Motion of Thank to His Majesty for this Gracious Address

Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday, 6th November 1974 on the debate on the Motion of Thank on the Royal Address

I rise to associate myself with the Motion of Thank to His Majesty for this Gracious Address on the occasion of the official opening of the First Meeting of the First Session of the Fourth Parliament.

I wish also to congratulate your election as Speaker. I am sure that under your guidance, this Chamber will be able to fulfil its triple tasks, firstly, to pass laws, secondly to vote monies to meet governmental expenditures and thirdly, and most important of all, as the highest political forum in the country.

His Majesty was gratified that the “recent national election was held peacefully”. He said “This proves that the people firmly believe and uphold the concept of parliament democracy.”

It is a matter of regret however that the people firm belief and endorsement of the concept of parliamentary democracy was not reciprocated by an equally firm belief and scrupulous regard for the concept and practices of parliamentary democracy. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Malaysia citizens, above the qualifying age of 21 years, were denied the scared right to vote, In my constituency of Kota Melaka, for instance, at least 10,000 persons were struck off the electoral rolls, although they had previously voted in election.

The mass deregistration and disenfranchisement of voters who had previously registered and voted, and the non-registration of eligible voters who had reached the qualifying age of 21 years were two of the leading factors which gravely detracted from the usefulness of the 1974 general elections as a fair, proper and valid ascertainment of the political will and wishes of the people of Malaysia.

What is shocking is that no high-level inquiry was held to find out the cause of the missing voters or simplify the electoral system after this scandalous state of affairs was brought out in the August general elections.

Although a few government front-benches did express concern and call for charges in the electoral registration system, like Tunku Razalaigh, Dr. Mahathir Tunku Rithaudeen, Dato Asri, and Senator Datuk Athi Nahappn (and significantly, not a single MCA or Gerakan leader was bothered about this problem of missing voters), the ‘action-oriented, seemed to have this grave democratic defect Lightly.

This is why there has been no reform or change in the revision of voters exercise which is currently going on, although it is these very methods which have caused hundreds of thousands of citizens to lose their constitutional right to vote.

It is surely not beyond human ingenuity to devise a system whereby every citizen is a registered voter, It is surely vital and urgent that this1 should be immediately done to restore the people confidence in the democratic system and in the Elections Commission.

The Prime Minister should not continue to disregard this problem, but should take action to ensure that there will be no more repetition of the scandal of the missing voters.

I suggest that this can be simply resolved by the introduction of legislation to introduce the compulsory registration of voters.

My other colleagues will go into greater details about the many grave defects of the electoral system on August 24 general elections, and I have also a motion standing in my name asking the House to express no confidence on the members of the Election Commission in view of the mass disenfranchisement of registered voters and the non-registration of eligible voters in the 1974 general elections which undermined the whole democratic process and the constitutional principle of the “importance of securing an Election Commission” which enjoy public confidence. I shall not well any further on this subject, except to urge for a Royal Commission into the irregular, unethical and unfair practices in the 1974 general elections.

Despite the people’s firm belief in the concept of parliamentary democracy, as mentioned by this Majesty, the political developments in the recent period do not augur well for a healthy and steady growth of meaningful democratic processes and institutions in the country.

There has been a growing trend towards authoritarian rule and intolerance of opposition, criticism and dissent. The Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie, appeared to be providing an intellectual justification when he said recently that at this stage of our political development, there was no need for an opposition , and that the nine political parties confederated in the Barisan Nasional have their own built-in checks and balances to avoid dictatorial trends and attitudes.

This is the biggest fallacy of the year. We just need look at Sabah which has become an international scandal and embarrassment. Political rights of Malaysians in Sabah simply do not exist where the political views diverge from the line laid down by one man, whose whim, rather than the laws of the land, reigns supreme.

Malaysia in Sabah who attempt to exercise their fundamental rights of freedom of speech, religion and political assembly, as enshrined in the Constitution, are hounded, harassed, persecuted and detained.

