Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Fix Parliament, Then Fix the Rest

Written by johnleemk on 3:38:14 pm Aug 17, 2007.

One thing that perplexes me considerably is the constant faith Malaysians seem to have in quick and easy fixes to considerable problems. Racial politics? Just ban communal political parties! The judiciary is too influenced by the executive? Involve Parliament in the appointment process! Corruption? Make the Anti-Corruption Agency accountable to Parliament!

That isn't to say that any or all of these suggestions are not good ideas — they all have a good deal of merit. But their simplistic approach to the problems they are meant to solve simply means they do not necessarily have a realistic chance of working.

Parliament in particular is the fetish of many people — it is commonly taken for granted that if we set things like the Election Commission, the ACA, etc. free from executive influence and place them under Parliament, they will be able to freely carry out their duties.

It is of course true that they will not be as stifled as they presently are by being under the executive. That cannot be denied.

But since when was Parliament, in any meaningful sense of the word, independent? Parliamentarians have often been the most vocal supporters of government policy, with some even going over the line — one MP has said that "Malaysia ini negara Islam, you tak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia!" ("Malaysia is an Islamic country/state, you don't like it, you get out of Malaysia!")

It is true that these extremists do not necessarily dominate. They are a minority; most MPs hardly voice out anything as stupid or ridiculous as that. But in the first place, that is because most MPs hardly speak.

Those few who deviate from what those in power in the executive branch want are punished very quickly. Shahrir Abdul Samad paid a heavy price for standing up for his views by not voting with the government on every issue.

Independent-minded MPs and members of the executive, like Zaid Ibrahim and Rais Yatim, have thus forced themselves to spew out the same tripe that is expected of the vocal radicals who support the established policies with a vengeance.

As long as the ruling regime requires all its MPs to follow the party line on every issue brought to a vote, there is no way that any agency placed under Parliament will have any more significant autonomy than it would have under the executive.

We have to reform Parliament before we can talk about fixing these other issues. A Parliament powerless to stand up to the executive is no better than the executive itself when things go wrong.

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