A National Security Bill, which will come into force on Monday, will give powers to a council, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak heads that are similar to the ones that were used by the late president Suharto of Indonesia and the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
It is said that Mr Najib is determined to gain sweeping dictatorial powers as part of a desperate move to hold on to power while he is wrapped in the country’s largest corruption scandal, the 1MDB.
This bill of a new National Security Council Act will allow the government to declare areas including the whole of the country, as a security area, in which he and the authorities could deploy forces to search any individual, vehicle or premise without a warrant, and conduct arrests.
It also allows investigators to dispense with formal inquiries into killings by the police or armed forces.
This new law effectively gives Mr Najib authority to impose powers at any time that would normally only be exercised in a general emergency.
Najib’s ruling coalition promoted the law as a means to counter threats to security, in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, which has long dealt with a fringe element of radical Islamists.
Mr Najib has defended the new powers, saying other countries had followed Malaysia’s lead in combating terrorism.
“We were criticised by some quarters for passing some of these laws, but my government will never apologise for placing the safety and security of the Malaysian people first,” he said.
Malaysian police claimed on July 4 that Islamic State was responsible for a grenade attack on a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur.
But critics say the law’s expansive powers threaten human rights and democracy in the emerging nation and could next be used to silence critics of the One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund scandal.
The new law has sparked a firestorm of criticism from opposition MPs, lawyers, non-government organisations and human rights groups.
“The law will take us only to one path, and that is the path to dictatorship,” said Azmin Ali, an opposition leader.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said the concern among the civil society and others was because the law could be used “against anything the government is unhappy with”.
“The law would concentrate “enormous” executive and emergency powers in the national security council and prime minister, and usurp the authority of Malaysia’s king,” the country’s three law associations said.
Human Rights Watch described it as a “frightening” tool for repression, adding to other abusive laws already being used by Mr Najib and his government to silence critics.
“Now we know what the path to Malaysian dictatorship looks like,” the New York-based organisation said.
The introduction of the law into parliament last December was a shock about-turn by Mr Najib, who had announced in 2011 his government would repeal the Internal Security Act, a draconian law used to detain dissidents without trial.
But now Mr Najib introduced the new law, which has surpassed the Internal Security Act in catapulting Malaysia back to an authoritarian era not seen in the country since the days of British colonial rule.
Malaysia’s opposition coalition is planning an anti-Najib rally on 30 July, Pro-democracy Group Bersih, whose street protests last year drew a 200,000-strong crowd, is also planning a separate rally, but has not set a date.
While rallies can still be organised under the Peaceful Assembly Act, the NSC can declare any area – a building, a street or a city – a “security area”, where protests would be disallowed.
Mr Najib will obtain this powers two days after Malaysia’s opposition coalition is due to hold an anti-Najib rally expected to be attended by tens of thousands of protesters.
Mr Najib’s supporters have pledged to hold a counter-rally, threatening a scene for possible conflict.
Khalid Abu Bakar, inspector-general of police, said on Monday he would shut down rallies that demand Najib step down from power.
“Red Shirt” supporters from Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organisation have vowed to hold a counter-rally. They did so last September and it turned rowdy when participants breached security barricades and clashed with riot police.
“I think the government are getting nervous about 1MDB and the reaction of the people,” said civil rights activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan, adding that the public was also “very nervous” about the new security law.
Meanwhile, Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is suing the current premier Najib Razak for corruption and misfeasance in public office, according to a statement from his law firm.
Mahathir, 90, who served for more than two decades, has led the charge against his former protégé who has faced corruption allegations that are linked to the debt-laden state fund 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
Mahathir and two of his allies, former members of the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) party that Najib now heads, are seeking a high court order for the country’s leader to pay millions of pounds in damages.
In separate news, Sarawak Report released an appendix, marked “For Internal Use Only” which lays out in detailed figures how Mr Najib plans for over US$7 billion in accumulated 1MDB/Jho Low company debts to be wiped out by taxpayers in a secret deal between his Ministry of Finance and the Chinese state company CCCC (China Communications Construction Company).
SR reports that the PM’s plan is to get the Malaysian Government to agree to inflate the actual cost of the East Coast Rail Project from only RM30 billion to RM60 billion, all to be borrowed from the Chinese Government, in order to disguise the payment of 1MDB’s (and Jho Low’s) company debts.