Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, 15.7.1985 on tabling motion of ‘Parliamentary Democracy’
DAP calls for a Parliamentary Select Committee to review and report on the 25 years of Malaysian Parliament.
Three months ago, Malaysia celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Malaysian Parliament with an exhibition and a dinner full of nostalgia of present and former Parliamentarians. There was no attempt to conduct a deep and thorough examination of the 25 years’ operation of the system of parliamentary democracy, especially to find ways to restore to Parliament its pre-eminent place in the Malaysian body politics.
I feel that we Parliamentarians would be remiss in our duty to the country and the system of Parliamentary democracy if we do not set aside time for a debate and appraisal of the Malaysian Parliament in the last 25 years, to find where we have succeeded and where we have failed, so that we could lay a basis which would ensure Parliament’s continued functioning for the next 25 years and more.
It is for this reason that I am moving a motion to enable a debate on the 25 years of parliamentary democracy to take place. My motion reads;
“That this-House, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Malaysian Parliament, NOTES with concern the erosion of the principle and practice of parliamentary democracy over the years, and CALLS on all Malaysians to reaffirm their commitment to the system of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia”.
The Merdeka idea of Parliament as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber in the country, representing the supreme will of the people, has come under the systematic assault in the last 25 years, reducing Parliament more and more to a rubber stamp to provide formal approval to what had already been decided by the Cabinet or by the Prime Minister himself.
In theory, the Executive is answerable to Parliament, but the Executive’s usurpation of the powers and role of Parliament had advanced so far that Parliament has become a mere appendage of Government.
The people have become so accustomed to the diminished role of Parliament, somewhat equivalent to a minor department of the Prime Minister‘s Office, that nobody finds it amiss that the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Malaysian Parliament was decided and organised by the Government rather than by Parliament itself.
Parliamentary staff, who are in theory an autonomous and closed service to guard jealously the independence of Parliament from Executive or, administrative interference or direction, have been so conditioned to think of themselves as government servants that whenever they announce the parliamentary business before every Parliamentary meeting, they would invariably omit Opposition motions or business – mistakenly assuming the government business is the only form of Parliamentary business!
In the last quarter of a century, the principle and practice of Parliamentary democracy had experienced relentless erosion.
These are some of the major encroachments to the principle and practice of parliamentary democracy:
* The host of restrictions on the freedoms of speech, expression, assembly and association have made it very difficult for the people to exercise their democratic freedom of choice in a Parliamentary Democracy.
Malaysia suffers from a very controlled mass media and press, through laws such as the Printing Press and Publications Act, the Sedition Ordinance and the Official Secrets Act. Lately, press monopoly has become a very grave problem with one political group, through different front organisations, acquiring proprietorial control over a whole spectrum of Malaysian newspapers, whether Bahasa Malaysia, English or Chinese-language dailies. This does not include other newspapers owned and controlled by other political parties associated with this political grouping which is becoming a Press Monopoly in Malaysia. These mass media trends are very dangerous to a healthy democratic growth for the newspapers would be used as government vehicles to change and shape public thinking, instead of acting as medium to convey the public’s views and opinion to affect and change government thinking itself!
The government’s ban on public rallies have denied the people the only effective avenue to receive dissent or alternative views from those prevailing in government, and is designed to cripple political communication of the voices of the Opposition and Dissent. When the government first banned public rallies just before the 1978 general elections, its reason was the fear of possible disturbances on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the armed struggle of the Malayan Communist Party. There was not only no incident, but the ban had been prolonged although it did not prevent government leaders, like the Prime Minister, from holding illegal public rallies, whether during the 1983 Constitutional Crisis or recently in his pre-election visit to the various states.
POLITICS OF FEAR
The restrictive laws on political parties, trade unions, student organisations and pressure groups succeed in the objective to inhibit democratic expression and retard the growth of parliamentary democracy.
* The politics of fear and intimidation, money and corruption, which, like a hydra had reared their ugly multiple heads to pollute and undermine Parliamentary Democracy in Malaysia. For nine years, such politics had a field day in Sabah until their massive rejection by the people of Sabah in the April general elections. Even then, there was an attempted coup d’etat to rob Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan and PBS of their right to form the sabah government.
Although democratic decency and principles prevailed in Sabah finally with the formation of the PBS government, there had been no let-up to destabilise the PBS government by creating uncertainty, fear, scare and tension, including the series of bombings in Kota Kinabalu.
The politics of fear and intimidation, whether it be the Tambunan complex victimising and discriminating against voters who did not elect the, candidates of the ruling parties; or the May 13 secret weapon, warning bloodshed if the Opposition candidates are elected are as great a blot on Malaysia’s Parliamentary Democracy as the politics of money and corruption, where candidates or elected representatives debased themselves either by buying for votes or selling themselves off to the highest bidder!
* The unjust and inequitable delineation of parliamentary and state assembly constituencies which violate the principle of ‘one man, one vote’ perpetuating political imbalances, in utter disregard of the restructuring objective of the nation which must include not only the economic function, but the political function as well.
* Parliament’s fall from its constitutionally-sanctioned place as the highest embodiment of the supreme will of the people to a mere rubber stamp, where MPs are not expected to understand the mass of legislation introduced in the House, but to give them formal passage.
One good way to evaluate the role, function and relevance of the Malaysian Parliament on the occasion of its Silver Jubilee is to examine its record on the biggest financial and banking scandal of the country -the $2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal.
In taking a stand against full public disclosure on the BMF loans scandal and also in rejecting the call for the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the BMF loans scandal, the Malaysian Parliament has set itself against the mainstream of Malaysian public opinion.
