KUALA LUMPUR, 22 June 2009: History was almost made when a government motion on the DNA Identification Bill was one vote short of being defeated in Parliament today.
A provisional amendment to Sections 2 and 3 of the Bill, proposed by the government, was passed by a sliver-thin one-vote majority. Forty-eight Members of Parliament (MPs) voted for the amendment, while 47 MPs voted against it.
Deputy Speaker Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that he had never seen a vote come so close before.
“Since I was an MP in the 1990s, this is the first time a vote is so narrow,” Wan Junaidi, who is also former MP for Santubong, told the press.
The Dewan Rakyat consists of 222 seats. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition holds 137 of these seats, while the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition holds 82, including the Sungai Siput seat which was won by Parti Sosialis Malaysia‘s candidate. There are also two MPs from SAPP which left the BN and are not aligned to the PR, and one independent.
“They (the BN) were lucky to get it through,” PKR vice-president and Subang Jaya MP R Sivarasa said.
“Forty seven of our 82 MPs were sitting there and debating, while only 48 of their 137 were present. This shows the different approaches between the government and the Opposition,” Sivarasa added.
Sivarasa explained that the amendment concerned the removal of Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees from the list of candidates defined as “detainee” for the purpose of the Bill. Also in question in the amendment was the description of saliva as a “non-intimate sample”.
“We objected to this amendment, because the definition of ‘detainee’ is still very broad,” Sivarasa said.
He pointed out that anyone detained in a drug rehabilitation centre, or under the Emergency Ordinances (EO), could be considered a “detainee” under the Bill.
“When you counterfeit money, or you organise an illegal assembly, you may be arrested under the EO. These are non-violent crimes, when DNA evidence is not relevant,” Sivarasa explained.
Sivarasa, a laywer, stressed that the Bill should restrict its definition of “detainee” to “those suspected of violent crimes”. He also described the DNA Identification Bill, in its totality, as “a weak piece of legislation”.
The DNA Identification Bill was tabled for a second reading in the August 2008 session of parliament. The Bill, which has been criticised by civil society and Opposition political parties, is now at the committee stage.
The passing of the DNA Identification Bill is also said to be crucial to Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy case, since it may legitimise old samples, from Anwar’s previous trial in 1998, to be used in the upcoming trial.