In fact, the reach of the dictator extend far beyond the borders of Sabah. Sabahans in West Malaysia talk in whispers when it come to politics, and will frequently look cover their shoulders as if expecting the dictator anytime to materialize beside or behind them. I once met a few trade unionists from Sabah over here for some labour function in their hotel room, who become very nervous and uneasy when politics was raised. Even after one of them had made sure that hotel room was securely locked, they did not cease to be ill at ease and even frightened.

Where are the “built-in checks and Balances” inside the Barisan Nasional to avoid these dictatorial developments in Sabah? What has happened to the government’s declared resolve to “defend the rule of law in this country” as mentioned by this Majesty in his Gracious Speech? Where has happened to the Rukunegara objectives of creating a democratic way of life as contained in the Royal Proclamation on Rukunegara?
Far from having ‘built-in checks and Balances’ to avoid dictatorial trends and attitudes, the dictatorial trend is spreading to other parts of Malaysia, as if Barisan Nasional leaders are hankering for some the NOC days when they were answerable to no one for their actions.

In Sarawak, the political trend is becoming more and more unhealthy. Last week, the SNAP Deputy President, Dato James Wong, former Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak and Opposition leader in Parliament, was arrested under the PPSO for allegedly taking part in activities detrimental to the country’s interests and security. Also arrested was one former SNAP member of Parliament, Awang Bongsu Abdullah.

The reasons given by the government for Dato James Wong’s arrest are too ridiculous for words. Those who know Dato James Wong, realize that he is incapable of any action which is detrimental to national interest or security.

It is clear to both national and international opinion that the arrests were soley motivated by partisan political reasons, and that they constitute a gross abuse of power and a lurch in Sarawak towards dictatorial trends and attitudes.

All right-thinking Malaysians deplore Dato James Wong’s arrest, and my party, the DAP, calls on the prime Minister to personally intervene in this matter and get Dato James Wong and his colleagues released from unjustified detention.

The James Wong affair is only the latest in a series of undemocratic and dictatorial trends and attitudes in Sarawak. During the general elections the Sarawak Chief Minister banned a daily newspaper, the Sarawak Vanguard, I demand to know the reasons for the ban on the Sarawak Vanguard. I have studied the Sarawak Vanguard from nomination day till the date of its ban, and I can find nothing to justify the action. There was no article which posed a security threat or incited the people to violence or the unconstitutional and illegal overthrow of the government. The crime, if this be a crime, of the Sarawak Vanguard was that it supported the SNAP and it carried daily a column which contrasted the past and present stands and policies of SUPP leaders, in particular its secretary-general, Dato Stephen Yong, and its chairman, Dato Ong Kee Hui, and their broken promises.

But then, the Sarawak Vanguard was not the only paper to give support to a contesting party in the 1974 general elections. The majority of the papers in Sarawak openly supported the Barisan Nasional parties. Even in West Malaysia, daily newspapers, including the Straits Times, were unashamedly supporting and campaigning for the Barisan Nasional, even to the extent of stooping to distortions, half-truths and downright falsehoods about the Opposition, in particular the DAP.

Can the Sarawak Chief Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs or even the Prime Minister, give a satisfactory explanation for the reasons for the banned of the Sarawak Vanguard? Apart from its support to the SNAP in the 1974 general elections?

Again, on 16th Sept, Sarawak took another closer towards Sabah. When I arrived at the Kuching Airport that morning to visit Sarawak and meet SNAP leaders, the Chief Minister invoked State immigration powers and prohibited me from entry into Sarawak. Sabah and Sarawak were given autonomy on immigration to protect the youths of East Malaysia from being swamped and displaced by hordes of West Malaysian unemployed, but now these powers Have been abused and perverted to restrict free travel by Malaysians within his own country.

Mankind have dismantled the ‘ Iron Curtain’, the ‘Bamboo Curtain’, but we Malaysia, are erecting the ‘Batik Curtain’ to separate Malaysians from Malaysians. We are coming to a stage where it will be easier to visit the People’s Republic of China than to visit Kota Kinabalu or Kuching!

