Tag Archives: MPs

Playing nice at the Dewan Rakyat, but is it effective?

Recently, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob commented on how “calm” and “respectful” the Dewan Negara proceedings have become. He attributed it to the MoE signed between his government and Pakatan Harapan (PH). Yes, the Dewan Rakyat has become a tame affair, but how effective is that?

When RSN Rayer (Harapan-Jelutong) asked Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (BN-Bagan Datuk) if he has offshore accounts based in the British Virgin Island as revealed by the Pandora Papers and whether he intends to bring the money back to Malaysia, Zahid gave a lengthy account and said “do not assume that I was trying to run away from being taxed”.

Rayer tried to press the issue but was told by Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun that Zahid did not allow any more interruptions. Zahid then told Rayer that he could discuss this with Zahid in the canteen.

Is it Azhar’s role to speak on behalf of Zahid as if he were the latter’s counsel? As a Speaker his job is to moderate the debate and facilitate an exchanged of arguments no matter how heated the debate becomes. Azhar didn’t do that and instead discouraged the line of questioning by Rayer.

He was “playing nice” but the public are now deprived of an answer to Rayer’s question. We don’t know if Zahid has paid taxes or not. The public have a right to know if Zahid’s account was legally sourced and taxes duly paid. This is of public interest and not a personal matter that can be settled in a canteen. But the Speaker blocked the debate and now the public doesn’t know.

Is this what Ismail means by a calm and respectful Dewan Rakyat? The absence of debate with everyone playing nice by asking polite questions and getting polite answers so that government MPs can get away with whatever they are up to without being pressed further and badgered for an explanation?

In a latter session, PKR president and Port Dickson MP Anwar Ibrahim asked the government to expedite the introduction of reforms as according to the MoE, saying that the progress was “slow and deliberately delayed”. But, there was no response from the government side.

So, the people don’t know if the government is serious about fulfilling its end of the MoE or whether PH has been played.

What kind of Dewan Rakyat is this? There is no sensible and intelligent debate. No understanding of how MPs operate — sometimes belligerently when the interests of their constituents are at stake and they angrily demand explanations. Govt MPs should not feel cowed when a confident query is made. That’s part of the debate. They should respond with equal confidence. If they are unable then it’s time they learn and acquire the skills for public debate and rise up to the challenge, not protect themselves with rules and a pact!

The Dewan Rakyat is not a press conference where the government presents its information and then seeks polite questions. Pressing a point with more questions and demanding explanations are the rights of an MP. That’s how checks and balances are executed — not through polite questions and answers as in a press conference.

It’s no wonder that the DAP’s Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh questioned in the Dewan Rakyat if Parliament was now a reading class. “This is a reading class, right? All (the ministers and deputies) came here to read,” she said in reference to government MPs who were reading their answers from prepared scripts.

What has the Dewan Rakyat achieved from playing nice? Zilch. The public is still in the dark about what the current government does.

Government MPs should start practising the art of public debate and stop expecting everyone else to play nice so that their lacks are not exposed and they can remain in government unopposed.

The Red Flag Sabri and PN govt have raised

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s refusal to hold a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat does not inspire confidence that, like his predecessor’s coalition, his coalition is committed to upholding parliamentary democracy enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

The issue isn’t whether the Agong’s appointment of a prime minister as stated in Article 43(2)(a) of the federal constitution, that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House” is illegitimate and unconstitutional. It is neither.

The process of appointment by the Agong is legitimate and constitutional but by itself, without the proof of majority, the process of legitimacy is incomplete because it does not affirm the parliamentary democratic process of demonstrating a majority as demanded by the constitution.

As lawyers and constitutional experts have repeatedly explained proof of majority is necessary and provided for in Article 43(4): “If the Prime Minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, then, unless at his request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament, the Prime Minister shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet.”

According to Article 43(2)(a), the Agong appoints a prime minister “who in his judgement is likely (italics, mine) … ” Likely does not mean proof or certainty. Read in the context of Article 43(4), the constitution thus allows scope for proof and certainty to be obtained through a democratic process, which in this case is a confidence vote.

