Although many have argued that the ISA has outlived its purpose and should thus be abolished in its entirety, it is my view that the ISA should not be abolished. Instead, it should be cautiously reviewed without undermining the importance of national security.
The ISA is still a necessary tool to curb extremism, terrorism and other threats to national security. What should be done is to review the ISA to ensure that its implementation and enforcement are in tandem with current development, and not in conflict with the liberalisation process which is taking shape within our country. In short, a balance must be struck between the need to protect and preserve human rights and the need to ensure that national security is not compromised. This exercise, however, is easier said than done. That is why the ISA must be reviewed cautiously.
In my opinion, the review should focus on the due process of law right from the moment a person is detained under the ISA. The right to legal representation, for example, should not be denied arbitrarily. The detainee should be given the right to legal counsel from the beginning of his [or her] detention, unless there is a cogent and compelling reason in not allowing him [or her] the right to legal access and representation.
The period of initial detention by the police should also be made shorter and subject to judicial review, which will mean the home minister’s power (as the minister in charge of the ISA) will also be subject to the due process of law.
These are, of course, just examples of making the whole process more transparent and open, to correct the misconception of political interference or undue executive interference in the ISA’s usage and implementation.
Currently, the prevailing perception is that detention under the ISA is politically motivated. With respect, I disagree. It should be pointed out that even within the existing framework, the home minister acts on the advice of the police and the ministry’s legal adviser. Based on the facts and advice presented to him [or her], he [or she] will make [a] decision. The home minister does not make decisions at his [or her] own whim and fancy under the ISA. There are procedures to be followed, and they must be complied with.
No one is above the law. But there is this new feeling, somehow, that politicians are above the law. If politicians act in a way that is considered a threat to national security, they are equally subjected to the same law.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
In terms of the constitutional framework, we have two parallel systems governing Muslims and non-Muslims. However, Islamic law is only applicable to Muslims in respect of personal laws affecting, for example, marriage, and the distribution of assets after death. In this context, Malaysia is not a theocratic state governed purely under syariah law, except in specific matters affecting Muslims.
It must be pointed out that Muslims are also subject to the country’s civil and criminal laws. It is not a typical secular state either, as understood by the West, as the Federal Constitution guarantees Islam’s position as the official religion.
Personally, I would describe Malaysia as an Islamic country, not in the theocratic sense, but from the constitutional and historical point of view. [This is because] the majority of the population are Muslims, and in the Federal Constitution, Islam is the official religion.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
As an elected representative, you must first represent the interest of your constituency, and in the wider context, the whole electorate. As members of the legislature, elected representatives must look at their roles holistically. We are responsible for making laws for the whole nation, and thus are obliged to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that they must be just, fair and for the betterment of the nation as a whole.
In order to be an effective MP in representing the people’s interests, we must strive to improve the facilities and infrastructure provided to MPs. We should, for example, consider employing staffers like in the UK and the US to assist the MPs in discharging their duties effectively. This will allow us to have quality debates and discussions.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
I do not think there is an obstacle or hindrance to information. What people want now is to have access to more information.
Personally, I have no objection to a Freedom of Information Act, but we must know and study carefully the subject matters that are intended to be included in this proposed act. There should be balance between the state’s right to maintain confidentiality and security, and citizens’ right to information.
However, I agree that we do need more transparency and accountability in some areas, especially when dealing with matters of public interest within the government or its agencies. This is a developmental process in a participative democracy all over the world. But whatever we want to do, we must view it from our own country’s perspective.
Malaysia’s democratic processes and institutions have evolved. I can say today there appears to be more freedom than before. Notwithstanding that, one cannot simply import an alien culture of democracy into our country. Democracy is unique and has to be nurtured based on our customs and traditions.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
Parliamentary democracy is a system of representative government in which the dominant party in the legislature forms a government. This party system within the concept of parliamentary democracy is common all over the world. Admittedly, sometimes, this party system becomes a hindrance or obstacle for an MP to really speak his or her mind as he or she is subjected to party ruling and discipline. It is quite a universal practice as well as a problem when you have a party system.
Personally, I am of the view that MPs should be allowed, without affecting or compromising their party loyalty, to speak their mind in a constructive manner. I would like to see a more liberal attitude for MPs to speak their minds freely, especially on matters of public interest. MPs should not be too partisan in all cases. They should speak objectively and constructively for the country’s good and well-being, rather than to score points and make political gains or mileage. By doing this, the executive can respond more positively.
Just because you are a member of the opposition, you must not oppose for the sake of opposing. I would like to see less politicisation when it comes to matters of public interest.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the executive, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
Our system is based on the UK’s Westminster model. In any parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, as practised in Malaysia and the UK, the doctrine of separation of powers is sacrosanct, allowing checks and balances to function effectively.
However, due to the party system, where the executives are also MPs from the same party, there appears to be some obstacles to act freely in all cases. In short, there can be some grey [area] or a thin line of division between the two.
Judicial independence is of prime importance. It must not only be independent, but be seen as independent. Court decisions must be arrived at purely on the basis of law and judicial reasoning, and there must not be any interference or pressure from the executive, opposition or other quarters.
There have been incidents from time to time when the government or the executive has been accused of interfering with the separation of powers. This is a mere perception brought about by certain events which were manipulated by cunning politicians to gain political mileage. However, whether we like it or not, this has affected public confidence in the judiciary’s independence.
Be that as it may, the separation of powers must be maintained and preserved. While the executive must understand its role, the opposition too must curb their lust to politicise court cases for the sake of political gain. This will go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the judiciary as well as in the principle of separation of powers.