Tag Archives: parliamentary democracy

‘Tis the season for more tidings of comfort and joy

Christmas this year started late for me. Usually, my Christmas begins on Dec 1 when I turn on Christmas music and enjoy the refrains of Christmas all day long throughout the season! This year, however, there were a few depressing happenings — some of which, personal, but mostly political — that put a damper on my usually impossible-to-repress Christmas spirit that bubbles over every year in December!

The most disturbing of the political events unfolding is the emphasis on political expediency at the expense of the democratic rights of voters. Voters were given no choice when faced with candidates facing court charges, some facing criminal charges in court. They voted them in. These same candidates were appointed ministers. Despite a volley of criticisms, their appointments were not changed. A so-called reformist prime minister maintained their positions in the Cabinet.

The rationale? To support a unity government for the sake of stability. That is an acceptable explanation to justify political expediency. But a more important question that needs to be addressed is whether stability should be arrived at by ignoring or dismissing the mandate of the people?

Firstly, the unity government was formed by the king, not the elected representatives whose job it is to form a government. Was parliamentary democracy — the form of government Malaysia practises — followed when elected leaders failed to form a government? Why weren’t the leaders able to wrangle among themselves to form a government in the face of a hung government?

Was the parliamentary democratic process respected and were the elected leaders allowed to sort out among themselves to form a government? Were they given the room and support to form a government without interference?

Instead, were the leaders treated like kids who needed to be told the course of action to take? Why didn’t the leaders — if they understood the precepts of parliamentary democracy — take control of the situation and assert in no uncertain terms that it was their responsibility to form a government and that they should be allowed to do it?

This is the kind of leadership the people need — leaders who will fight for the people according to the rule of law but that isn’t what we are witnessing. Political expediency for “the sake of a stable government” trumps constitutional adherence. That is depressing!

A dangerous precedent has been set for future leaders to act no differently because current MPs didn’t fight to uphold parliamentary democracy in the interests of the voters.

If the MPs were allowed to negotiate and wrangle out a government on their own, would there have been ministers facing court charges in the Cabinet? In the face of the possibility of instability as a result of a hung Parliament, MPs must know what to do to mitigate ensuing chaos quickly and not wait for someone else to tell them what to do. They were elected by the people and should be trusted to do their job.

On Monday Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government will face a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. But today, the coalitions and parties in the unity government signed a Memorandum of Understanding where “all the signatory coalitions and parties must support Anwar in all matters of confidence and supply as well as those that could have a bearing on the legitimacy of his administration”, according to the Malay Mail.

The paper also reported that the coalitions and parties were responsible for ensuring their federal lawmakers abided by the MoU, and any MP who did not comply would be considered as having resigned from his party, effectively triggering the anti-hopping law. Isn’t this muzzling the MP?

If Anwar was not confident in facing a confidence vote and needed an MoU to ensure he gets majority support why have a confidence vote in the first place? It’s a sham. Not only is it a sham but it once again ties the hands of the MPs so that they are not free to vote according to their conscience in the interests of their constituents but vote compelled by the party.

How then can Anwar claim he has the mandate of the people? He has the mandate of the signatory coalitions and parties of the MoU but not the voters who elected the MPs. In the Dewan Rakyat, it is the individual MPs who vote on behalf of the people they represent — not the parties they belong to.

A responsible prime minister who understands the precepts of parliamentary democracy will understand this fundamental role of MPs and take pains not to override their right to vote independently of the party in the issue of getting the mandate of the people to support a majority government they did not elect.

Why is no MP standing up for their rights? The lobbying and negotiations should have taken place MP to MP not party to party. This is basic democracy. Why aren’t elected MPs practising it?

What I see is the erosion of parliamentary democracy and that is depressing, together with the bad weather that is causing landslides and floods and the loss of lives. A gloomy Christmas.

Then, last weekend I attended a Christmas musical and somehow a glow of hope rekindled in me, that eternal spirit of Christmas returned and I thought all can’t be lost. There’s always hope, something better may arise out of the gloom to improve the political situation, my personal life, the weather, the lives of people who suffer loss. Christians who believe it must contribute to spreading the goodwill. No matter how hard it might be. Tidings of comfort and joy ….. more of it!