By recognising the Agong’s decision, the Sabri coalition has upheld constitutional monarchy as according to the federal constitution. By refusing to prove the coalition’s majority, the Sabri coalition continues the previous government’s stance of failing to recognise the requirement of the parliamentary democracy we practise according to the federal constitution, of proving a majority.

Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy must be upheld at the same time for the appointment and election of a prime minister to be legitimate and constitutional. One can’t preclude the other. That isn’t constitutional according to the federal constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.

So, we now have an unconstitutional Cabinet and a prime minister who is yet to be sworn in.

To make matters worse, the rights of MPs under the parliamentary democracy we practice have not been duly recognised. The motions that the MPs submitted have been dismissed. It is reported that 15 motions were submitted to remove the Speaker of the House Azhar Harun.

The Speaker should realise that if 15 motions were submitted against him, he does not have the confidence of the house and he should resign. But he doesn’t, beholden to those who put him in that position, and ignoring the independence of the house.

His brother, Idrus Harun, the Attorney General, holds to the narrow interpretation of Article 43(2)(a) that the Agong’s appointment is sufficient for legitimacy according to the constitution, ignoring the spirit and intent of the federal constitution.

When the Cabinet, Attorney General and Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat have such a limited understanding of the constitution and downplay the role of parliamentary democracy, what certainty do the people have that the government will uphold and honour the constitutional rights of the citizens under parliamentary democracy as enshrined in the federal constitution?

That is the reason why this — like the previous Perikatan Nasional (PN) government — is a dangerous government. It interprets the federal constitution to fit its justification to remain in government. That leaves the people unprotected by the constitution and at the mercy of leaders who have the power of government to do as he/she pleases.

This has been proven under the PN government and now under the Sabri coalition. There are open double standards, selective prosecution, questionable dismissal of cases, the appointment of politicians facing criminal charges in court to official positions, and mismanagement of the covid 19 pandemic resulting in soon-to-reach 20,000 deaths. In all of these cases, the people suffer while politicians get off the hook.

We can not have such a government!

Now, secure of a place in the Malay-Muslim majority government, PAS is attempting to introduce legislation aimed at restricting the development of non-Malay religions — again without consideration for the non-Muslim citizens’ constitutional rights.

The Bersatu-led government in Sabah has rejected Putrajaya’s plan to introduce a new law that would restrict the propagation of non-Muslim religions. But Sabahans should not be fooled by the gesture. Bersatu wants Sabah votes in the next general elections and will block PAS which is initiating such laws. But, if Bersatu gets a comfortable majority with PAS’ help, the law will be back on the table!

PAS’ position of influence in the Sabri and previously PN coalitions make the latter cause for concern for non-Muslims. They may be controlled now but they won’t be if by remaining in a governing coalition they acquire power and influence which can be translated into votes in an election. The Malay-Muslim majority can identify with the conservative politics of PAS, Bersatu and Umno and it is very likely these parties will continue to get their support.

Should the Malay-Muslim majority’s politics get messy and out of control, PAS might emerge the strongest party and win the support of the Malay-Muslim majority like the Taliban got control of Afghanistan because the Muslim majority did not oppose.

We can’t wait for such a possibility to happen first before acting to stop it because it would be too late. We have to prevent it from ever happening by depriving PAS and its allies from the one resource that empowers them to entrench control — the power to govern.

The time is now to consider if this Malay-Muslim coalition is good for the future of this nation. All the MPs must decide. Sabah and Sarawak MPs especially must decide if supporting this conservative coalition is in the best interests of Sabahans and Sarwakians.

Sabahans and Sarawakians have to stop whining about the poor treatment they received by past prime ministers. They have to ask themselves now if they are allowing history to forfeit their future.

