Speech by Parliamentary opposition Leader, DAP Secretary- General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the ALIRAN Annual Merdeka Dinner held at Chan Kee Restaurant, Petaling Jaya on Saturday, 24th August 1985 at 7.30 pm
The Power of the Rakyat- Removal of two- third majority of ruling parties essential first step to ensure a meaningful parliamentary democracy.
President of Aliran, Sdr. Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, Aliran Executive Committee Members, Aliran members and distinguished guests. Permit me firstly to thank Dr. Chandra and the Aliran Executive Committee members for the honour of being the guest speaker at your Annual Merdeka Dinner in Petaling Jaya. I congratulate them for choosing a most appropriate theme this year — ‘Power of the Rakyat’.
Malaysia is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Parliament and parliamentary democracy. As Parliamentary democracy is based on the principle of the sovereignty of the power of the people, we should at the same time be celebrating the Silver Jubilee of ‘The Power of the Rakyat’.
Do we have any cause for such celebration? The very fact that no one had equated the Silver Jubilee of Malaysian parliamentary democracy with the ‘Power of the Rakyat’ is eloquent testimony of the vast gap between parliamentary democracy and ‘Power of the Rakyat’, although everybody claims that parliamentary democracy in Malaysia is founded on the Power of the Rakyat.
This gap is vividly illuminated by the 1983 Constitutional Crisis. When the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, decided to whip up public support in his confrontation with the Rulers, he warned the Rulers not to thwart the will of the people and declared throughout the country that parliamentary democracy is based on the sovereign power of the people.
The supreme irony was that until the Prime Minister stomped the country holding illegal public rallies to back his cause, the people were completely in the dark about the greatest Constitutional Crisis in Malaysia which had been brewing for four long months.
The relevant constitutional amendments were surreptitiously introduced in Parliament on August 1, 1983; Parliament submissively turned itself into a Wayang Kulit by disregarding the real substance and issues of these constitutional amendments; and when DAP Mpg refused to be a party to the farce by speaking up on the constitutional amendments, the press were ordered to black out all such references.
When Par1imitmet again in October, with eight bills passed in the previous meeting not having received the Royal Assent, I asked what action was being taken to resolve the Constitutional Crisis. The Prime Minister made the classic statement that he was not aware of y such crisis’, and there was visible shock in the House as if I had committed some sacrilege in having the temerity to talk about a ‘constitutional crisis’ when the whole country and the people at large were supposed to be ignorant of the constitutional crisis.
Until the Constitutional Crisis became public in November 1983 on the decision of the grime Minister, the issue at stake could not have been the test of the sovereignty of the people as the people were completely unaware of the crisis, confrontation and issues involved. What was at stake between August – November 1983 could only be the sovereignty of the grime Minister’s power.
I have dwelt at some length on the constitutional crisis because it illustrates the different meaning of ‘Power of the Rakyat’ in our parliamentary democracy to different people.
There are those in influential positions whose views on ‘Power of the Rakyat’, if taken to their legical conclusion, would mean the power of the people to vote in general elections once every five years, and during the intervening period, the power of the people is transferred in their entirety to the elected government of the day. In between elections, the government is fully delegated arid empowered to act in the name of the people to administer the country, formulate and implement policies and programmes, impose any restraints or curbs on the people’s liberties or freedoms including freedom of press and information, while the people have no right to protest or oppose any infringement of their rights, needs and aspirations. If the people are dissatisfied with the ruling party’s stewardship of the ‘Power of the Rakyat’, they could vote them out of office in the next general elections. 1n short, general elections victory is construed as a blank cheque for the majority parties to act in the name of the people, even to suppress and oppress the people!
Such a theory of ‘Power of the Rakyat’ would justify the treatment of the elected Opposition and voters who supported the Opposition as ‘anti—people, anti—government and anti—national’, deserving all forms of discrimination and victimisation. Checks and balances on the exercises of power would be regarded as obstacles to legitimate exercise of people’s power, while public opinion at variance with the prevailing notions of the government the day regarded as of nuisance value at best and anti- national and disloyal manifestations at worst!
