Certain recent issues have grabbed media headlines and the attention and concern of politicians and interested Malaysians because they have political and economic significance.
These issues have also gone viral on social media, with many a tongue wagging at a time when Parliament is suspended under a state of emergency.
The incident in Beijing, where Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein hailed his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi as “big brother” during a joint press conference was heavily criticised by politicians and other individuals, including former diplomats, as a serious diplomatic faux pas.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim waded in, saying that the term used suggests that the country is a puppet and might have an adverse impact on Malaysia’s “national interests, security and sovereignty”.
Former foreign minister Anifah Aman said Wang Yi was put in a difficult and embarrassing position, adding that there was no justification for Hishammuddin’s blunder.
Concern was also expressed that such an expression puts Malaysia in a bad light as it is supposed to be a non-aligned country that is committed to the concept of a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality (Zopfan) within the Southeast Asian region, which was introduced in 1971.
Taking to Twitter, Hishammuddin put it down to a mere expression directed at the older and more senior foreign minister (of China), and that he wasn’t referring to Sino-Malaysian bilateral relations.
Public attention was also recently turned to Malaysia’s exclusion from a Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by the US, prompting the question of whether the Malaysian government has done enough to protect and conserve the environment.
The White House invited 40 nations, among which were our neighbours Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, that had shown “strong climate leadership” or “charting innovative pathways”. This caused MP Lim Guan Eng to seek the government’s explanation for the apparent snub.
Accepting “clean” plastic waste from the US, which Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man recently did, cannot be regarded as a serious attempt at burnishing our environmental credentials. Although categorised as “clean”, it is still plastic waste that nobody wants.
Then, there is the practice of polluting rivers and cutting down forests in the country.
Another form of a public snub that caught the eyes of Malaysian politicians and others is the fact that tech giants Facebook and Google have excluded Malaysia from their huge projects in the region. Both tech entities plan to collaborate with regional telecoms companies to develop undersea cables to increase internet connectivity between Singapore and Indonesia and North America.
The Perikatan Nasional government reportedly cancelled the previous administration’s decision to exempt foreign vessels from cabotage restrictions to enable them to carry out subsea cable repairs in the country.
To Anwar and other opposition politicians, this was a missed opportunity for Malaysia to attract high-tech foreign investments, so that the country could avoid being overtaken by neighbouring countries in terms of economic and technological progress.
Another disturbing issue that has raised public concern is the household income debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio that hit 93.3% at the end of 2020.
Taking to Facebook, Anwar Ibrahim pointed out that much of the debt involves home-owner and vehicle debt brought about by movement control order restrictions. Credit card debt has also increased at an alarming rate. He called on the government to design a strategy to help ease the burden on the people.
These are some of the issues that drew the concern of politicians and other interested Malaysians.
With the suspension of Parliament, it is clear that the nature of conversations, particularly among elected representatives, has shifted from proper and robust debates and detailed ministerial responses, on the one hand, to Facebook and Twitter posts and press statements, on the other.
The Malaysian public deserve well-informed debate and conversations among their elected representatives in Parliament, as expected of a functioning democracy – and nothing less from these politicians, especially the ministers, who are paid by taxpayers.
Thus, responding over Twitter to accusations of a blunder that is said to have diplomatic implications, for instance, gives the impression that Hishammuddin has taken lightly the gravity of the issue at hand. In a normal situation, we would expect him to deliver lengthy arguments in the august chamber of Parliament.
Similarly, it is not enough for Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong to deny that the reimposition of the cabotage policy on submarine cable repair works resulted in Facebook avoiding Malaysia in its plan to install undersea cables. There has to be more rigorous debate on this matter on the floor of the Dewan Rakyat.
As we can see, there is no substitute to parliamentary proceedings if the MPs are to serve the interests of their constituents. Conversing outside Parliament does not have the same effect. – The Malaysian Insight