Ambiga: Brake on MPs’ freedom of speech erodes democracy

ambiga_law_parliment_600

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Human Rights Society has expressed concern that certain parties are explicit that non-Muslims MPs should not debate the hudud Bill while Muslim lawmakers must vote ‘aye’ for the law.

“These two statements undermine our parliamentary democracy,” its president Ambiga Sreenevasan said.

The lawyer made the remarks when she took to the podium at the inaugural lecture “Reclaiming our Federal Constitution – Preserve, Protect & Defend” at the University of Malaya Thursday.

Saying she would not go into the merits of the Bill, which is scheduled to be tabled by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang when Parliament begins its session next week, Ambiga lamented:

“They are saying that non-Muslim MPs cannot discuss the legislation that is coming before Parliament. They are also saying that Muslim MPs have no choice but to vote.

“And we never had such a situation in the past. Of course, when it comes to the (party) whip, that is a different thing. So those are the things that worry me.”

However, she did not identify the individuals nor the political party that had made such remarks.

Ambiga said there was no check and balance, and such statements had become a national discourse although only a few had uttered it.

“We should be concerned with what is published in the media. And more importantly, none came out to rebut them,” she said.

Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin, who is the founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Malaysia, agreed with Ambiga that non-Muslim MPs had the right, the mandate and legitimacy to speak on any Bill that was presented in the House.

Hadi’s Private Member’s Bill seeks to expand the powers of shariah courts to impose criminal punishments, except for the death penalty.

Shariah courts operate under state law. However, the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 must be amended to enable expanded jurisdiction.

The controversial Bill has been slotted in the Parliament Order Paper and listed at No. 4.

The Bill requires 112 votes to pass by a simple majority. Umno (86) and PAS (14) have 100 seats, There are 24 opposition Muslim MPs from PKR (16), Amanah (6), and DAP (2).