Need for new law to deal with 3R-related provocations - Expert

28 Jul 2023 08:38am
It was reported that the Cabinet has agreed in principle to review the Sedition Act 1948 to ensure the law is only used to protect the royalty from any provocation. - FILE PIX by Bernama
It was reported that the Cabinet has agreed in principle to review the Sedition Act 1948 to ensure the law is only used to protect the royalty from any provocation. - FILE PIX by Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR - The 14-day official campaign period for the six state elections will kick off as soon as the nomination process is over tomorrow.

Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu are creating history by holding state elections simultaneously and electing their new assemblymen not during a general election.

This time, the run-up to polling day on Aug 12 is expected to be an even more heated affair as political parties and coalitions vie for voters’ attention.

Political analysts interviewed by Bernama reckon that issues involving the three "Rs” (religion, race and royal institution) will continue to be the staple fodder of parties and candidates in both their social media and face-to-face campaigning.

Many of them appear to have a liking for 3R topics that can be used as easy bait to get people to notice them and, hopefully, vote for them despite knowing their actions can land them in serious trouble with the authorities.

Associate Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a sociopolitical analyst at Universiti Malaya, expects 3R issues to continue to be played up during the campaign period, saying it could be done intentionally or otherwise considering that such issues are "close to the people, especially the Malays”.

He sees a need for every party contesting in the elections to issue guidelines for their candidates and leaders to adhere to while campaigning so that they are more cautious when touching on matters deemed sensitive.

"They can raise 3R issues but there are limits... they can’t touch on sensitive matters such as those involving race, religion and royalty. This is why parties must issue guidelines.

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"This time the (federal) government is dealing with 3R issues very firmly as some leaders have been charged. It (government) has to be strict as the nation’s harmony is at stake,” he said.

The federal government’s determination to address 3R issues was reflected by Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil earlier this month when he stressed the need to create a special unit to handle any provocative statement linked to religion, race or royalty in the run-up to the state elections.

On Tuesday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman was quoted as saying the Cabinet has agreed in principle to review the Sedition Act 1948 to ensure the law is only used to protect the royalty from any provocation.

Special law needed

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science programme senior lecturer Dr Jamaie Hamil, meanwhile, said the time has come to draft a special law to deal with 3R-related provocations.

He said special legislation is necessary because existing laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, Official Secrets Act 1972 and Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 are not equipped to handle 3R issues due to the absence of a clear definition of 3R issues that are considered provocative.

"The existing Acts can be used to enforce punishment for offences committed in connection with 3R issues, but such efforts can be time-consuming and may involve lengthy debates in the court because of the unclear definition... in fact, the possibility of conflicts arising is also there,” he said.

This, he added, can be overcome by drafting a new law that not only provides a clear and comprehensive definition of the issues deemed as touching 3R sensitivities but also sets out appropriate penalties for offences committed under the proposed Act.

The implementation of such a law, he stressed, is not to suppress the people’s right to free speech but to safeguard the nation’s harmony, particularly during election campaigns.

Jamaie also sees a possibility of the term ‘democracy’ being misused if no clear controls and boundaries are created in the context of the 3Rs.

"If there are no controls or boundaries in democracy, the term ‘democracy’ itself can be misused by those who are dissatisfied over their defeat in an election or contest.

"For example, they can use social media platforms to play up 3R issues when they are unhappy with the decision of the majority that is not on their side,” he said.

Not necessary

National journalism laureate Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar, however, does not see a need for a new law to be enacted, saying that existing laws like the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 are sufficient to tackle 3R-related provocations.

Concerned that a new law might lead to overlapping jurisdiction, he said if this comes about, the burden will ultimately be on the media.

Johan said the current government must accept the fact that the media is the "eyes, ears and mouth” of the people in conveying their grievances to the authorities.

Commenting on the need to set up a special unit to deal with 3R-related provocations, security and political analyst at Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Centre for Media and Information Warfare Studies Dr Noor Nirwandy Mat Noordin said the move is appropriate and in line with the principles of the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara.

He said political leaders must lead by example by steering clear of sensitive issues and urged them to stick to the oath they had taken when they were sworn in as an elected representative.

"Hence, these leaders should not tolerate any party that touches on 3R issues,” he added. - BERNAMA