Pakatan MPs defend absenteeism in Parliament after anti-terror law passed unchanged

Datuk Mahfuz Omar speaking during press conference at the PAS HQ in Kuala Lumpur, February 23, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Mahfuz Omar speaking during press conference at the PAS HQ in Kuala Lumpur, February 23, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — On the defensive after the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Bill was passed unchanged today, opposition lawmakers blamed the Home Ministry for what they claimed to be undue haste in pushing through the new law that revives preventive detention.

The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs said their 26 colleagues who were missing during the debate of the bill in the Dewan Rakyat last night had “legitimate” reasons for skipping out, adding that there was no prior instruction for all opposition lawmakers to be present.

“When tabling laws like this, they should give more time as the Act is not a small issue,” PAS Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told Malay Mail Online, referring to the Home Ministry.

“Don’t make it normal practice to drag proceedings until 2am,” he added when met at the Parliament lobby.

PAS chief whip Datuk Mahfuz Omar, who was himself absent last night, claimed that he had no idea there would be block voting on the anti-terror law.

“I had a planned engagement in Kedah.There was no instruction for us to be present.

“I did not know there would be block voting,” he told Malay Mail Online.

PKR chief whip Datuk Johari Abdul played down the absence of PR MPs, saying that “most” of the them were present.

“Most of them were, only a few were not here and we had concrete reasons,” Johari, who was also absent said.

But DAP Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua asserted that most of his party’s were present, and that federal lawmakers were aware that the Pota would be deliberated yesterday.

“We were here. Of course there would be block voting, the point is to be prepared for that,” he told Malay Mail Online.

The Pota was passed without amendment at the Dewan Rakyat at about 2.25am this morning after a debate of more than 12 hours.

The bill was passed after the ninth block voting, with the final voting favouring the government when 79 MPs from Barisan Nasional (BN) agreeing on the bill while 60 MP from PR disagreed.

Tabled in Parliament last Monday, Putrajaya’s proposed new law will allow authorities to detain suspected terrorists without bringing them to court for up to two years, with a Prevention of Terrorism Board (POTB) empowered to renew the detention order for an indeterminate amount of time.

Judicial reviews of such sentences are not permitted, according to the Bill, except for questions on its compliance with procedural matters.

Opposition lawmakers have claimed such provisions mirror that of the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 which was often used to silence political opposition to the establishment.

They also argued that the government already have strong existing laws like the Special Security Offences (Special Measures) Act to deal with terrorism, noting that it allows for long detention for investigation.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi did not address the question but argued that existing laws were not equipped with preventive powers, which is required to deal specifically with terrorism.