Ultimately, it is only the people who can safeguard and uphold parliamentary democracy, P Ramakrishnan writes.
The role of MPs is not to provide an audience – under the Constitution or by convention or tradition!
You can’t call it a one-day parliamentary meeting because it isn’t a one-day gathering. At most, it is only a two-hour-sitting! How can it pass off as a parliamentary session?
Legal opinion arising from the proposed one-day sitting cogently questioned whether this could be deemed as a parliamentary sitting. Even from a layperson’s point of view, it is not one as commonly understood to be.
It is good that some lawyers have come into the picture. A legal perspective is necessary. One lawyer has given his opinion that this so-called one-day parliamentary sitting can be challenged in court.
Another lawyer and a social activist have indeed gone to the High Court to seek a declaration that the one-day Dewan Rakyat sitting on Monday is unconstitutional.
In dismissing the notion that the one-day session is a proper parliamentary sitting as claimed, lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla has clearly countered this in his statement:
“As a parliamentary democracy, our Parliament must carry out its functions according to the democratic principles, and Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara members must be allowed to voice their stands without any obstacles.”
When MPs are not allowed to debate the royal address and participate in the proceedings of Parliament, that is putting obstacles. Obstacles are being placed by preventing MPs from carrying out their parliamentary duties. They are only expected to form an audience on that day – and nothing more!
The plaintiffs in the High Court case, R Kengadharan and D Arumugam, argue, “As a parliamentary democracy, Parliament needs to carry out its functions in accordance with democratic principles, specifically that members of the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara need and should be granted the opportunity to voice out their stance and views in the House (Dewan) without any restriction.”
Haniff Khatri emphasised, “The Dewan Rakyat sitting that is stipulated in the Federal Constitution is, of course, a real assembly that involves debates, and question-and-answer sessions by the 222 MPs who were voted in during the 14th general election.”
All three of them are of the opinion that Article 55(1) of the Constitution has been breached, thus rendering the one-day parliamentary session null and void.
There is a schedule of items as stated in Order 14(1) of the Standing Orders that must be followed any time Parliament convenes, unless the House otherwise directs. In this instance, the House did not direct that all the other items specified in Order 14(1) be dropped except for the Agong’s speech.
In a media statement on 13 May, the Speaker of the House, Mohamad Ariff Md Yusoff, said he received a letter from Muhyiddin Yassin, the leader of the House, informing him that the government has made the decision to change the meeting agenda since the spread of Covid-19 has not abated fully.
The Speaker outlined that the speech by Agong is scheduled for 10am and there will be no meeting after the speech.
The question arises whether the PM can vary the items scheduled in Order 14(1) on his own volition without being directed by the House.
The next question that pops up is what was the position of the Speaker? Was he of the opinion that the PM could override Order 14(1)?
Clearly we are in a legal tangle. Only the judiciary can untangle this mess.
But in this tussle, it is the judiciary that will also be under scrutiny. Seeing that the consequences of the court verdict will have such a great impact for democracy and the country, will the court vote in favour of democracy and justice?
Ultimately, it is only the people who can safeguard and uphold parliamentary democracy. Indeed, for the very first time in our nation’s history, levity is being attached to the seriousness of our legislature. In all seriousness, can our ruling politicians accord respect where respect is due to a national institution?
“Democracy can be sustained and developed only by people who understand its essence.” –Abdurrahman Wahid, the former President of Indonesia