Introduction: The DAP in Parliament
This collection of my parliamentary speeches offers a glimpse of history and politics in the make in Malaysia in the last decade. Space has necessitated speeches on other important issues to be omitted.
The exclusive confinement in this collection to parliamentary speeches reflects the important the DAP places on the parliamentary democratic process in which Parliament occupies the apex of power.
Unfortunately, the DAP experience with parliamentary democracy had not been a pleasant one. We found, especially in the 1969-1974 Parliamentary session, that the ruling party was wont to use its parliamentary majority to abuse and pervert parliamentary procedures and conventions for petty political advantage.
For instance, at the very first meeting of the Dewan Rakyat in February/March 1971, following the lifting of the 21-month suspension of Parliament, the 13 DAP Members of parliament were forced on the 10th day of the 16-day meeting to protest in the strongest possible manner against the partiality and unfairness of the Speaker by staging a walk-out from the Chamber and boycotting the rest of the Parliamentary sittings. This happened went he Speaker carried out the government instructions to ‘punish’ the DAP members of Parliament during the debate on the Royal Address by denying even a single DAP MP a chance to speak or reply to vicious personal attacks on the DAP leaders by government members, although the DAP with 13 MPs was the largest Parliamentary group. The ‘punishment’ was for the DAP’s ‘misdemeanour’ in daring to speak out and vote against the earlier 1971 Constitution Amendment Bill, which removed the traditional privilege of parliamentary immunity and made it an offence for anyone to question four ‘sensitive’ subjects.
On April 18, and 19, 1973, in two DAP attempts to move and amendment to the Motion of Thanks on the Royal Address so as to register public anxiety over the mass failures in the MCE examination solely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia – over 14,000 candidates failed because of this – the Speaker ruled that no amendments were permitted to a Motion of Thanks on the Royal Address. This ran counter to all accepted parliamentary practice and betrayed the Speaker’s meagre understanding of parliamentary traditions and conventions, namely an amendment to the Motion of Thanks on the Royal address was a censure against the ruling party and meant no disrespect or discourtesy to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
In the first Parliamentary meeting in February/March 1971, DAP MPs did their homework and submitted an avalanche of questions both for oral and written answers by Ministers covering a wide range of subjects intimately connected with the people’s livelihood. I myself submitted 152 questions. As a result, the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat was subsequently amended to limit each member to a maximum of 20 oral questions and five written questions for each Parliamentary meeting!
As conscientious political workers, DAP MPs made full use of the parliamentary device of Adjournment Motions, the half-hour debate before the adjournment of the House in each sitting where MPs could raise specific issues or problems for Ministerial attention and reply, Amendments were again made to the Dewan Rakyat Standing orders to bin Adjournment Motions in the two long Parliamentary meetings in each session, namely the Royal Debate meeting and the Budget meeting.
Undeterred, DAP MPs continued to avail themselves of the Adjournment Motions during the two short parliamentary meetings. The government then resorted to the unheard of action of sabotaging the Adjournment Motions by emptying the House of its Members, leaving behind one Member or Minister, who would draw the Speaker’s attention to the lack of a quorum, forcing an adjournment of the House – as Government MPs outside the Chamber would laugh like naughty boys playing a clever trick ignoring the bell calling for the quorum to be filled. In the House of Commons, in the United Kingdom, Adjournment Motions are invariably made to an almost empty House, but nobody stands up to sabotage them by engineering and shouting ‘no quorum’!
On 19th July 1974, I was suspended from the House by the Speaker because I termed the National Front a ‘National Fraud’.
Private motions by Opposition MPs were killed by not giving time. After the 1974 general elections, I wrote to the Prime Minister, the late Tun Razak, protesting against such abuses of parliamentary procedures. This produced positive results for time was given for private motions by Opposition MPs. But lately, there appeared to be a relapse of such unparliamentary tactics, for in April this year, my motion on Merdeka University was killed by the government denying parliamentary time.
In February 1975, the Government resorted to the unprecedented step of declaring the Menglembu Parliamentary seat vacant and a writ of by-election was issued, when the Member of Parliament for Menglembu, Fan Yew Teng, convicted of sedition by the Kuala Lumpur High Court, was still appealing to the Federal Court against conviction.
I immediately despatched a letter to the Prime Minister protesting against this ‘usurpation of the parliamentary powers by unconstitutional and unparliamentary acts’ and urged him as Prime Minister ‘to uphold the rules of natural justice, accepted form of parliamentary practice and the sanctity of the Constitution by staying the holding of a by-election of the parliamentary constituency of Menglembu’. (See Tun Razak’s reply, page xxi)
Three days before the by-election polling on March 15, 1975, the High Court gave a declaration that there was no vacancy in the Menglembu constituency and stopped the by-election.
It is clear that there is an urgent need for the mobilisation of public opinion in defence of parliamentary ideas, traditions and institutions from the encroachments of those whose democratic credentials are dubious. As Acton has aptly said: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. For such a mobilisation to succeed, there must be a greater public awareness and consciousness of the threats to parliamentary ideas, traditions and institutions – and it is with this object in mind that his book is born.
Lim Kit Siang
May 25, 1978