Aliran supports the Prime Minister’s call “to bring back the glory days of parliamentarians”. This call to restore respect for and dignity to Parliament is long overdue.
In any case, we are heartened that even the Prime Minister has at long last acknowledged the deterioration in the standing of Parliament in the public eye and the absence of quality debates when Parliament is in session.This sentiment finally reflects the views of ordinary citizens who are terribly disappointed with the manner Parliament has been functioning.
According to Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar the acting Chairman of the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club, “ the prime minister wanted elected representatives to engage in better quality debates, …” (theSun, 20 March 2007).
Parliament unfortunately has been identified with silly banter and sick jokes by some domineering Members of Parliament who are quick to shoot from the hip. Racial slurs, stupid remarks and name-calling are often gleefully reported by our undiscerning mainstream media. Quality debates and quality reporting are sorely missed these days.
When we compare the glorious days of Parliament in the 1960s and recall the quality of debates, it is difficult to fathom how low we have sunk in our stature and regressed in the standard of exciting debates. Very often, well-researched and substantive debates are sadly lacking these days.
The Question and Answer session used to be vibrant and exciting, punctuated with witty and intelligent retorts and repartee, which added colour and life to Parliament. Those sessions have been greatly reduced to dull sessions by time limits and other constraints.
The Prime Minister must put into practice the essence of true parliamentary democracy by allowing space for a Private Member’s Bill to be debated. The present practice of deliberately dragging on with the matters of government so that there would be no time left to debate the Private Member’s Bill is undemocratic, unjust and unethical. Killing a Bill by this disgraceful conduct is outrageous.
Parliament was not regarded seriously by the previous Prime Minister, who even used to be overseas when the session was on. Leading by example, even Cabinet ministers were absent, often delegating their duties to others. Under the circumstances, Parliament’s importance eroded and its relevance declined.
If the PM is really sincere in wanting to restore Parliament’s dignity and relevance, he must seriously observe the following points:
He should make attendance during parliamentary sessions compulsory by setting the example and insisting that his cabinet colleagues and BN elected representatives are present;
He should ensure that there will be a quorum at all times. If 26 MPs cannot be present to provide the quorum, it becomes a national shame and an embarrassment to parliamentary democracy;
He should release bills for debate at least three months before they are tabled so that there will be time for research to contribute to quality debates and to provide opportunity for ordinary Malaysians to comment on them;
He should increase the time allotted for the Question and Answer session;
He should free BN MPs from the control of the Party Whip when national issues of importance are debated so that these elected representatives can rise above petty party politics and cross party boundaries to support motions – even those moved by the opposition – in the larger interest of the nation;
He should allow Parliament to manage its affairs rather than having a civil servant taking charge of something that should rightly be the concern of Parliament itself;
He should field as candidates for the national elections people who deserve to sit in Parliament instead of using the selection process to reward party loyalists. That is, if he really wants to have parliamentarians of quality as he has expressed.
These are some of the points that deserve to be considered to bring back the lost lustre to Parliament so that it will stand out as a shining example of our parliamentary democracy.
Let us strive together to make Parliament in the next 50 years an institution that is meaningful and participatory – one that truly reflects the principles of justice.
22 March 2007