The Bagan by-election will be a crucial test as to whether the Opposition can restore its role to be the people’s watchdog in Parliament to defend

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, at a DAP Bagan by-election ceramah at Chamberlain Road, Butterworth on Monday, September 4, 1995 at 9 p.m.

The Bagan by-election will be a crucial test as to whether the Opposition can restore its role to be the people’s watchdog in Parliament to
defend their rights and protect democracy

I have just returned from Sydney where I represented the DAP at the two-day meeting of the Socialist International Asia-Pacific Committee.

This international conference, which was attended by three Cabinet Ministers, two Australia including the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Gareth Evans and the Swedish Culture Minister, Ms Margot Wallstrom, as well as the New Zealand Opposition Leader, Ms Helen Clark, paid tribute to P. Patto as a great and committed worker for justice, equality and freedom and honoured him with a minute of silence before the start of the meeting.

Recongnition and homage for Patto’s sacrifices and contribution to the people and country had also been given inside the country, both from government and opposition sides. The only pity is that such recognition is only given to an Opposition leader after he had died – when more good for the people and country would have been done if some such recognition had been given when Patto was still alive.

Even now, such recognition is still quite grudging and this is why my proposal that the Penang State Government, which had hailed Patto as a “great Malaysian”, should honour Patto’s memory and contribution by naming important places after him had not been acted upon.

This appears to be the fate, not only of ‘Opposition leaders but also of Opposition parties.

I believe that if, for some reason, the DAP is no more, there would be kinder words and greater recognition and appreciation of the DAP’s contribution to the people and country. This however will be too late and be of mere academic interest.

What is important is that people should give the DAP the fullest support, particularly after the DAP’s debacle in the April general election, when the DAP is struggling for struggling for survival – and not to give appreciation after the DAP had passed into history.

The Bagan by-election is shaping up to be a very crucial political test after the April general election, where the Opposition was badly mauled.

The DAP suffered its worst electoral defeat in three decades, raising the question among some quarters whether the DAP has outlived its purpose and usefulness and should be dissolved.

The DAP leadership, however, is convinced that just as the DAP had played a most important role in keeping the ideal of a democratic, multi-racial and multi-cultural Malaysia alive during the darkest periods of the nation’s history, the DAP has a seminal role to play in the political future of Malaysia to ensure that Malaysia becomes a fully developed nation without repudiating the ideals of justice, equality, freedom, accountability and transparency.

The Bagan by-election will therefore be a crucial test as to whether the Opposition can restore its role to be the people’s watchdog in Parliament to defend their rights and protect democracy.

In the April general election, the DAP fared the worst in our seven general elections – securing nine out of 192 seats, which represents only 4.7 per cent of the parliamentary seats – which is worse than our 1974 and 1982 general election results, when DAP had nine out of 154 parliamentary seats, representing 5.8 per cent of the parliamentary seats. In contrast, in the 1986 general election, the DAP won 24 out of 177 Parliamentary seats, representing 13.6 per cent of the parliamentary seats.

For the Barisan Nasional, in the April general election they not only secured a two-third majority but seven exceeded a five-sixth majority, as it won 162 out of 192 seats, representing 84.4 per cent of the parliamentary seats.

The situation today is even worse than on Polling Day on April 25, for the DAP has lost one parliamentary constituency – not because of rejection by the voters, but because of an election judge decision that the defeated MCA candidate be declared the MP for Bukit Bintang. This makes the present MCA MP for Bukit Bintang the first person to enter the Dewan Rakyat by the back-door – when in Malaysia’s system of bicameral Parliament, the back-door entrance is reserved only Senate!

The DAP has suffered the loss of another DAP with the untimely death of Patto. In this case, the MCA had also tried to send a second MCA MP into the Dewan Rakyat by the back-door, but failed.

There is talk that next year there would have to be a by-election in Kota Melaka, as MCA leaders expect Lim Guan Eng to be convicted of the charges under the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act which had been preferred against him, and to be disqualified as MP.

All this have made the task of the DAP in particular and the Opposition in general in exercising the ‘check-and-balance’ role on the Executive in Parliament a most difficult one.

This is the reason why there are proposals to make far-reaching changes to the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat which will place Opposition MPs in the most handicapped and disadvantaged position in Malaysian Parliamentary history, such as slashing the 20 oral questions which a MP can ask for each meeting to five; ‘killing off’ motions of an urgent, definite public importance and giving the Speaker and Deputy Speakers unheard-of powers in other Parliaments to suspend Opposition MPs.

Once these undemocratic amendments to the Standing Orders are passed, it will be very difficult to undo the changes even if in future general elections, Opposition MPs are doubled or trebled!

The Bagan by-election is not about Lim Hock Seng or myself, but whether the flame of democracy and the role of Parliamentary opposition could be kept alive.

The Bagan by-election is therefore not so much about individuals, whether are DAP candidate Lim Hock Seng can be elected as MP for Bagan or whether I could continue as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, but whether the flame of democracy and the role of the Parliamentary Opposition to provide the ‘check-and-balance’ against abuses of power, malpractices, corruption, lack of accountability and transparency can be kept alive at the same time as the country moves towards Vision 2020.

I do not know whether the DAP can win in the Bagan by-election, as Patto won only with a wafer-thin majority of 181. If the DAP is defeated in the Bagan by-election, it will be an even greater blow to the DAP which is still reeling from the shock and trauma of the April general election result and will send a completely wrong signal to the Barisan Nasional.

Two clear message which the Bagan voters can sent out on behalf of all Malaysians in the by-election.

If the DAP can retain the Bagan seat, and better still win with an impressive majority, then the people of Bagan will be playing a historic role on behalf of all Malaysians to send a clear message to the Barisan Nasional Government on two points:

Firstly, that with the 162 MPs from Barisan Nasional (plus another one from the backdoor), the Barisan Nasional has an unprecedented five-sixthmajority in Parliament and it does not need any more new MPs at the Opposition’s expense; and that instead, it should get on with the job of providing good, responsible, fair and progressive government; and

Secondly, mindful of the maxim that “Power tends to corrupt and Absolute Power tends to corrupt absolutely”, it is in the best interest of all Malaysians that the Opposition is not weakened any further and that the DAP is given a clear mandate by the people to play the dual parliamentary role of providing the ‘check-and-balance’ on the Executive and be the voice of people in Parliament.