My late father used to say that Malaysia is technically still in a state of emergency, since the emergency rule that was imposed in the aftermath of 13 May 1969 was never properly rescinded. People just conveniently forgot about it and carried on business as usual. Just two weeks ago, Thierry Rommel, the outgoing EU envoy to Malaysia, echoed similar sentiments.
Now that I think about it, my dad's comment does make sense. I mean, the way the politicians and police behave often leads me to think that we are still living in some quasi-emergency state where a violent explosion of civil unrest or rebellion could happen any moment. This also explains why the present politicians would rather go down in the elections than revoke emergency laws such as the Internal Security Act 1960 which is a rehashed leftover of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 enacted by the British to lock up Communists. The Ordinance was repealed in 1960 at the end of the Emergency, but the newly-independent Malaysian government nicely enacted the ISA as the successor to the Ordinance. Brilliant. Perhaps it was a necessary evil back then. But fast-forward 50 years... is it still necessary? Are we hoping to lock up terrorists? Or Opposition politicians?
The oppressive laws in Malaysia were crafted for emergency conditions. The laws were meant to fight Communists in 1948 or xenophobiacs in 1969, not peaceful demonstrators in 2007. If you thought Old Town Kopitiam was old-fashioned, you should check out the laws of Malaysia. That's retro for you, dude.
The ISA's cousin, the Emergency Ordinance (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) 1969 (notice the word "emergency" again), was enacted to subdue suspected racist instigators by detaining them without trial at detention centres like Simpang Renggam or to banish them to "remote" places like Gua Musang or maybe Cameron Highlands. Once banished, the poor suspects would be totally cut off from the rest of the world since there was only one road into town, and the fella had to report to the police station twice a day, and there were only a few fixed line telephones here and there. Anyone banished would be rendered powerless through mere physical isolation. Today the police still use the same outdated law to banish criminal suspects, but guess what, with modern telecommunications and highways the fella could still be directing his criminal empire from a "remote" location 500km away! You could be banished to Gua Musang, and report to the police station in the morning, drive to KL for a meeting, and still make it back to report again in the evening. What we need now are tough laws that hit where it hurts. We need anti-money laundering laws. We need laws to freeze and confiscate all assets of convicted criminals. Yea, but first we need a clean police force to prosecute and get them convicted. That's more difficult than simply banishing bad guys and hoping that out-of-sight means out-of-mind.
In this information era, many countries are enacting laws enabling Freedom of Information, but Malaysia still holds on to the Official Secrets Act 1972 for dear life. Whose life, I wonder? It only makes life more difficult for people such as researchers and journalists, who need to obtain information for legitimate purposes, but hardly stops government officials from leaking so-called confidential documents, because, like it or not, there are many government staff who are frustrated with their own political "masters" but cannot openly voice out their grievances.
The politicians want a new generation of students who can think critically, create innovatively and learn independently. But the politicians also want to keep the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 which prohibits students from getting involved in political activities, among other things. I'm like, duuuh?! There's a thing called opportunity cost. You can't have your cake and eat it. Or, maybe those politicking fellas are dreaming of having their cake but eating someone else's. Creative economics. Deserves another honorary PhD.
Malaysia is shackled and bogged down by so many antiquated, anachronistic, outdated laws. I wonder how we can really progress. It is one thing to build skyscrapers; it is another thing to develop minds. No prizes for guessing which one Malaysia excels in.
My daddy said some others things too while he was still around. Perhaps I should have listened more back then, but I was too stubborn. Haha. :)