JUNE 29 — Pakatan Harapan (PH) won federal government, took over eight states and the Federal Territories, and essentially has two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat (including support from Sabah and Sarawak MPs), and yet, some in the coalition are demanding even more power by asking Barisan Nasional (BN) senators to quit.
The DAP seems to forget that the Executive should not interfere with the Legislative branch of government, if Malaysia is to break free from BN’s previous abuses of power and disrespect for the separation of powers.
A Senator’s term is three years, and this can be renewed for a second term.
There are currently 46 BN senators (Umno — 30, MCA — 10 and MIC — six). Gerakan has one. Sabah and Sarawak parties Liberal Democratic Party, United Sabah Party, People’s Progressive Party, Sarawak United People’s Party and United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (UPKO) have one each, while PBB has two. Out of the 54, 19 were indirectly elected by the various state legislative assemblies while the rest were appointed by the previous BN government.
Most of the 54 are reportedly halfway through their terms or were appointed just six months ago. In the 70-seat Senate, 44 are appointed by the King on the prime minister’s advice (including four to represent Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya) and 26 are indirectly elected by the state assemblies (two from each of the 13 states in the federation).
The 14th general election had nothing to do with the Senate because it only involved the election of Members of Parliament and state assemblymen (except for Sarawak which held its state election earlier in 2016).
Senators, whose original terms were six years before this was changed in 1978 to three years with the possibility of one renewal, are not the same as political appointees in the government or in government-linked corporations (GLCs).
They, like civil servants, should not have to quit even if the government of the day changes because they are meant to be independent.
Malaysians are not stupid. They will know who to blame if Senators block any reforms that the PH government tries to pass in the Dewan Rakyat. (The Senate can revise or delay Bills by the Lower House, but the Dewan Rakyat can bypass the Dewan Negara after one month for money Bills and not less than one year in the case of non-money Bills).
Since PH has yet to demonstrate that its elected lawmakers in Parliament or in state legislative assemblies can vote independently of the party whip (especially in Penang where dissenters are punished), it is all the more important that the Dewan Negara comprises non-PH senators who can check and balance the government.
Instead of being greedy for power, PH can show how a mature Westminster democracy works in Malaysia under its maiden administration, where lawmakers support or reject Bills in the interest of their constituents, rather than follow the party line blindly.
PH can introduce select committees in the Dewan Rakyat to monitor each government department as per the Westminster system, which can be headed by both PH and Opposition MPs.
If PH is really interested in reforming the Senate, then it can pass a law, as allowed under Article 45(4) of the Federal Constitution, to provide for all Senators to be directly elected by ordinary voters.
The 2018 election was not just about changing the government, but about revamping the structures of governance and patronage mindset so that no political party will ever govern the country again beyond two or three consecutive terms.
It is a little disturbing to see PH’s hostility towards pro-BN civil servants (like how BN used to behave towards pro-Opposition ones). The immense power that PH currently holds is partly due to pathetic and unprincipled representatives who defected from BN and violated the trust of the people who had elected them.
Instead of upholding their constituents’ interest and keeping the government in check as an Opposition lawmaker, they deliberately chose to weaken the system and to entrench the powers-that-be.
PH has won the war. There is no need to continue treating Umno or BN like the enemy. They have already tasted bitter defeat and will struggle for the next five years.
If PH is as fair and just as they proclaim to be, then they can rise above being petty politicians and empower their “enemies” who had mistreated them, all for the good of the nation.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.