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10 APRIL 2024

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Parliament strangled by absence of fair play

The contest of wills between Pandikar and Kit Siang should have been fought outside the august house like a schoolyard brawl.
The BN has ruled the roost in Parliament for 58 years. Any party that has been so comfortably in control for that long would have a tendency to presume that the privileges it is accorded are for keeps for better or for worse, much like in a marriage where the spouses take things for granted after the magic is gone.
Our parliament is a group of people entrusted to think up rules for the nation. Whatever politicians may presume, it must never be forgotten that the august house is meant to serve as the highest forum for the people. This functions in consonance with its legislative role.
Not long ago, the Speaker voiced some concern that public perception of the Dewan Rakyat was somewhat dimmer than he would desire. He was referring to the widespread belief that Parliament is the government’s rubber stamp.
The Speaker’s role as arbiter in Parliament gives his decisions a great deal of weight but his powers are far from absolute. His role as an honest umpire and facilitator is crucial in leading the house discussions and debates to meaningful and constructive outcomes.
The limelight was on the Speaker again recently because he prompted disciplinary action against DAP’s parliamentary leader, Lim Kit Siang. It resulted in a motion carried by the BN bloc to suspend Lim for six months. LKS’s alleged transgression was to question whether the Speaker’s action, in ruling that the PAC could not operate without its chairman, might be an abuse of power because it is not expressly in the standing orders.
If the order of business follows strict conventions to prioritise scheduled government matters, then what manner of cotton fluff was the topic of Kit Siang’s suspension that it must fly over government business? The pace in which it was mooted and muscled to conclusion showed an irregular resoluteness to prioritise this over serious government affairs. If this is not a whimsical display of the Speaker’s discretion, then I don’t know what is.
If the BN bench and the Speaker had any sense of fair play, they would see right away that if the shoe were on the other foot, they too would not likely kowtow. I dare say they would walk the same path on insisting that due process should determine if there was any infraction at all to apologise for. The ultimatum to apologise seemed like an order to prostrate before the throne on a yet unproven technicality.
So we have seen the wide discretion at work here but not the fair play and humility of those who hold high office.
Fair play is a mark of gentlemanly generosity. It isn’t codified but is cultivated in the civic thinking of people who value decency and justice in their dealings. Such people can be counted on to always be impartial and equitable to everyone. One cannot be a mediator or judge without these qualities.
All that the Speaker and the BN backbenchers have proven by removing the troublesome and vociferous Kit Siang is that there is an unseemly need to feed the pettiness of some large egos. They did nothing to further the cause of parliamentary democracy, if that was indeed the Speaker’s concern. What they did was to confirm the Speaker’s unwillingness to risk having his decision to stop PAC’s proceedings in late July being exposed to a legitimate debate.
Is it any wonder that Parliament, under this Speaker, has earned the reputation of being a rubber stamp for the government?
This contest of wills between Pandikar and Kit Siang should have been fought outside the house like the schoolyard brawl that it resembled. No one gained ground and much of the first week of the parliamentary session was a shameful waste of the rakyat’s’ resources. Kit Siang did no great service to his constituents by being caught out so early in the first innings when his presence could have given the newly reconstituted opposition a boost.
Malaysia may sport the veneer of a Westminster style democracy but the contradictions must seem astounding to real Westminster observers. We love to cloak ourselves with the mantle and trappings of a democracy but are reluctant to follow the core precepts of being non-discriminatory in the exercise of governmental powers. We unashamedly shout that we are moderates while we are becoming more and more undemocratic by the day in our practice of democracy.

1 comment:

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