Who will defend our Parliament?

Parliament, the symbol of Malaysian democracy, has come under serious attack in recent days and it is worrying that if this continues, we will lose what is left of our parliamentary democracy.

Apart from its legislative function, Parliament plays a vital role in scrutinising the government of the day. If Parliament as an institution continues to be emaciated, then a vital element in the delicate balance of powers will become even more impotent than it already is.

This will lead to governmental power being unchecked, resulting in nothing good.

I read with dismay the move, purportedly initiated by the prime minister and the government, to remove Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and one of his deputies, Nga Kor Ming.

The speaker, although appointed by the previous Pakatan Harapan government, is an independent person and not affiliated with any political party. There has not been any allegations of misconduct on his part and one can only assume this is because of his refusal to “play ball” with the government in terms of their legislative agenda.

The fact that this attempt at removal is no more than political machination is even more apparent when there has been no attempt to remove the other deputy speaker, Mohd Rashid Hasnon, who has hopped from PKR to the prime minister’s party, PPBM.

By trying to place a pliant speaker in the house, the government is seeking a free pass for many of its actions, as it will be the prerogative of the speaker to entertain or allow debates and motions initiated by the opposition that may be unfavourable to the government.

This is a blatant attempt by the executive to undermine the legislature and it must not be allowed.

May 18, 2020 marked another sad day in the history of Parliament when it was convened for one day and only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s address was allowed to be heard. No other business was allowed. The speaker clearly mentioned that this was on the instructions of the prime minister himself. This was a blatant attempt to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and a possible confidence vote. The only reason the one-day sitting was even held was to comply with article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution that states that there cannot be more than six months between sittings.

In the UK Supreme Court decision of R (Miller) v The Prime Minister (2019), it was held “that a decision to prorogue Parliament (or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament) will be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive”.

This case shows the Supreme Court declaring that the action of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it served to frustrate Parliament’s constitutional role of scrutiny of the executive. This is a landmark decision showing the judiciary not being afraid to stand up to the executive to protect the role of the Parliament in the UK.

This is exactly what happened here in Malaysia regarding the parliamentary sitting on May 18, and the move to remove the speaker and one of his deputies is a blatant attempt by the government to subvert Parliament and to limit its constitutional role to scrutinise the executive.

Article 43(3) of the Federal Constitution clearly states that the Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament, thus being indicative of this role. Further, this is a clear violation of the separation of powers, a doctrine that our judiciary has bravely reasserted in recent decisions as being inalienable from our constitution.

Our parliament already deals with a host of issues that serves to limit its ability to carry out its scrutiny functions. We do not have a fully developed committee system specialising in looking into specific areas of importance in the country. The UK’s House of Commons has about 60 committees to look into various issues wherein the committees will have the power to call for the prime minister or members of his Cabinet to answer and be accountable to parliament for their actions. New Zealand, a country with fewer than five million people, has 13 committees. We in Malaysia have five for our population of about 30 million. These committees are too general and are not able to exercise the level of scrutiny on our government that is needed.

Further, and most damning of all, is the quality of our Members of Parliament as seen after the “Sheraton move”, where many hopped over from the Pakatan Harapan to the newly formed Perikatan Nasional, resulting in the collapse of the 22-month-old PH government.

Given the obvious problems with our Parliament and the attacks it has come under, who will defend Parliament? The answer seems clear that it is us, you and me, the citizens of Malaysia. It has been made clear that we cannot depend on our politicians, wherever they sit on the political spectrum and, as such, we must use our votes wisely and vote for people with a proven track record of not betraying the mandate given to them.

If you have not registered to vote then you must do so immediately. The political fatigue that we are facing now because of our leaders disappointing us constantly must not hinder us from our responsibility to ensure that the august house is filled with good and honest men and women from whichever party that you see best, although they do seem in short supply of late.

We must defend Parliament, you and me.

Daniel Abishegam is an academic director and senior law lecturer at Advance Tertiary College (ATC).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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