DAP calls for the convening of a Parliamentary all-party conference to discuss ways to entrench the principle of Parliamentary supremacy to protect, preserve and promote the plural basis of Malaysian society

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the 23rd Anniversary Dinner of the Han Chiang Old Boys, Association Dinner held at Fortuna Restaurant on Friday, 9.2.1984 on the theme ‘Democracy In our country and the future of the Malaysian Chinese’

DAP calls for the convening of a Parliamentary all-party conference to discuss ways to entrench the principle of Parliamentary supremacy to protect, preserve and promote the plural basis of Malaysian society.

I remember that when I was invited to participate in the current affairs forum of the Penang Chinese Assembly Hall Youth Section on Oct. 2, after my speech, I was given a question by a member of the audience who expressed incredibility and disbelief at my earlier remarks about a grave Constitutional crisis which nobody knew about arising from the Constitution Amendment Bill 1983. This questioner virtually suggested that I was inventing tales. Unfortunately, much as I would have wanted to, I was unable to answer this question because of the shortness of time.

About a week later, when Parliament started its two-month budget meeting, and my attempt to discuss the constitutional crisis on a motion of urgent, definite public importance was rejected because the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, has replied to me during question time that, he was not aware of any constitutional crisis, everyone believed the Prime Minister. In fact, I found local pressmen, particularly the Chinese newspapers, to be completely in the dark about the developing constitutional crisis which had been brewing for two full months! But I should not have found this surprising, for I also found that Barisan Ministers and MPs, and in particular MCA and Gerakan MPs, to be completely in the dark about the constitutional crisis, and some of them had to ask me what was happening when the Speaker made it clear on the opening day on 10 Oct. That not a single one of the eight bills passed in July and August parliamentary meetings had been given the Royal Assent. I dare say that both the Minister of Labour and Manpower, Mak Hong Kam, and the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Goh Cheng Teik, who are here representing MCA and Gerakan, knew absolutely nothing just like the ordinary rakyat and the ordinary pressmen in the first week of October.

This incident is most important and illustrative in two ways having direct bearing on your theme. Firstly, it shows that we are still a long distance from the stage where we could boast of a healthy, meaningful and dynamic democratic system. This is because there can be no healthy, meaningful and dynamic democratic system unless the people are aware, conscious and alive to the developments and issues confronting the nation. Democracy is based on the consent of the governed, which means that the governed intelligently and actively participates in the political process by signifying its consent or dissent to various developments and measures of the Government. There could be no ‘consent’ of the governed where the people are ignorant of the issues and developments of the country, because of denial of information or press-black out as in the case of my speech on the Constitution Amendment Bill in Parliament on August 2, 1983.

When the UMNO leadership decided in November to mobilise public support for their constitutional position, breaking a whole host of laws and regulations in the process as the police ban on public rallies, the public suddenly realised that they had grave constitutional crisis which had started since August 1983, which they knew nothing about, and even now did not know the full issues involved, leading to considerable public nervousness and the collapse of the shares market.

It would have been comforting if the Constitutional Crisis had been a special and unique case because of its peculiar background and circumstances where the people in a democratic country were kept in the dark.

But this is not so. I have come to the sad conclusion that as a result of variety of factors, not least of which is the press control in Malaysia, Malaysians know very little about what is really happening in their own country.

This was why when the DAP, in the Seremban Parliamentary by-election, launched the series lasting 18 days entitled ‘This Day in 18 months’ to explain the voters of Seremban of the serious erosion of their political, economic, educational and cultural elections victory of the Barisan National in April 1982, there are such great impact not only in Seremban but also countrywide, for the people really did not realise that in the 18 months since the 1982 general elections, they had lost their basic rights faster and in a more drastic fashion than 25 years between Merdeka in 1957 and 1982.

Thus, although MCA leaders claimed during the Seremban campaign that ‘This Day in 18 months’ were just lies, distortions and half-truths, after the by-election, the MCA leadership belatedly realised that the series could not be dismissed, for there is no power greater than the truth, and the MCA Youth Leader and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Lee Kim Sai said that the MCA Youth would carry out deep study of ‘This Day in the last 18 months’ and would try to rectify where I had been right and rebut where I had been wrong.

Since the Acting Deputy MCA President of MCA is her, I am taking this opportunity ask him to convey to his MCA Youth Leader that we have come out with a second edition of ‘This Day in 18 months’ with additional materials to assist the MCA Youth in its political self-education so that MCA leaders could be ‘first to know, first to be conscious’ and not ‘ last to know, last to be conscious’.

I now come to the second aspect which is illuminated by the Constitutional Crisis which has direct bearing on your theme.

Yesterday, in a UMNO public rally in Batu Pahat which the Prime Minister himself declared to be over 100,000 in his speech, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, named the ‘Magnificient Seven’ in the Cabinet – ‘seven young Cabinet members, who right from the beginning, have been fully backing the constitutional amendments and Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir.’

Of course, the implication in Datuk Musa’s statement in very clear, that the other UMNO Ministers had not been as wholeheartedly behind the constitutional amendment as they should be. But what of the Ministers in the other Barisan National component parties like MCA, Gerakan or SUPP. Are the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Ministers as magnificently solid on the constitutional amendments, as the UMNO Magnificent Seven, or is it that they don’t matter at all?

I believe it is the latter. In fact, the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP have nothing to say on the constitutional amendments resulting in the crisis at the beginning, and they only come out with their public stand in November when the UMNO leadership decided to escalate and mobilise public support.

To MCA, Gerakan and SUPP, the constitutional crisis is a conflict confined to the Rulers and UMNO, where they are merely spectators.

Nothing could further from the truth and more disastrous for our rights and that of our children for the constitutional crisis involved issues with far-reaching consequences for all Malaysians and sub sequent generations, and if we remain forever spectators in the future political process of the country.