What went wrong

Perikatan Nasional (PN) leader Muhyiddin Yassin’s 17-month government will go down in history as the only government Malaysia has had so far that failed to prove its majority. From Day 1, he circumvented the issue when he should have faced a no-confidence vote in Parliament which until the last day, he never did.

In not facing a no-confidence vote, he showed an unwillingness to follow democratic conventions and adhering to the words, intent and spirit of the federal constitution. Instead, he made decisions according to his own judgement or on the advice of the people he surrounded himself with.

He insisted soon after he was sworn in that the Agong had sworn him in and that was enough to prove his legitimacy. He failed to understand that when a prime minister resigns or a government falls from a lack of majority, it is followed by a period of political fluidity where political positions can change quickly and that in the spirit of democratic competition such changes must be accommodated.

When Muhyiddin was nominated as prime minister in February last year, he may have had a majority according to the statutory declarations (SD) his supporters made. But, at the same, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad got PKR’s support and the support of other MPs with a total of 113 which means Muhyiddin didn’t have a majority. Muhyiddin jumped the gun and went ahead with the swearing in when Tun’s majority should have been tested.

Soon after, Tun was expelled from Bersatu and he took a number of MPs out of PN with him leaving Muhyiddin without a majority. That was the beginning of Muhyiddin’s efforts to lure MPs over to his side with all sorts of baits.

This is history but the point is that Muhyiddin thus could not prove his majority and, hence, his legitimacy was always questioned. If he had faced a no-confidence vote earlier on, the MPs might have booted him out and we may have better managed the pandemic. The reason for all the political instability that followed was due to the fact that Muhyiddin did not follow the procedures demanded by democratic conventions such as backing off when another MP claims he has a majority and/or facing a no-confidence vote. Both claims should be tested.

Muhyiddin made the same mistake in the current political situation. When the Agong called the 114 MPs who supported Umno’s candidate Ismail Sabri Yaacob to be the next prime minister, he said PN’s support for Sabri was conditional. Constitutionally, as pointed out by lawyer and activist Ambiga Sreenevasan, support for a PM must be unconditional otherwise there might be a change later and the government may fall again. Umno, aware of the significance of the comment, has decided to meet later to discuss its implications before making a decision.

But Muyhiddin’s ex-aide clarified that it is nothing unusual, failing to comprehend that when it comes to a prime minister, it is of great significance. But, that is Muhyiddin’s way: can be a little lax on following the constitution for the sake of political expediency. Look where it has got us.

After the meeting with the Agong, it was reported that Sabri left with outriders. His team must have thought they were going to be sworn in and Sabri named prime minister and hence outriders would be needed to escort the new prime minister. Again, whoever provided him the service — probably under Muhyiddin’s advice — jumped the gun thinking the Agong would repeat the way he swore in Muhyiddin’s team. They just didn’t understand that nothing is final until it is official.

It is a reflection of the lack of knowledge of parliamentary procedures that was the hallmark of Muhyiddin’s tenure.

This time around, the Agong wants to make sure he is truly appointing someone with a majority and so had called the 114 MPs to individually ask them to state their stand. He has also said that the appointed prime minister must face a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat.

The Agong must be credited for nudging the MPs to uphold parliamentary democracy. He kept advising Muhyiddin to face a no-confidence vote in the special Dewan Rakyat sitting but Muhyiddin kept delaying preferring to resign or hold elections knowing fully well that the latter would be impossible in the midst of the raging pandemic. So he resigned.

If he had understood the significance of a no-confidence vote, he would have taken the risk and faced it. In a no-confidence vote, MPs are free to vote anyway they like, and, who knows, he might have won. But, we’ll never know because Muhyiddin had no confidence in a no-confidence vote.

It is really pathetic that it is the Agong who is seen advising the prime minister, Cabinet and MPs on following the tenets of parliamentary democracy when it should be the latter group who should be advising the Agong on the procedures to follow. I wonder if he is being adequately advised by the Attorney-General.

How can we allow such MPs to lead a parliamentary democracy? No one in the Umno-PN camp right now should be allowed to govern until leaders are raised from their ranks who demonstrate a clear understanding and commitment to the federal constitution.

