Malaysia passed a new security law Thursday that could help the government quash protests as Prime Minister Najib Razak parries corruption allegations. In August, tens of thousands of people rallied against Najib, calling on him to step down in connection with 2.6 billion ringgit ($610 million) found in his bank accounts. Critics may try to hold protests when the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) holds its annual conference next week.
The bill was introduced Tuesday and passed late Thursday, the last day before parliament goes on break, the Wall Street Journal reported. It allows the government to create security zones where curfews and warrantless arrests are authorized.
“It allows the kind of power which is normally associated with martial law,” Rafizi Ramli, secretary-general of the People’s Justice Party said.
The law is “quite clearly a tool for repression,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
Earlier Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi made a short statement about the scandal to parliament, reiterating Najib's claim that the funds were a politicial donation from an unidentified Middle East supporter. Critics allege he took the funds from state-controlled 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a fund set up to help make Malaysia a financial hub. Najib chairs the fund's advisory board.
There had been reports Najib himself would give a statement to the country's anti-graft agency on Thursday. Instead, Channel News Asia reported that anti-graft officials went to Najib's office and confirmed a date for when the prime minister would answer questions. The report didn't say when, but Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali asked the agency to complete its investigation by the year's end.
The controversy started with a Wall Street Journal report in July that touched on some of these issues. Former Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad has joined the call for Najib to step down, while the country's nine sultans have called for a credible investigation.