The Sarawak Chief Minister’s abuse of stage immigration powers make a mockery of His Majesty’s fond hope of the festering of closer relationship between those who live in Peninsular Malaysia with those in the State of Sabah and Sarawak, as contained in Paragraph 14 of the Royal Address.

The Second Malaysia Plan itself starts with the declaration that “national unity is the overriding objective of the country” and that this “direction towards national unity is fundamental to the New Economic Policy and the Second Malaysia Plan.”

We are told in the Second Malaysia Plan, in the Rukunegara, and by all the Ministers that there must be a closer integration of the peoples of all races, groups and from all the different states in Malaysia, particularly between Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.

I want to know how the objective of fostering a closer integration of the peoples and states of Malaysia can be achieved if elected Members of Parliament from West Malaysia are barred from entering Sarawak and Sabah, for Sabah has in fact set the example in 1969and recently when Dr. Tan Chee Khoon and his colleagues in his party were told that they would not be allowed to visit Sabah.

It is indeed ridiculous that Members of Parliament cannot enter Sabah and Sarawak, which is part of their own country, while tourists, foreigners, and even professional fortune hunters can enter Sabah and Sarawak without a visa for two week without questions asked.

I call on the Prime Minister to take immediate steps to dismantle this ‘Batik Curtain’ and put a stop to this miseuse and abuse of immigration powers by the Chief Ministers of Sabah and Sarawak if we Malaysians want, as a people, to genuinely work towards the Second Malaysia Plan, objective of achieving ‘national unity 8 and if we want to fulfil the Rukunegara objective of maintaining a ‘democratic way of life’.

These developments in Sabah and Sarawak, which proved that there are no built-in checks and balances in the National Front to avoid dictatorial trends and attitudes, are matched by similar developments in West Malaysia. Two recent instances are the blanket ban on DAP rallies throughout the country to thank the people for their support during the general elections and to keep the people abreast with the latest national developments which are not to be found in the press; and the spate of mass arrests under the Internal Security Act away from public knowledge, questioning and accountability.

It is thus clear that we have a long way to go to reciprocate what His Majesty has described at the beginning of his Royal Address as the people’s firm belief and upholding of the concept of parliamentary democracy.

Government professions of democracy, of dedication to national unity and Rukunegara principles and objective are not enough, if the government does not bestir itself to take strong action to foster and promote these ends, and remove the obstacles to these ends.

In this connection, I suggest that a Rukunegara Commission should be set up which will have the power to receive and investigate complaints about violations and infringements of the Rukunegara objectives and principles by pressure groups, government leaders and governments.

Malaysia will be facing a big economic storm in the months ahead. It is all the more imperative that in these trying times, Malaysia should be even more united so that together, we can tide the coming economic storm as one people who can concentrate their energies and efforts on the economic crisis.

We can achieve this only if we give a correct reading of the recent general elections. Because of the many factors which detracted from the usefulness of the 1974 general elections as a valid ascertainment of the political will and wished of the people, it will be a great pity and tragedy if the National Front should misconstrue their so-called landslide victory as a whole-hearted national endorsement for its policies, without subjecting them to a searching reappraisal. Greater national unity cannot come from dictation or imposition, but only from accommodation and the acceptance of criticism, opposition and dissent.

His Majesty spoke of the crisis of stagflation which is staring the people of Malaysia in the Face, namely a situation of continuing inflation and at the same time recession and increasing unemployment.
It is particularly in this period of stagflation that the government must take special efforts to help the underprivileged and the more unfortunate sections of the population, and in the greed of manufacturers and industries for profit maximization.

The increase in the price of sugar, for instance, by 10 cents a kati second time in a year is an instance where the government has sacrificed the consumers to the sugar tycoons. Immediately after the elections, sugar become scare in the shop, and the government capitulated to the sugar tycoons’ demand for a price increase after the Hari Raya Haji.

