah’s arrest of journalist was deplorable and ill-advised. Even Operasi Lallang was political but merely to cool down the raging racial emotions that were threatening to boil over.

      Reply
  • 3. Forsaken Machina  |  January 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    I’m not so sure yet of my stand on the RRA. But yes Helen it’s sad that the salam-cium-tangan custom to show respect to elders also got sickly politicised as ketuanan Melayu just because it’s being practiced transgressing the Malay race.

    My daughter since she was very young, now she’s 10 years old – has made it a custom to salam-cium-tangan her grandmother on every Chinese New Year’s morning; before accepting her red packet :) Even she understand the gesture better than those sick minds.

    Reply
  • 4. Darlyn Azlinda  |  January 3, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Salam cium tangan pun dipolitikkan? Many of my Malay friends and I salam cium tangan with our English teacher Mr. Tan, untuk mintak halalkan segala ilmu before UPSR dulu. My Indian friend pun sama. It’s a good example kan? Orang yang tak paham budaya Melayu memang takkan faham. Tapi ada hati nak mengutuk even diri sendiri pun tunggang langgang nak berbahasa ibunda negara. Malaysian First la katakan.

    Reply
  • 5. BenG  |  January 3, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I think it may be too soon to write off the RRA just yet (can chill till it comes out). Who knows it may just be the perfect act required for current issues at hand.

    The PPSMI issue is and will always be in a stalemate. The best is just do bilingual and please everyone involved. But should bilingual be established, then more professional teachers have to be trained in English (my teachers we’re not as clear in English as they are in BM). We do not have to bring in BM as a national language in this case as education is the most important aspect of society (if you wish to debate on this, like I said, it will be a stalemate with equally good points on both sides, and also your matter of perspective, whether you consider learning S and M is for the laypeople, or to train up young scientists).

    As for the PAB (currently PAA), the level of exposure and understanding of it varies significantly with the setting. Some rural folk do know about it via pro-gov media (NST and co), the semi-rural are more or less split (unless considering those with internet access). But the majority of the urban folk do know about the Act and understands its consequences. But can you say that the opp had not raise adequate awareness? Given the time span between the first reading and the passing of the Bill (a week, more or less) it is not easy to really spread the message across, particularly to rural folks (for online spreading it was fast and easy, but I’m afraid rural folks are left out). Also, considering the fact that there was adequate voice for our dear PM to “fix” the bill, I think it is reasonable to say that the public knew about it and acted accordingly to it. As for your personal experience, that is not up to me to comment on it.

    As for the opp MPs walking out during the voting, that is also up for debate whether it is unethical or sounding support.

    Laws are in reality to use fear to rule. We do not commit crime because it is against the law, because we will go to jail or get fined or etc. The fear of being fined or jail etc will result in us not commiting crime. However, The same can be said of a lion in a circus. The lion doesn’t attack humans for it know it will be whipped and it is that same fear which prevents it from commiting that act. The point is, to use fear to govern is the wrong way of doing things. We must understand the reason on why crime is committed in the first place. A good quote I heard : “Why beat the hand if it is caught stealing? Isn’t it the mind that steals? So why punish the hand when it is the mind which is behind it all?” But what alternative to punishment can we provide for criminals. It would be to rehabilitate the mind instead of punishing it (returning any stolen goods would help in this process too, especially the bali mansion ;p). However, it is clear that society now is not ready for this paradigm shift in thinking (and also we do not have those rehabilitation facilities). But to fully establish it, we have to start small. Take this RRA opportunity to start while keeping the rest of the laws. Slowly but surely things will change.

    Sorry to have gone off-topic there, but it is to agree with your final statement where the less laws we have the better.

    And that cium tangan incident. The ignorant commenters are themselves ignorant. Probably cause by extreme prejudice and biasness (you get my drift).

    Reply
  • 6. Calvin Sankaran  |  January 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I don’t think the RRA is the problem but the implementation should be carried out in a fair and just manner, irrespective of their political leanings.

    I do support the RRA mainly because it is a more progressive act compared to the archaic Sedition Act which has been repealed in most nations. So it is a step forward.

    I find PR’s knee-jerk reaction is puzzling (or expected). They had been demanding for a RRA and accused BN of not having the political will. Yet when BN introduces it, they oppose it citing some stupid comments.

    I usually dismiss Kua’s opinions as his judgments are often get clouded by his hatred for BN and UMNO. His comments too are absurd and lack merit. How could an Equality Act be of use if the RRA are used to stifle dissent ?

    We have seen how the cow-head protesters couldn’t be punished more firmly because there is no provision in the law says that parading a cowhead is an offence.

    There is no reason other than political for Kua to oppose this act. It is definitely a step in the right direction and a move forward. So why oppose ?

    That Equality Act by the UK which replaced RRA is a better choice is very misleading. The Equality Act covers a much larger scope including gender, LGBT,etc equality. The EA replaced RRA not because it is better but to harmonize the law. In fact the EA replaced 8 other acts.

    You get the feeling that in the eyes of these NGOs, BN can do nothing right. It is like the Peaceful Assembly Act. Instead of welcoming the act as a move forward, they oppose it saying Malaysia is worse than Myanmar. Well, it might not be what they wanted but they cannot try to kill the bill for political purposes.

    Reply

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