Should there have been a royal assent for National Security Council Act?
THE National Security Council Act is now law. What a surprise.
There has been a lot of noise being made because, despite the Conference of Rulers asking for some provisions of the National Security Council Bill to be refined, there were no changes and the Bill became law anyway. Many voices cried that the Rulers were side-stepped and not respected.
The Government said it did nothing wrong, and as odd as this may sound, it may be correct in saying so.
You see, in the past, the King had a veto on any laws made. He never used this veto power but it was there nonetheless. In the 1980s, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, this power was taken away via a constitutional amendment.
Anyway, nowadays after Parliament has passed a Bill, the King can only delay it for 30 days, after which it becomes law. The 30 days have passed and thus the National Security Council Act (NSCA) is law.
What about the Conference of Rulers, you asked. Well, they should have had nothing to do with the passing of this law in the first place.
The only laws that need their approval, according to the Constitution, are laws that affect religion, state boundaries, Malay and Sabah and Sarawak Native “special positions” and laws that affect the Rulers themselves.
The NSCA is ostensibly about national security, so it does not touch the matters I mentioned above. Unless, of course, the NSCA does affect the Rulers because it is akin to a law that empowers the Prime Minister to declare an emergency-like situation, a power that used to be in the hands of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
So I guess, indirectly, it does affect the Rulers because they all take turns being the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
If this is so, then the Act really does need the King’s approval before it can be made law. If this is not so, then why did the Government ask the Rulers for their opinion in the first place? Oh dear, now I am all confused.
Anyway, for now, this is the latest law to join our pantheon of laws and amid the noise about whether the Rulers are given due respect or not, it is forgotten that this is a terrible piece of legislation.
It empowers the Prime Minister (whoever he or she may be) to basically declare any part of the country or the entire country as a security area.
Within this area, the usual rules that protect our civil liberties are gone and the armed forces have tremendous powers.
In short, it would be like living under martial law.
The only check is Parliament. After six months of an area being declared a security area, Parliament may oppose it.
This is assuming Parliament is sitting and this is also assuming that the majority of MPs, including those in the ruling party, act according to their conscience.
The thought of an ice kacang trying not to melt in Hades pops into mind.
There are some who think that this new law is a sort of backup plan for a desperate government.
That is to say, in the event of a loss in a general election, instead of peacefully giving up power, a Prime Minister can declare the nation a security area and democracy can go flying out of the window.
I must admit that this theory held some attraction to me. However, looking at the last by-election results – where the number of people who care about promises of a bridge or a road and a few goodies, outnumbered those who care about good governance and justice; where constituencies are so heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party; where PAS can be seduced by promises of mass amputation; and where the only opposition we have is having to rebuild itself – I don’t see why there is a need to resort to any such measure.
Why should they, since enough Malaysians are already so easily wooed.
Azmi Sharom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.