What the people of Malaysia wants to know is why despite much-publicised government-sponsored efforts to start large cane-growing industries in Johore, Perak, Negri Sembilan and other states, and repeated government promises that Malaysia would be able to meet her own sugar needs by the second half of the Seventies, Malaysia is still desperately dependent on foreign supplies.

In fact, in view of the critical importance of sugar and the recurrent crisis revolving around sugar, whether it be unredeemed failures in local cane industry or in the repeated upward march of the sugar price, a public inquiry into the whole sugar industry, profits and pricing should be formed to satisfy the public that the latest sugar price increaseis really justifiable.

Not a day passes without some commodity or other getting scare in the shops in preparation for a further mark-up in the retail price. For instance, it is now quite some time that housewives and mothers have not been able to buy milk powder in the shop, Today,, we read in the press about run for condensed milk, created by the growing shortage of such supplies.

It is shocking that the government should allow the manufacturers to freely and irresponsibly manipulate with the supply situation so as to create the conditions for a mark-up in price. Now, the sugar price increase will trigger off a further chain of new price increase.

The government and the manufacturers have up to date not paid proper respect for the views and interests of the consumers.

The DAP calls on the government to act firmly against all these unjustified price increases, by requiring every price increase to seek the approval of a Prices Tribunal to ensure that the interests of all sections of society are safeguarded. It is in the field of checking uncontrolled and unjustified price increases that the action-oriented government has failed the most, abysmally.

I look forward to the coming economic storm with great foreboding and fear for the poor, the government would give all aid and assistance to the industrialists and capitalists to prevent profit reductions, while sacrificing the workers and the consumers who will left to their own helpless devices.

A good in tance is the large-scaled labour lay-off in the electronics industries in Malaysia, which have easily reached thousands in the past months.

But officially, the government whether it be the Ministry of Labour and Manpower or the Ministry of Industry are not aware that there has been any labour lay-off in the electronic industries.

Many electronics industries have resorted to subterfuges to hide the fact that they are reducing their work-force. They make working conditions so frustrating and impossible for the electronics workers either by harassing them or conforming to new impossible standards of work, forcing many workers to quit in frustration. In this way, the electronics firms escape from their legal aid moral duties in terms of severance pay, and escapes too the publicity of factory retrenchments.

These practices have become so widespread that it is difficult to believe that the Ministry of Labour Manpower is not aware of these malpractices, It is probably part of government policy to pretend not to see or know unpleasant thing like mass workers’ layoffs in the electronic industry whether in Malacca, Penang or Kuala Lumpur, so that they need not incur new responsibilities.

Instead of pretending that these problems of workers’ layoffs do not exist, the government should set up a special task to try to cushion the blows on the retrenched working out resettlement schemes for them by the exploitation of our natural resources and fertile land’ and adequate retrenchment payments for the workers affected.

In the Dewan Rakyat last year, during the debate on the Mid-Term Review of the Second Malaysia Plan, I had urged on the government to work out contingency deal not only with rampant unemployment, but also with the problem of the 100,000 Malaysians working in Singapore who would be hit by layoffs and closures in Singapore.

I had asked the government to brgin to study ways and means how to absorb Malaysian workers who would be forced to return to Malaysia because of the economic depression in Singapore. Although this problem has assumed a big dimension, and large numbers of Malaysians have returned from Singapore jobless although skilled and semi-skilled, the government has not come to grips with this problem. I suggest that a special unit under the Ministry of Labour and Manpower be set up to deal with this problem and help retrenched Malaysian workers from Singapore.

The government has called on the people to grow more food as one of the strategies to tide over the coming economic storm. What the government should do is to devise a new land policy to give land to the landless and jobless to take out a living, and for the homeless to have a roof over their heads.

The plight of homelessness of poor Malaysians was highlighted by the Tasek Utara squatter affair in Johore Bahru in September this year.

For many years, the poor and the law-salaried workers have been unable to afford a decent shelter in Johore Bahru because of the government’s neglect and indifference to the basic needs of the have-nots in the country. The laws of the land and the police are being used, not to bring about social justice, but to preserve the status quo and punish those who try to bring about a movement towards greater social justice and equality.

