Retain Speaker Ariff to deepen parliamentary reform

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The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) staunchly opposes Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s motion to remove Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof and his deputy, Nga Kor Ming, on the first day of the next parliamentary sitting on 13 July.

The other deputy speaker, Rashid Hasnon, who is an MP aligned to Muhyiddin is unaffected by the move. Such a motion to remove a Speaker of the House mid-term is unprecedented in Malaysia as the position is usually only vacated when Parliament is dissolved, upon death or resignation.

By convention, the house speaker of a Westminster parliament should be above partisan politics. If he or she is an MP, upon election by fellow MPs, the speaker must retire from party politics to function as the impartial presiding official in the house.

In the UK, a candidate for the Speaker’s office must be nominated by at least 12 MPs, with at least three from different parties. Even the deputy speakers come from different parties and have to resign from party positions.

In Malaysia, however, parliamentary speakers are traditionally treated as gatekeepers for the Executive, blocking motions or bills tabled by the opposition or even restricting speeches, greatly undermining the impartiality of the office.

Speaker Ariff, who is not an MP and has retired from party politics since his appointment at the start of the 14th Parliament in 2018, has transformed his office with impartiality and a genuine appreciation for multi-partisanship.

As citizens and taxpayers, we pay RM44m a year in monthly allowances alone, including RM16,000 for MPs, RM31,000 for the Speaker and RM22,000 for deputy speakers, to maintain the Dewan Rakyat.

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As Malaysia is facing both a Covid-19 outbreak and a global recession, we cannot afford for the Dewan Rakyat to be reduced to being a RM44m-a-year white elephant or a mere rubber-stamp of the executive.

We hereby demand all MPs to vote against the motion to remove Speaker Ariff to continue the reforms he has embarked, instead of replacing him with a partisan character.

We urge all MPs to also rally behind Ariff to continue the unprecedented reforms that have taken place under his speakership:

  • The formation of 10 cross-party select committees that have oversight over policy and finance of a particular ministry and have the power to summon persons, records and documents. This has allowed government backbenchers and opposition members to play a meaningful role in law-making, policy formulation and scrutiny of government functions. More such committees should be formed so that every ministry is watched by a committee and every backbencher gets to sit on at least one committee
  • The appointment of an opposition MP to chair the powerful Public Accounts Committee. This has empowered the Opposition to play an effective role in providing checks and balances in Parliament
  • Parliament as a more people-centric and friendly institution, which has organised events – often in collaboration with local and international organisations – to advance debates on democracy and human rights, besides providing easy access for academics, students and members of civil society

And more reforms that should be introduced:

  • An independent parliamentary service so that its staff is not controlled by the executive
  • Recognition of the main opposition’s shadow cabinet in resource and access to government information
  • A weekly prime minister’s question time so that the chief executive is personally answerable to the House
  • Special slots for non-governmental business and private members’ bills so that the opposition and government backbenchers can play more constructive roles
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We demand that MPs hear the public outcry for a functioning and competent Parliament, respect their mandate as the people’s voice – instead of just being a number to make up 112 (a simple parliamentary majority) – and reject Muhyiddin’s motion to remove Speaker Ariff on 13 July 2020.

In conjunction with our call to defend parliamentary reform, Bersih 2.0 calls on all Malaysians to support this call to retain Ariff as the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat by signing the online petition we initiated at https://www.change.org/KekalkanAriff

We are also conducting a series of webinars where we will be discussing different aspects of parliamentary reforms needed to strengthen this institution.

The first of the series will be held tonight at 8.30pm, when we will have on the panel our chairperson, Thomas Fann, Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Karim and Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi. The session will be moderated by Bersih 2.0 treasurer Ngeow Chow Ying and can be viewed live on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BERSIH2.0/

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Ban Cheng Tan
Ban Cheng Tan
30 Jun 2020 9.09pm

He is the symbol and he, as the Speaker must know and discharge that role impeccably. Same with our civil servants. The neutrality of the civil service is also a principle that has adorned the system over time but of course if I argue with our late King Ghaz, he will just glare at me, without more, knowing that I am climbing on my high horse!

Ban Cheng Tan
Ban Cheng Tan
30 Jun 2020 9.09pm

THE LATE KING GHAZ AND MY HIGH HORSE

We Malaysians seem imprisoned in our Third World “state of mind,” unable to take in our stride that the Speaker of the august House stands for neutrality. That is the most important aspect of the Speaker.