Who will defend our parliament? — Daniel Abishegam

JUNE 28 — The Malaysian parliament, the symbol of Malaysian democracy has come under serious attacks in recent days and it is very 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 then it already is and this will lead to governmental power being unchecked and that will lead to nothing good.

I read with dismay the news that there is a move, purportedly initiated by the Prime Minster and the government, to remove the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Mr Mohamad Arif Md Yusof and one of his deputies Mr Nga Kor Ming. The Speaker, although appointed by the previous Pakatan Harapan government, is an independent person and is 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 machinations is made even more transparent when there has been no attempt to remove the other deputy speaker Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon, who has conveniently hopped from PKR to the Prime Ministers party, Bersatu.

By trying to put in place a pliant Speaker of the house, the government is seeking a free pass for many of their 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 this must not be allowed.

The 18th of May 2020 marked another sad day in the history of our parliament where Parliament was convened for one day and only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s address was allowed to be heard. There was no other business 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 can’t be more than 6 months between sittings.

In the UK Supreme Court decision of R(Miller) v The Prime Minister (2019), it was held as follows at paragraph 50, “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 of the UK declaring that the actions 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 parliament in the UK.

It is submitted that this is exactly what happened here in Malaysia and the farcical Parliamentary sitting of the 18th of May 2020 and the attempt to remove the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat 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 separation 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 that will be specialised in nature to look into specific areas of importance in the country. The UK’s House of Commons has approximately 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 a population of less than five million people has 13 committees. We in Malaysia, have five for our population of about 30 million people. These committees are too general and will not be 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 so many of them hopped over from the Pakatan Harapan parties to the newly formed Perikatan Nasional thus resulting in the collapse of the 22-month-old Pakatan Harapan government.

Given the obvious problems with our parliament and the current attacks it has come under, I come back to the question I asked at the beginning of this essay, who will defend our Parliament? The answer seems clear that it is us. You and me, the citizens of Malaysia. It has been made very clear to us that we cannot depend on our politicians, wherever they sit on the political spectrum and as such it falls to us to use our votes wisely and vote strategically 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 all are facing now because of our leaders disappointing us constantly must not hinder us from our responsibility to ensure that the august house of parliament 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 Academic Director and Senior Lecturer-in-law at Advance Tertiary College (ATC)

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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