This is t a theory of government for a Parliamentary ‘Democracy, but for Parliamentary Dictatorship, or Prime Ministerial Dictatorship given that Parliament is a rubber stamp of the Executive.
It is fortunate that we have not reached a stage in Malaysia where ‘Power of the Rakyat’ and parliamentary democracy have been reduced to such abhorrent state where the ‘Power of Rakyat is under permanent incarceration except once in five years to be let out from the prison cells to take part in undoubtedly a charade of elections.
But there are enough influential political leaders in power whose thinking appears to be set in such a direction for Malaysians to be eternally vigilant of their rights and power, and to ensure that parliamentary democracy does not lose all meaning in Malaysia becoming merely a name to be used by undemocratic authoritarian forces to give legitimacy to their exercise of power.
It is for this reason that ALIRAN’s honouring of the people of Papan and the people of Tambunan as Malaysians of the Year is most fitting, for both had struck important blows in the struggle to assert, defend and uphold the voice, rights and power of the people, in their different ways.
The people of Papan and the support groups and organisations had fought a valiant battle against the siting of a radioactive waste dump in their midst in the face of the greatest presses from both the state and national authorities. The government was finally forced by the courageous and steadfast opposition of the people to relent and move the site elsewhere.
The people of Papan won a victory, not only for themselves in getting the radioactive waste dump site removed, but also the important principle that in government development plans affecting the livelihood and welfare of the people, the government should not ride roughshod over the people’s rights and needs. But the battle over the radioactive waste dump site is not completely over, as the new proposed site is also close enough to human habitation to pose long—term hazards to human health and environment.
The people of Tambunan stood up for their rights to re—elect their Assemblyman, Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan, in the by—election on Dec, 29, 1984, despite Berjaya arm—twisting before the polls and punitive measures like withdrawal of development aid and facilities and abrogation of district status after the results.
By standing up against such undemocratic persecution and discrimination by the then Chief Minister of Sabah, Datuk Harris Salleh, the people of Tambunan struck a big blow for ‘Power of the Rakyat’, for they played a vital role in creating a new political assertiveness which led to the overthrow of the previous State Government less than four months later.
The Tambunan case is one where the important difference between the government and the ruling party had been removed, resulting in abuses of power in regarding voters of non—ruling party candidates as enemies of the state, when they are in fact an integral part of it.
The Tambunan complex of the ruling parties is not confined to Sabah alone. It also afflicts national and state leaders outside Sabab, although in lesser degree. For instance, Barisan Nasional MPs are given $100,000 a year as minor constituency development project funds, which is denied to Opposition areas. I would take this opportunity to call on the Prime Minister to put an end to such Tambunan complex, and end such discrimination and victimisation, either by extending the $100,000 constituency development allocation to Opposition constituencies or do away with such allocation altogether.
In the last 40 months since the last general elections, other issues and events apart from Papan and Tambunan had also put to the test the meaning and relevance of ‘Power of the Rakyat’ and parliamentary democracy. I will refer to the $2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal, the Bukit China controversy, the Sim Kie Chon case, freedom of the press and the status of Parliament.
$2.5 billion BMF scandal
IF there is one issue which would evoke the overwhelming positive response of the people in a referendum, it is the demand for a full and unfettered disclosure of the entire sordid scandal of the $2.5 billion BIIF loans scandal in Hong Kong
If there is one issue which has done more to destroy the 2M Government’s pledge of a ‘clean, efficient and trustworthy’ administration, it is also the $2.5 billion BMF scandal.
I stand by what I said in Parliament during the debate on my motion for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the BMF Scandal, that the government’s handling of the BMF affair and its accounting to the people have been characterised by a series of cover—ups, deceptions and downright lies.
From the latest statement by the Chairman of the BMF Inquiry Committee, Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin, I get the distinct impression that he is trying to tell the public not to expect too much from his committee.
I have the greatest respect for the integrity and character of Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin, and I congratulate him for his well—deserved honour of the Magsaysay Award. I mean no personal criticism of him however when I express reservations about the ability of his Committee to get to the bottom of the BMF loans scandal because of the restricted terms of reference and jurisdicational powers of the BMF Inquiry Committee.
Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin had said that the final report of the Committee would describe how the money came to be released by the Banlc. He said: “Beyond that we don’t know because we can’t get hold of those who borrowed the money. We therefore have to draw the line there.”
The people will be very disappointed, and the principle of public accountability undermined, if Malaysians cannot get answers to some of the following questions about the BMF scandal for over three years:
1. What is the real relationship between George Tan and the Carrian Group with the BMF, Bank Bumiputera and Malaysian leaders that Bank Bumiputra and BMF could lend some $2 billion to one company, a sum which exceeded the capital of the parent bank.
2. Whether top political leaders in the country have been involved in the BMF loans scandal, and if so, who are they and the nature of their involvement.
3. Whether Malaysian political arties had been similarly involved in the BMF loans scandal
If these and other quewtions could not he answered, then where is the principle of public accountability.
Bukit China controversy
A major people—issue in the last 40 months is the Bukit China controversy in Malacca, where in disregard of its cultural, religious, historic significance, and the special place it occupies in the hearts of the Malaysian Chinese, the Malacca State Government announced its plans to demolish the most ancient Chinese cemetry in Malaysia for commercial development.
Ten years ago, one of the government’s theoretician, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie, was explaining in a speech about the meaning of Rukunegara, and he said:
“The application of the essence of Rukunegara in the every day life of the individual is imperative so that all decisions and actions will conduce towards harmony and wellbeing. An engineer constructing a highway by all calculations based on science and technology will arrive at the conclusion that the cheapest and the most efficient road is aligned on a straight line between two points. However, if a revered place of worship is exactly on that alighnment, Rukunegara will dictate that the shortest distance between the hearts of men is a road which meanders slightly obviating the demolition of the holy place.”
This shows how far the those in power and authority have deviated from the original Rukunegara Concepts, that they could envisage the total destruction of Bukit China in the face of opposition from the people.
The ensuing nation—wide Save Bukit China campaign, culminating in the 300,000 mass signatures, marked another important milestone in the awakening of the people to their power in a parliamentary democracy.
Sim Kie Chon
The latest people issue is the Save Sim Kie Chon campaign which is based on humanitarian, equality and justice, and moral grounds. It is palpably indefensible on any grounds that a Cabinet Minister who killed another could be pardoned while a condemned who had illegal possession of firearms but who did not kill or hurt anyone could not be pardoned.
What is involved, here is not just the life of one condemned person, but the international reputation of Malaysia, and in fact, our very own soul and moral well—being.
For instance, how are our teachers to teach civics to our children in school, about the Rukunegara principle of morality as a basis of nation building, of equality and justice, if they can see for themselves the discrimination and injustice of the treatment of Mochtar Hashim and Sim Kie Chon cases?
The petition for clemency for Sim is a mission of mercy which transcends race, religion or any other sectional consideration. And the people are fully within their right to be involved in a campaign to try to save Sim from the hangman’s rope by appealing to the Yang di Pertuan Agong to commute his death penalty to life imprisonment.
I do not want to go into the other issues raised by Sim’s case, as the Internal Security Act, the Attorney—General’ s powers, and the remarkable statement by the Lord President about law according to justice, and justice according to law.
I make mention of these various people—issues in the last 40 months, involving the $2.5 billion BMF loans scandal, the Papan and Tambunan cases, the Bukit China controversy and Sim Kie Chon appeal to show that there is a ferment among the people which bodes well for a healthy growth of parliamentary democracy despite a hostile political atmosphere.
The Power of the Rakyat can cone into its own only if there is a free and independent press , an articulate public opinion and a meaningful parliamentary democracy.
Malaysian press is in a parlous state, bearing in mind the rime Minister’s rhetorical question as to what is wrong if newspapers become like government gazettes.
If Malaysian newspapers become like government gazettes, then parliamentary democracy would have been transmuted into a parliamentary dictatorship.
If the power of the Rakyat is to regain its rightful place then all efforts must be made to give meaning to our parliamentary democratic process. I believe that the removal of the two-third majority of the ruling parties is an essential first step to ensure a meaningful parliamentary democracy.
I will therefore leave this as a final thought for you to chew on tonight.