Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Reforming the Malaysian Parliament

Written by johnleemk on 8:13:14 am Mar 6, 2007.

One of the proposals mentioned by the survey on corruption and transparency which received broad popular support was that of making the Anti-Corruption Agency subordinate to Parliament instead of the Prime Minister.

This would obviously be a wise move, but in response to the proposal, notable MP Shahrir Abdul Samad pointed out that to make the ACA truly impartial and independent, Parliament would first have to be independent, and that without reforming Parliament, it would be pointless to make the ACA report to Parliament.

This isn't the first time I've found myself in agreement with Shahrir, who, unlike his compatriot from Johor, actually has a brain worth speaking of. If I'm not mistaken, to protest the lack of discretion given to government MPs (who cannot vote with their conscience on practically all issues), Shahrir defied the whip, and paid for it by losing his chairmanship of the Backbencher Club.

How can we reform our Parliament? It seems to me that there is not much to be done in the way of institutional reform. Parliament as it stands already has a lot of power under the Constitution — it is merely incapable of exercising it because of the strong sway the Barisan Nasional frontbenchers have over MPs, thanks to their gigantic majority and their totalitarian policy of applying the whip to almost every issue.

Nevertheless, there is one very important thing that merits consideration. That is, to end the state of emergency we have been under since 1969.

Why is this? Because whenever our country is under a state of emergency, the executive has unlimited powers to legislate on any matter except those entrenched by the Constitution — the usual special position of the Bumis, citizenship, religion, rulers, etc. rigmarole.

Clearly, this makes Parliament an effective legislative figurehead, since the government does not actually require the approval of MPs to pass new laws. The only purpose Parliament serves is to rubberstamp the Constitutional amendments that cannot be passed by the executive.

Aside from this key matter, however, the initiative to restore the powers that MPs should have lies with the Barisan Nasional coalition, not with the government per se. (Even though BN and the government are normally equated, it's important to remember that legally there is a distinction between the two.)

To empower MPs, loosening the whip would be an excellent idea. As Shahrir notes, Parliament is only a place for windbags to unleash their tiring speeches on those MPs diligent enough to actually attend the proceedings — and even then, there's no guarantee you won't get more than remarks like "bloody racist" or "Malaysia ini negara Islam, you tak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia!"

The government cannot pass a law requiring parties to enforce the whip only on certain issues. The initiative on what to apply the whip to lies with individual political parties, and therefore to provide MPs with the discretion they need to truly serve the people, the onus is on Barisan Nasional to loosen the reins and permit MPs to vote as their conscience tells them to.

No less a prominent personality than Dr Mahathir himself has noted:

Quoted from: The Malay Dilemma
In the main, Parliamentary sittings were regarded as a pleasant formality which afforded members opportunities to be heard and quoted, but which would have absolutely no effect on the course of the Government. ... The sittings were a concession to a superfluous democratic practice. Its main value lay in the opportunity to flaunt Government strength.

How can we alter this practice, which has been ingrained in government MPs since independence? It's all but impossible without an edict from the apex of Barisan Nasional itself.

I suppose this is yet another argument for voting for anyone but your Barisan Nasional candidate in the elections, then. After all, you will never see your elected representatives actually representing your interests as long as they must vote for what the government thinks is best rather than what you think is best or what they think is best for you. In such a case, you're better off with those DAP or PKR devils — as horrid an alternative as they are to many (and I must say I don't find them completely palatable either), at least you know that in most cases, their votes will lie in support of your interests, and not those of Barisan Nasional frontbenchers' cronies.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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