Members of Parliament would clearly represent the voice of the rakyat who elected them rather than blindly following their respective party ideologies, writes Ronald Benjamin.
The first parliamentary session under the new Pakatan Harapan government began on 16 July 2018. Interesting times are ahead with institutional reforms on the cards.
The Prime Minister’s Department is expected to be reshuffled: the Electoral Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the public prosecutor’s office and the National Audit Department are likely to placed under Parliament. Obviously, the abuse of power and the stretching of resources without accountability by the previous Barisan Nasional government have warranted such reforms.
If one analyses the need for reforms at a deeper level, there is one word that describes the situation of the past BN administration: empire-building. Power was concentrated in the hands of the prime minister and his grateful cabinet, who used the wealth of power and resources to control major institutions of governance.
Such empire-building has seeped into the social economic structure of society. Politicians and influential elite businessman cooperate to ensure they have leverage over key socio-economic resources for their survival and that of their political parties at the expense of the rakyat.
The question is, what substantive role should members of Parliament and cabinet ministers exercise to ensure there is no such hegemonic empire-building in the future?
Looking back at 60 years of BN, there is one thing that has brought great disappointment to discerning Malaysians – and that is, MPs who have taken a party or ideological line in taking on various critical issues in Parliament.
Even though there were certain issues like the Palestinian cause, which took on a bipartisan approach, such an approach was clearly missing in nation-building matters. There was no such thing as voting with a conscience. Issues were presented in a way that would demonise an opponent in Parliament with an absence of possible collaboration on substantive issues or ideas that transcended the political divide.
Members of Parliament had to adhere to party discipline even on substantive issues. There was a play-safe culture. For example, the bill on unilateral conversions, which had an element of natural justice, was not supported by Muslims MPs fearing a backlash from their conservative supporters. The Barisan MPs were out of touch with the 1MDB global investigations. Loyalty to BN and the prime minister took precedence over public accountability.
MPs also failed to check on the hegemonic tendencies and actions of their executive over domestic institutions. As for global economics effecting the nation, little or no debate took place on neoliberal economic trends that have eroded socio-economic justice and the environment.
As for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat and later PH, they seem more concerned with political and institutional reforms while ignoring the danger of neoliberal economics or the global hegemony of big powers and its impact on Malaysia.
In a nutshell, members of Parliament failed to collaborate effectively in opposing national and global empire-building.
In this new political scenario, every member of Parliament should ensure there is no empire-building in the country by domestic politicians and businessman. In the same way, they should ensure there is no empire-building in our seas whether by China or the United States This could be through a bipartisan approach that places greater emphasis on the common good of the rakyat,
If they do this, members of Parliament would clearly represent the voice of the rakyat who elected them rather than blindly following their respective party ideologies, which may not represent the reality on the ground on understand the evolving needs of the nation. Party ideologies should have a broader outlook of accepting collaborative efforts that are of value to society.
The nation needs to liberate itself from the yoke of empire-building through collaborative efforts among MPs.