Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

A Powerless Parliament

Written by johnleemk on 3:51:30 pm May 18, 2007.
Categories: ,

In the original Westminster system, started by the United Kingdom, Parliament is the supreme institution. The UK does not even have a written constitution; it is Pariament that is the true law of the land. (Parliament is literally free to do anything it likes.)

Parliamentary supremacy was of course not transplanted to many other Commonwealth countries, most of which have supreme written constitutions. However, the idea that the legislature should be one of the most powerful institutions in the government has always been reinforced by the fact that the head of the executive must have the support of the legislature.

In many countries, however, Parliament is nothing more than a rubber stamp. It exists to keep up appearances, rather than to serve as a platform for any serious debate or deliberation.

Malaysia is one of those farcical democracies. As far back as the 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew was astonished to find that in the Malaysian Parliament, MPs were more concerned about things like fording streams to ensure Malay women did not have to immodestly hike up their skirts, rather than any issues of actual national importance.

Today, Parliament has become even worse. The recent incident where two MPs lambasted a female MP for criticising Parliament's leaky roofing by saying she too leaked (bocor) every month.

This, of course, is just the latest of many tragical farces in the Parliament of Malaysia. Other such comical incidents include Nazri Aziz's famous "bloody racist" chant and Badruddin Amiruldin's demand that those who oppose an Islamic theocracy get out of Malaysia — both incidents recorded on video for posterity.

The most insulting thing about our MPs is not that they are just this stupid and petty, or that they have nothing better to debate than women's menstrual periods, but that they think they can actually get away with it.

When taken to task for their remarks, the offending leaky MPs insisted that their remark could have referred to other forms of leaking. I can't think of women who have a monthly leak other than menstruation, so unless these MPs had a science teacher like mine (who told me, among other things, that "red blood cells prevent from sick"), their devil-may-care attitude is nothing but insulting to the intelligence of Malaysians. (Unfortunately, I think that insult may be deserved.)

In any event, the true powerlessness of the Malaysian Parliament lies not just in the fact that our MPs prefer to occupy themselves with denying that women's only monthly leak is a period. That true powerlessness lies in the fact that Parliament cannot actually do anything.

Its only purpose is to pass constitutional amendments and laws by rubber stamping them — and even then, that is only a mere formality. Because we remain under a state of perpetual emergency ever since the 13 May 1969 racial riots, the executive is allowed to make law at will. The only thing they cannot legislate on are the entrenched provisions of the Constitution — and it is doubtful whether Parliament would stand in their way if the executive wanted to.

This powerlessness was highlighted recently when Bernard Dompok resigned from one of the very few existing Parliamentary committees. (In most legislatures, these committees exist to enforce discipline in the house and to review proposals for new legislation — most legislatures have several committees.)

According to the reports covering Dompok's resignation, one major problem with the committee was that it was powerless to hold hearings on the fields it was formed to cover! Apparently, our Parliamentary committees cannot even compel anyone to appear before them to testify about a particular issue!

It's bad enough that our government expects the voters to make an informed choice come election day when they are denied so much information. But when even our legislators are denied the right to information about the proposals they are debating, what good is having a Parliament at all?

The saddest thing is that this is not even a particularly new problem. Back when Tun Dr Ismail was still in Parliament, he once attempted to take a Constitutional amendment through all three readings in one day, without even giving MPs a chance to review the bill. After Tan Chee Khoon objected, Ismail relented — but it is doubtful that any other minister would have then or would today.

The fact is, Malaysians have a powerless Parliament. Our Parliament is filled with impotent yes-men who can't do anything but rubber stamp what the executive sets before them.

It's time to show the castrati who rule our legislature that we do not want such useless swaggerers making our country's laws. Let us at least elect lawmakers who want to take the legislative process seriously — rather than taking advantage of it to make fun of the human reproductive system.

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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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