Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) -- A 44-year-old businessman was shot dead in Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state, raising concern over a surge in gun violence after Prime Minister Najib Razak scrapped a law used to tackle hard-core criminals.
Since July 26, there have been at least 10 public shooting incidents around the Southeast Asian nation, leaving five people dead including Hussain Ahmad Najadi, the 75-year-old founder of AMMB Holdings Bhd., Malaysia’s fifth-biggest lender, according to data compiled by police and published on an official Facebook page. In the Sabah incident, the businessman died in a drive-by shooting in Kota Kinabalu on Aug. 3, police said.
Najib abolished the Emergency Ordinance two years ago as part of a move to boost civil liberties. The law allowed suspects to be detained for as many as two years with a minister’s consent and had been introduced in 1969 following race riots. He also scrapped the Internal Security Act, which was introduced in 1960 to tackle a communist insurgency and gave police wide-ranging power to detain suspects indefinitely. The government is considering new preventative laws, the premier said last month after Najadi’s death.
“Underworld elements are bold enough to carry out these actions because they know for police to catch and arrest them it’s going to be very challenging,” P. Sundramoorthy, a professor of criminology at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said in a phone interview today. “The Emergency Ordinance allowed police to create a case over hard-core criminals.”
Gun ownership in Malaysia is restricted, and holders are required to carry licenses. Sundramoorthy said Malaysia hadn’t seen this many fatal shootings since a communist insurgency in the late 1950s and 1960s.
An unemployed man is in critical condition after being shot by two men on a motorcycle this morning in Kelantan on Malaysia’s east coast, the News Straits Times reported today, citing Mazlan Lazim, the state’s deputy police chief.
Murders rose 11 percent to 322 in Malaysia in the first six months of this year compared with 2012, according to police statistics provided by the government’s Performance Management & Delivery Unit. Total violent crimes increased 1.9 percent to 15,098 over the same period, the data show.
The surge in violence is partly due to the abolition of the Emergency Ordinance which led to 2,600 hardcore criminals and gang members being released from detention, the malaymailonline reported July 9, citing Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
“It’s quite unusual for Malaysia to have so many cases in the past month,” Lee Hock Guan, a senior fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said by phone. “Unless you see a clear pattern over a longer term you cannot conclude that violent crime is a normal state of affairs.”
Police have identified suspects behind several murder cases involving firearms, including Najadi’s shooting, Bernama reported today, citing Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar. There may be a gun-running racket in the country contributing to the surge in violence, he was cited as saying.
A man suspected of shooting AMMB founder Najadi is believed to still be in the Kuala Lumpur area, Ku Chin Wah, the city’s Criminal Investigations Department chief, told reporters in the capital today. Police plan to extend a remand order for a taxi driver who is believed to have ferried the murderer, Fu said.
Najib’s coalition was returned to power in Malaysia’s May 5 general election by its narrowest margin since independence from Britain in 1957. The prime minister pledged during his campaign to make fighting crime and corruption a policy priority.
Voters cited crime and social problems as their biggest concern after the economy in a survey of 1,018 people conducted in December by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.
“The prime minister has made tackling violent crime a priority and has said that all resources needed to fight crime will be made available,” Najib’s office said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News. “The government is committed to fostering a modern democracy in which safety and security will not be compromised in our efforts to strengthen civil liberties.”
Najib also cited the potential for political misuse of the Emergency Ordinance and ISA among reasons for scrapping the laws. Opposition leaders including Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng and Karpal Singh had previously been held under the ISA. The same regulation remains in neighboring Singapore, another former British colony.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com