Two years ago, our prime minister openly vowed that the Sedition Act 1948 would be repealed and be replaced by a National Harmony Act. In London last year, he renewed his pledge to abrogate the Sedition Act.
To the surprise of many (including MIC’s deputy chief), Najib Abdul Razak decided that it mattered more to please his fellow party members and regain their support, than to be a man of his word and honour his promise.
In Umno’s recently concluded annual general meeting, Najib announced that the Sedition Act 1948 is here to stay and will receive further strengthening (as if the Act is not oppressive enough at the moment).
We now know that maintaining the Sedition Act is what Umno, its members and several other BN component parties want. But more importantly, is it what the electorate wants? The only reason the government is in power is because of the mandate given by the people. Never forget that political sovereignty lies with the electorate!
So how do we know what the people want? One of the more effective ways would be by engaging in some form of direct democracy. It is not something new and has proven to be a good barometer of the public's opinion
Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) wanted Scotland to exit the United Kingdom and go solo despite being a part of Great Britain since 1707. As SNP advocates Scottish independence, it is safe to assume that all of Salmond’s party members would have wanted the same for Scotland.
The question is, did Alex Salmond and the SNP decide amongst themselves whether to leave the union on behalf of the people of Scotland, just because they were democratically elected? No!
What happened is that Alex Salmond and co got the UK government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, to allow Scotland to conduct a referendum regarding its future in the UK (see the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement ).
The decision to leave the United Kingdom would have had grave repercussions, thus it was only logical that the people should be consulted. What better way to obtain the public’s views than through a referendum?
The Scottish Parliament then passed the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 and the Scottish Independence Referedum (Franchise) Act 2013 in order for the referendum to take place
The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum showed the entire world that the majority (55.3 percent) of people who voted wanted Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. Why can’t we have a referendum regarding the preservation/repeal of the 1948 Sedition Act?
Seeing the bigger picture
Some of you may be wondering, “but going independent is not the same as maintaining the Sedition Act!” That’s true to a certain extent. However, once you see the bigger picture, you'll see that both have the ability to impact the lives of the people.
It has been established that it may be seditious to give a legal opinion (see Karpal Singh’s case), or to state the law as it is (see Azmi Sharom’s case), or to ‘like’ a Facebook page of your choice (see case of Form Five student). Still disagree with me?
Furthermore, less than a month ago, the state of Massachusetts conducted a referendum regarding the abolition of the Massachusetts 2011 casino gambling law. The result: 60 percent of voters agreed to preserve the statute, and the legislation remains valid till today. If a state in the United States can do so, why can't we learn from their example?
After all, some who voted for Barisan Nasional may be against the Sedition Act because of its possible misuse due the absence of requisite to prove the accused’s intention (contrary to criminal law principles).
Perhaps many who voted for Pakatan Rakyat are against the Sedition Act because of the wide definition of ‘seditious tendency’ which leaves it open to potential abuse.
Moreover, fence sitters could be sick and tired of the Sedition Act appearing to be a tool for the government to silence dissent and opposition leaders. There are so many uncertainties which can be resolved by a simple referendum!
Anyhow, by virtue of going back on his promise, Najib has created a very dangerous precedent in which the very promises/pledges that come out of his mouth are subject to sudden change. The only silver lining is that his flip-flop attitude may lead him to someday make a U-turn regarding his decision to preserve the Act!
JOSHUA WU is a first year law student who blogs at www.rebuttedopinions.wordpress.com