In a couple of hours we’ll know who will be our prime minister. I hope the Agong chooses wisely.

People, tell the govt to follow the constitution

Now that the government has eased some of the restrictions under the Movement Control Order (MCO), I hope more and more Malaysians will start calling on the government to convene a proper session of the Dewan Rakyat on May 18.

It should be a normal session where MPs will be free to ask questions and debate bills and call for a no-confidence vote. The current Prihatin Nasional (PN) government should not have dictated that only a one-day session of Dewan Rakyat is held on May 18 with limitations.

If it were a legitimate government and called for such a short session to fulfil constitutional requirements, that could be understood. As it is, it is illegitimate and needs to face a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat as is expected of our parliamentary democracy to ensure legitimacy.

This government doesn’t seem to indicate any commitment to upholding our parliamentary democracy. So, the people need to raise a hue and cry to tell the current leadership that they expect the leaders to comply with the constitution.

It’s apparent that the PN leadership is dragging its feet about holding a proper session of the Dewan Rakyat for the real fear of losing a no-confidence vote. Well, that is the price they have to pay for seizing power through politicking and without complying with the requirements of a parliamentary democracy.

At all cost, our leaders must know that they have to uphold the constitution of the country and be totally committed to the parliamentary democracy we practise. When they don’t, the people must raise an uproar so that the leaders conform.

So, Malaysians, don’t let the PN government get away with their illegitimate acts. Protest and insist that the current government face a full proper session of the Dewan Rakyat.



It may be time for lawmakers to go back to their books

What is most worrying about the current crop of national leaders is their willingness to play politics to the extent of compromising the law and getting away with it in the name of race, religion and country.

Politicking, it appears, is the predominant means of securing power. Rule of law and strict adherence to the processes, norms and conventions of parliamentary democracy which this country practises sometimes are obscured by desperate politicking.

Take the former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Datuk Noraini Ahmad’s now famous (or infamous) conclusion that about RM19.4 billion of GST funds was “unlawfully diverted” by the Najib Razak administration for the “good of the country” but it wasn’t “robbery” in rebuttal to former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s description of the missing funds as “robbery”.

Without having to split hairs over the definition of “robbery”, the obvious conclusion is that if it was “unlawfully” moved, then it is wrong — it went against the law and the lawbreaker must face the law, not wiggle his way out of it.

The tendency to politick is a way of thinking that has been bred by Umno over six decades of rule. If Umno politicians find power slipping out of their hands, they politick and look for backing from a higher authority like a superpower like the US or China or a rich nation like Saudi Arabia or the royals to stay in power. But, they do not rely on democratic practices.

If you want to get your leader out, whip up enough support to hold party polls and vote him out. Or build up your team and support until the next general elections and vote him and his coalition out. All the politicking that is done will be carried out within the ambit of the law and democratic practices. The constitution provides the boundaries we can go up to and not beyond. When politicians go beyond the law, the Dewan Rakyat is duty-bound to call them out.

Failing to fall back primarily on the rules, norms and conventions of our parliamentary democracy is the reason why we have reached this state where an illegitimate government continues to govern without the stamp of approval of the Dewan Rakyat.

Until the current Prihatin Nasional government wins a confidence vote from the Dewan Rakyat, it has no constitutional authority to claim to be a prime minister or government of the people or to introduce policies and bills in Parliament. It must legitimize itself first, and then it receives the mandate of the people to govern. Isn’t that how the law works?

Perhaps, Umno-bred politicians are not aware of the demands and expectations of the constitution and the parliamentary style of government Malaysia practices. Now is the time to study the law and the constitution so that they learn how to follow their tenets.

Perhaps, the Dewan Rakyat can get constitutional experts like Shad Saleem Faruqi, who is a law professor with Universiti Malaya and currently holding the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair as Professor of Constitutional Law, to conduct sessions with lawmakers as to what they can and can’t do under the law.

It would help in creating a political culture where adherence to the law and the constitution becomes the predominant overriding context in which public office and debate are conducted.

The people deserve lawmakers who strictly follow the law and the parliamentary democracy we practise.