In the next sitting of the Dewan Rakyat starting on Monday, at the first opportunity they get, the MPs should reject the unelected and unconstitutional Sabri Cabinet. It would be best to do it early and let the process begin in the Dewan Rakyat to elect the next and legitimate prime minister. It would be resolved within days.

We will know by their vote which MPs voted for a progressive Malaysian future where the federal constitution is the supreme law of the land, and who did not. We will leave it to the voters to decide how to handle those who did not.

111 voted for power over the constitution

I can’t believe that 111 MPs voted in favour of the Prihatin Nasional (PN) government’s motion to remove Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Yusoff from his position as Dewan Rakyat Speaker. The reason given was that the government had found a person to replace him.

Is that justification for an unelected government to terminate the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat for no wrong he did except to do his job?

The PN government thought it had the numbers with Gabongan Parti Sarawak’s (the Sarawak coalition) support. But a two-point win against the opposition’s 109 votes apparently jolted its confidence sufficiently to prevent it from having an election for the Speaker’s post. Datuk Azhar Harun — the PN choice — assumed the position without being elected, an act that contravened the constitution which requires a Speaker to be elected, not appointed.

(I couldn’t believe that Azhar actually resigned from his post as Election Commission chairman and waited in the wings until his bosses bumped off Ariff and he swooped into the Speaker’s chair. Azhar is a lawyer but he apparently ignored the fact that his position — like his bosses’ government — is unconstitutional.) Is this the kind of Speaker or government we want?

That seems to be the attitude of the MPs who support the PN government. They seem to be true opportunists who are taking advantage of the current political instability to get whatever they can out of it and they couldn’t care less if it was constitutional or not.

MPs should be the first people to cry “foul!” and raise a storm of protest when the government operates unconstitutionally. Rightly, the opposition MPs raised a hue and cry when debating the motion. But 111 MPs didn’t join in the protest.

This can only mean that these MPs would disregard the constitution in order to get what they want, which, in this case, is to stay in power. If Umno, PAS and Bersatu MPs support their coalition’s unconstitutional conduct, I can understand it. They have dropped the bar so low to accommodate their level of ability and skills that we really don’t expect anything better from them.

But why are MIC, MCA, GPS and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) supporting a coalition that is clearly not committed to adhering to the constitution? Do they not know that it is the constitution — not the leading Malay party/coalition — which ensures that the rights of minority groups like the non-Malays are upheld? Do they not know that the prime minister of a country must set the example in adhering to the constitution? If he/she doesn’t why should the rest of the country follow the constitution? Do they not know that a government that does not adhere to the constitution sows the seeds of anarchy? Do their members support what their leaders are doing?

Yet, they support an unelected, illegitimate government and justify its unconstitutional actions.

MCA president Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong justified PN’s motion against the Speaker by saying that Ariff was removed because he was picked by the Pakatan Harapan administration and that the government “wanted someone better” so that “all matters between Parliament and the government, as the executive body, go smoothly”!

Seriously, Mr Wee? None of these issues would have arisen if the PN government was elected or if it bravely sought legitimacy by facing a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. Instead, realising it is a minority and illegitimate government it is doing everything it can to get a majority even by disregarding the constitution. This is unacceptable. If a government does not have a majority, it must resign. If it stubbornly refuses to resign, it should be booted out and the MPs should do it.

It is the job of the MPs — and the Speaker (but whether Azhar will do his job or play politics to ensure his bosses remain in power is yet to be seen) — to fight for the rule of law and ensure compliance. A precedent must never be set that an unelected government that is yet to legitimise its rule can continue to rule with impunity.

The government claims it follows the constitution, so says its law minister, Takiyuddin Hassan. But talk is cheap; actions speak louder than words. Despite such blatant disregard for the constitution, 111 MPs did not see Muhyiddin’s motion as unconstitutional and worthy of their dissent.

How dismally they have failed the people! MPs need to show that they will adhere to the constitution no matter what the consequence. The fact that nearly half of the Dewan Rakyat didn’t show respect for the constitution simply tells us that these MPs don’t put rule of law first. We should not elect them again.