Our MPs must go to the depths of their souls and examine their conscience before they descend on Parliament House tomorrow where they would, in all likelihood but for no good reason, vote to replace the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat; an unprecedented move in the history of our nation.
There have been several arguments and commentaries for and against such a move. The preponderance of opinions has centred on whether the language of our Constitution and of the Dewan Rakyat’s Standing Orders allows the parliamentary majority to act in such a manner.
A cornerstone of democracy is the concept of the “rule of law” and how important it is to distinguish the “rule of law” from the “rule by law”.
Central to the concept of the “rule of law” is that the powerful should exercise their powers reasonably, fairly and for the purpose for which the power was conferred. It prevents the exercise of power arbitrarily and unreasonably.
It has the underpinning values of dignity of the individual and the honest and fair use of power.
On the other hand, “rule by law” is where the law is an instrument of the powerful to be used for its own ends. It has little regard for fairness in the application of the law or its participation in the decision-making processes.
A jurist aptly distinguished the “rule of law” as where the law limits the power of the powerful to impose fetters on fundamental human fairness while “rule by law” as where the law is used by the powerful to limit the collective will of society.
To bring the dichotomy into focus, our MPs may be reminded that the “rule by law” argument had been justified by the then German Law which empowered the Nazis to send Jews to the gas chambers and by enacted apartheid laws in South Africa where it was “legal” to repress and discriminate against the coloured majority.
That being said, the issue before the House tomorrow would be whether it would be fair and just to remove an honest, impartial and non-partisan Speaker at the whims of the powerful, without any concern for the essential elements of fairness and justice and against common law convention.
During his brief term, the current Speaker had excelled in his role as an impartial chairman and had shown great respect for multi-partisanship. He had been introducing reforms to enable Opposition parties to play proper and effective roles in law making and policy implementation. The Malaysian Parliament has been evolving towards becoming a mature democratic ground.
I would unequivocally state that the current Speaker had always maintained the highest standards as a teacher of the law, a practitioner of the law and as a judge of our superior courts.
Why the need for this unholy move?
No senior politician has attempted to persuade ordinary Malaysians as to the necessity for such a move.
Some politicians postulate that since the power to replace the Speaker is provided for by law, then the government has every right to do so. Some go even further and equate the removal of the Speaker with the spate of changes we have witnessed in government-linked companies or agencies.
It would be good to understand that the office of the Speaker is a pivotal position in our democracy. It has been said that while MPs represent their constituencies, ministers represent the government, the Speaker represents the full authority of the highest law-making body of the land.
India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, crystallised the office of the Speaker into context when he said; “The Speaker represents the House. He represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes a symbol of the nation’s freedom and liberty.”
Where and how would this symbol of our nation’s freedom and liberty obtain justice?
It behooves Parliament to show that we are a nation of laws; not of capricious men.
Watson Peters has practised law for more than three decades. He is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.