Even now, the Tasek Utara squatters have not been provided with a decent homes, despite promises of action. The present government claims to be action oriented. It must then prove to the poor in Malaysia that it is action-oriented towards the solution of their problem, and not action-oriented towards the protection of the vested interests and the present structure where income and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of the affluent.

The government should not use police action to try to suppress socio-economic problems as it tried to do in the Tasek Utara affair, by the arrest of the squatters and charging in court the squatters and supporters. The police should drop all charges in connection with the Tasek Utara affair.

The problem of Tasek Utara, for decent housing for the poor, is not peculiar to Johore Bahru but widely prevalent throughout the country. The people have heard ad nauseam government promises about housing programmes for the low-income groups, but these have invariably remained on the level of promises. A gigantic effort is required to break the back of the housing shortage problem in Malaysia, and the will, capacity and resolution to embark on such national-wide massive cheap housing building programme on the part of the government has still to be proved.

It is a matter for regret that despite repeated government promises, especially during the general elections, these is no reference in the Royal address of any government intention to reform the anti-labour law in the country.

The workers and trade unions have been agitating for more enlightened labour legislation which can give workers adequate protection against exploitation by the capitalists.

I would therefore ask the Minister of Labour and Manpower to categorically inform this House of his Ministry’s intentions and programmes with regard to reforms of labour laws to give adequate protection to workers and organization of the unorganized.

The Ministry of Labour must be more sympathetic to the aspiration and grievances of the workers. For instance, the Industrial Court has forfeited the confidence of the workers as an equitable tribunal to bring about a more just and equal industrial order where workers have their rightful place. The industrial Court is in fact being regarded as virtually an employers’ court against workers, especially where you have Industrial Court Chairman like Mr K.A. Menon who is flagrantly antagonistic to the workers aspirations, and the majority of whose awards are strongly biased against workers and pro-employers.

I call on the Ministry of Labour and Manpower to take a strong view of the affair of K.A.Menon, who is on leave prior to joining the MECA, or the Malaysian Employers Consultative Assocition as its Chief Executive Officer at almost twice his salary as Industrial Court Chairman.

Mr.Menon applied for the post MECA Chief Executive Officer when advertisement for the position came out in August, was formally interviewed by MECA in September. During the whole period, he continued to hear industrial disputes, when he was already virtually in the employers’ camp.

Mr. Menon’s conduct was highly improper to say the least, and cannot but cast doubt on his awards not only during the months of August, Sept and October, but even those awards preceding this period.

For instance, on 26th July, he handed down his award on the Ong Yoke Lin dispute, upholding the infamous Willan is judgement of 1974 that workers who absented themselves from work on the ground of participation in a legal strike will be absenting themselves without reasonable cause and therefore breaking the contract of employers and dismissable by the employers.

In view of the proximity of dates between this award and Mr. Menon’s application to join the MECA, the unavoidable inference among trade union circles is that this was a paid pro quo for a $4,500 MECA employers.

It does not augur well for good employers-employee relations nor for worker’s confidence in the Industrial for the Industrial Court to become the recruiting ground by the employer’s associations, and for Industrial Court Chairmen, to overnight become the adversaries of workers representatives.

I submit that all the awards handed down by Mr. Menon during the period he applied for MECA appointment and preceding it are flawed by this conflict of interest, and should be reviewed, especially as the majority of these awards are biased against the cause of the workers.

It is not good enough that the workers or unions concerned have the remedy to proceed to high court to quash these awards, for as in this case, manifest injustice has arisen as a result of the conflict of interest of Mr.Menon the government should take the initiative to have all these cases reviewed.

Furthermore, so long as Industrial Court Chairman can make the direct transition from a fair and impartial adjudicator into as employer spokesman, it is impossible to restore the workers confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the Industrial Tribunal. I suggest that the Minister of Labour should take immediate action to include into all present and future contracts that for a minimum of ten years, Industrial Court Chairman are barred from joing Employers Associations after completion of their tenure.