(Updated 5:11pm, 4 April 2009)
TAIPING, 4 April 2009: Pakatan Rakyat leaders in Bukit Gantang are calling the release of 13 Internal Security Act detainees a political ploy, and say it will not swing votes away from the PAS candidate.
PAS national elections director Datuk Mustaffa Ali said voters would know that the release, promised by new prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday, was a political tactic to coincide with his swearing-in to office.
“It is meant to create a feel-good factor for Najib as the incoming prime minister. I am also not surprised that he says he wants to review the ISA. But it won’t affect the votes. People understand there is an agenda to get political mileage,” Mustaffa said today at a press conference at the Bukit Gantang PAS headquarters in Changkat Jering.
He said the releases would have little impact on the Malay Malaysian vote in Bukit Gantang. “The BN is only slightly ahead of us. We are catching up fast.”
Najib announced the release of 13 detainees in his maiden speech after being sworn in as prime minister yesterday. Those to be released include V Ganabatirau and R Kenghadharan, two of five Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders arrested in December 2007.
DAP Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara, Tony Pua, who was campaigning in Bukit Gantang, said that the detainees’ release would not sway voters much. This is because it appeared that most people had already made up their minds as the Perak constitutional crisis had dragged on for two months.
“There might only be a marginal swing in votes. But from what I see, people have been inundated with political ceramah for the last two months since the BN took over the state government. This is not a seven-day by-election, this has stretched over two months and people have already decided,” Pua said when met outside the Kamunting Detention Centre near Taiping.
Futile wait for detainees’ release
Journalists had gathered outside the detention camp as early as 7am in anticipation of the detainees’ release. Pua and DAP Teratai assemblyperson Jenice Lee were among a group of DAP members who also waiting outside the detention camp. Also present were family members of several of the detainees who were freed.
Among them was B Buvaneswary, who is the wife of V Ganabatirau, one of the freed Hindraf leaders.
She arrived there with her two daughters, Janani, aged 4 and Gowry, 18 months, and told reporters that the family had been told to turn up today.
Buvaneswary and her children (Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)
“The normal day for visitors is Sunday, but we were told to come today. We live in Shah Alam and it is not so easy for us to make the trip here. I hope he will be released today,” said Buvaneswary.
However, those waiting were later informed that the detainees would only be released tomorrow.
Pua said it was not surprising that Najib had decided to release some detainees, as this was the trend with incoming premiers.
“He has to show something, but more importantly he needs to take concrete steps to review and abolish the ISA after this and not make any reversals. National security laws can come in other forms, like a Terrorist Act, but must not be based on detention without trial,” Pua said.
Last night, in an immediate reaction to Najib’s announcement, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang also said he did not think releasing the detainees would help the BN gain votes.
“Only two out of five Hindraf leaders were freed, [when] all should be released,” he said when met at a ceramah at Simpang. But he still welcomed the decision and said Najib should follow-up with more meaningful reforms.
Reversal of suspension order
On the lifting of suspensions of Harakah and Suara Keadilan, Mustaffa today said the reversal of the announcement made just two weeks ago showed that the government did not know what it was doing.
“With the reversal, they admit their mistake. It shows that they did not think it through,” he said.
The permits of PAS’s and Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s party organs were suspended for three months on 23 March. The Home Ministry’s reason was that both papers had published sensational news and articles that were defamatory, and which questioned the royalty.
Mustaffa also said the BN was showing signs of desperation by bringing former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to campaign in the constituency. The ex-premier is scheduled to give a speech here on the morning of 6 April.