All Malaysians, who cherish freedom democracy and justice, must be concerned about the constitutional amendment to Article 150 which concentrates the power to proclaim Emergency in the Prime Minister alone, without even having to consult the Cabinet.

The history of other nations have shown that Emergency powers have been the main instrument to diminish or destroy basis right whether in the political, economic, educational or cultural sphere. The similar examples in our own country, for the Merdeka University movement, which received popular support from the people in 1969 general elections, was brought to a halt by the exercise of
Emergency Powers by the government.

At present, any MP who questions anyone of the four sensitive issues entrenched in the Constitution, even in Parliament, would be guilty of an offence of sedition and would be stripped of his MP-ship. This is the result of an exercise of emergency powers, and not by way of legislation by Parliament.

That the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP leaders regard themselves as more side-line players in the political process could be seen by the attitude of MCA Ministers on the $2,500 million Bumiputera Malaysia Finance scandal. When they were asked in the Seremban by-election why the MCA had nothing to say on the BMF scandal, the MCA Ministers explained that they were bound by Cabinet secretly not to say anything on the BMF. What is surprising is that UMNO Ministers do not feel bound by such ‘Cabinet secrecy’ for several of them publicly express their shock and demand for an inquiry into the BMF scandal.

In the last two weeks, the Prime Minister has been talking a lot about of supremacy of Parliament, and how the will of the people must not be thwarted by a few.

As a member of Parliament for the last 14 years, and one who had been the lone voice in Parliament together with my DAP collegues in the defence of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, I should be the first to rejoice at Dr. Mahathir’s discovery and endorsement of this for over a decade.

This is because since 1969, I have found the Parliamentary supremacy is an empty myth, which was illustrated many times during the recent Budget session, where Barisan Nasional MPs regarded Parliament more as a sub-department of the Prime Minister’s Office instead of as the highest deliberative and legislative chamber in the land.

The restoration of the principle of Parliamentary supremacy to its rightful place in the Malaysian political system is therefore to be supported, and the DAP would give it full support.

However, we find that in the recent public rallies of Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the Prime Minister was not exactly talking about the principle of Parliamentary supremacy. What he meant really was the principle of UMNO supremacy in Malaysian politics.

I would call on the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, to convene a Parliamentary all-party conference to discuss ways to entrench the principle of Parliamentary supremacy to protect, preserve and promote the Malaysian nation, within which framework the present constitutional crisis could be resolved.

The future of Malaysian Chinese must be worked out in a democratic framework for I believe that any other political system would be even more intolerant of Malaysia’s multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious basis. But this does not mean that a democratic system would by itself guarantee Malaysia’s plural nature, giving all races, languages, cultures and religions their rightful place.

Just as it is possible to use ‘democracy to destroy democracy’, it is also possible to use the democratic system to create a ‘one language, one culture, one religion’ Malaysia – which had in fact started as a result of the April 1982 general elections landslide victory of the Barisan Nasional.

Furthermore, it is also possible to use the emergency powers legitimized by a democratic constitution to destroy democratic freedoms and fundamental rights as regards language, culture and religion in a plural society.

Malaysian Chinese must have a long-term perspective of Malaysian history, for if we are short-sighted, interested only in the daily grind of life, then we will lose out and become pawns in the hands of those who have a longer perspective of Malaysian history.

We must look around us and learn from the trials and tribulations of other people in other countries. I have just returned from the International Conference of Solidarity with the Tamils of Sri Lanka, hold in Madras and all Malaysian Chinese and Indians should learn from the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, co-owners of the country who are being discriminated against in all spheres of national life, whether in education, employment, constitution-building, national development, language, culture, land alienation, etc., to extent that a growing number of Tamils in Sri Lanka have come to the conclusion that only a separate statehood violence and blood-shed there.

We do not want Malaysia to become Sri Lanka; nor do we want the Malaysian Chinese or Indians to become like the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is why we must learn from their tragedies.

We must not because of the Parliamentary seat or even a Cabinet appointment go against the aspirations of the people. This is why the April 1982 general elections results was so disastrous for Malaysian Chinese, for it signalled to the UMNO leaders an unequivocal mandate for the Barisan policies since Merdeka in 1957, and especially the policies in the 1970s.

We in the DAP had discussed these problems and political scenarios with various groups of people, but unfortunately we were unable to prevent some who thought that the interests of people would be served by joining the Barisan, and there was talk even that if a particular candidate was elected, he would be made Deputy Education Minister, leading to the greatest backsliding of the people’s political, economic educational and cultural rights in the 18 months since the general elections.

The challenge to all now is how to stop, arrest and reverse this process of unprecedented erosion of the political, economic, educational and cultural rights of the people.

The first step in my view was taken with the DAP winning the three by-election of Kepayang, Raub and Seremban in the 18 months since the last general elections. But there are many more steps that must be taken before all the harm done by the Barisan Nasional landslide general elections victory could be undone. This is why the Sarawak State general elections is very important, not merely to Sarawak but for all Malaysian Chinese, as it could steps to.

But if the DAP should be eliminated completely in the Sarawak State General Elections as happened in the 1979 state general elections, then even the first step secured by the trio of by-election victories in Kepayang, Raub and Seremban, might be wiped out.

The battle for the ‘restoration of lost rights’ must not be the onus of the DAP, but of all Malaysians, in particular the five million Malaysian Chinese.

The DAP is preparing for the third and fourth steps in this struggle to push back the extremist forces unleashed in the first 18 months after the general elections as a result of the DAP’s disastrous election all defeat. We need greater public support. But as I said, this hinges on our successful completion of the second step in the Sarawak State general elections.