In March 1983, the DAP MP for Kuching, Sdr. Sim Kwang Yang, sought to adjourn the House to debate an Asian Wall Street Journal report detailing the improper and corrupt loan and financial transactions of BMF officials with Carrian and Eda group of companies as a definite matter of urgent public importance. He failed, although 20 months later, the Ahmad Nordin BMF Inquiry Committee confirmed the Asian Wall Street Journal revelations.
In retrospect, if Parliament had been more vigilant and responsible way back in March 1983, demanding a full and proper accounting of the BMF loans scandal, it might have saved the country some $350 million. This is because according to the interim report of the Ahmad Nordin BMF Inquiry Committee, BMF loans to the Carrian and Eda groups increased from $1,497 million in 1982 to $1,841 million in 1983 – an increase of some $350 million.
Would Parliament had saved $350 million from the $2.5 billion BMF loan scandal if Parliament had intervened in March 1983, as DAF MPs had tried to do?
Recent developments of the BMF scandal had again put Parliament on trial. Firstly, the Prime Minister has come out publicly against the government being more open and forthright, as in the publication of the Ahmad Nordin BMF Inquiry Committee reports. Secondly, the Attorney-General’s decision and announcement that Malaysia had no jurisdiction against BMF officials for offences committed in Hong Kong in the BMF scandal, although the Lord President had to deny the next day that he was the authority for the AG’s view. Thirdly, the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement to foreign correspondents covering the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Conference that Malaysia would fully collaborate with the Hong Kong authorities and expressing confidence in the British course of justice in Hong Kong appeared to indicate a new government policy stand to wash its hands of any responsibility to bring the BMF culprits to book.
Parliament is now the last forum and resort for Malaysians to overrule the Attorney-General, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and in fact the entire Cabinet, to demand that there should be a full, unrestricted accounting of the entire sordid tale of the BMF scandal, and that the Malaysian authorities should leave no stone unturned to bring the BMF culprits to justice in Malaysia as it is $2.5 billion of Malaysian public monies which are involved.
Will Parliament measure up to the test of the BMF scandal, or would it succumb to create another scandal by itself by its indifference, unconcern and inaction over the BMF scandal.
These are questions we should ponder when we discuss and debate the role of Parliament in our Parliamentary Democracy.
Parliament and MPs cannot thrive in a vacuum, but only in response to the democratic ideals and aspirations of the people. This is why it is a prerequisite to the healthy growth of parliamentary democracy that the Malaysian people should be committed to the system, through education in the home, school, work place, apart from the political systems. It must become a part of the national political ethos.
This is why in my action, I also called on all Malaysians to reaffirm their commitment to the system of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, by actively taking part in, the creation of democratic conditions and the dissemination of democratic values.
I propose to amend my motion, to add, after the words “NOTES with concern the erosion of the principle and practice of parliamentary democracy over the years”, the following words “RESOLVES to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee to review and report on the operations of the system of Parliamentary democracy in the last 25 years and to make recommendations on increasing its efficacy“.
Such a Parliamentary Select Committee should conduct not only a wide-ranging review of the hosts of laws which restrict the operation of parliamentary democracy, but also the developments in the Dewan Rakyat in regard to changes in Standing Orders, parliamentary conventions and tradition, which reduce Parliament to a mere appendage to the Government of the day.
Parliament must be restored to its original pre-eminent place and role as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber, so that parliamentary democracy will be given more meaning and content with every passing year, instead of being progressively emasculated into a rubber stamp chamber.
The Parliamentary Select Committee should have a wide-ranging brief to examine the efficacy of parliamentary institution and systems. For instance, it should consider whether the Senate is a
just a sham, totally irrelevant and a White Elephant which had failed its constitutional purpose as a revision chamber to review the legislation enacted by Dewan Rakyat.
SENATE A DUMPING GROUND!
The Senate has blatantly been used as a dumping ground for political ‘rejects’or defeated candidates of Barisan Nasional component parties. The cynical manner in which Senatorial appointments were regarded ‘jobs for the boys’ could be seen in the tussle for the Kedah Senate seat by the two MCA factions of Neo Yee Pan and Tan Koon Swan.
Because of the power struggle in the MCA, there was a stalemate in the appointment of a Senator from MCA for Kedah. Finally, a compromise was reached whereby the ‘Tan Koon Swan MCA factions Bee Yang Sek was appointed to Serve half a term of 18 months, while the second half of l8 months in the Senator’s 3-year term is to be filled by the Neo Yee Pan faction’s Chan Kok Hong.
What would happen if one day there are say, six factions in the MCA? Does this mean that the three-year term of a Senator is to be split into six portions, so that six persons could rotate to be Senator for six months’ each?
The splitting of a Senator’s term to shorter periods to enable competing candidates or factions to reach a compromise is not only highly cynical, but violate the spirit of the Constitution and parliamentary democracy.
This shows that the criteria for the selection of a Senator is not on which candidate has the highest qualification to serve in the Senate, but how best to accommodate competing interests of rival candidates, factions or component Barisan parties, bringing the whole Senate and the system of parliamentary democracy into disrepute.
The DAP calls for an elected Senate or the abolition of the Senate so that institutions which serve no national purpose do not continue to be a drain on the nation’s funds.
The Malaysian Constitution has provisions for an elected Senate. Article 45(4) for instance provides for Senators for each state to be elected by the ‘direct vote of the electors of the State’, the increase to three the number of members to be elected by each state, and the decrease or abolition of appointed Senators.
There is thus a wide field for the Parliamentary Select Committee to study and report, and I have no doubt that if such a Parliamentary select Committee is established, it would be an important milestone in the development of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.