(Penang, Tuesday): Today, all Opposition MPs, whether DAP, PAS or PBS, walked out of the Dewan Rakyat in protest against the arbitrary and undemocratic denial of MPs, of both Barisan Nasional and Opposition, of their traditional right to nine days of debate on the budget.
For the past four decades, Parliament has provided nine days for MPs to debate the budget and two days for Ministers to reply during the second reading of the Budget Bill, but without proper and adequate notice, the traditional and conventional parliamentary practice of providing for a nine-day debate by MPs was slashed to eight days, with many MPs, both government and opposition, caught by surprise as they had wanted to debate only on the ninth day.
One such MP was the DAP MP for Cheras, Tan Kok Wai, who stood up to protest when immediately after question time, the Deputy Speaker, Ong Tee Kiat, who was in the chair, called on the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Tajol Rosli, to start the Ministerial replies - signifying the end of the debate by MPs.
However, neither Kok Wai’s request to the Deputy Speaker to allow MPs who have not spoken in the budget debate to be given the opportunity to speak nor the interventions by DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng and myself could get the Deputy Speaker to reconsider the ruling to deny MPs their traditional and conventional right to nine days of debate on the budget.
I had asked Tee Kiat to give reasons for denying MPs their traditional and conventional right to nine days of debate on the budget, when Parliament should in fact be giving MPs even more time for debate on the Budget, for three reasons:
Firstly, the country is in the midst of a grave national economic crisis and the government must show that it is prepared to listen to the views and unhappiness of the people;
Secondly, when the parliamentary practice started 40 years ago to provide for nine days for MPs to debate the budget, there were only 100 odd-MPs. Now the number of MPs have doubled to nearly 200.
Thirdly, the budgetary allocation 40 years would be a very puny figure, as compared to the budgetary allocations at present, which would easily be some 40 or 50-fold.
All these three reasons would justify an increase and even doubling of the traditional nine-day debate on the budget for MPs, and there could be no justification whatsoever for the reduction of the traditional of the nine days of MPs’ debate - which is already grossly inadequate - to a mere eight days.
The Deputy Minister for Domestic Trade, Datuk Sheikh Kadir had clarified that the Speaker had made the ruling to ensure that the 18 Bills which are on the Order Paper could be passed in the current meeting of Parliament. However, this is a very weak and unacceptable ground, as Parliament could always be extended, whether for night sittings to be held, or through the extension of the parliamentary meeting.
What is most shocking, however, is that while I was fighting for the rights of all MPs, regardless of whether government or opposition, to be given the right in accordance with conventional parliamentary practice to full nine days of debate on the budget, there were Barisan Nasional MPs who tried to create a din to distract me.
This provoked me to scold the Barisan Nasional MPs as "good-for-nothings" who do not have the courage to stand up for their basic parliamentary rights, and instead of thanking me for standing up to fight for their rights, they could be so irresponsible as to heckle and disturb me! The arbitrary and undemocratic denial of MPs, of both Barisan Nasional and Opposition, of their traditional right to nine days of debate on the budget is another example of the danger of giving landslide majorities to the government, whether in Parliament or State Assembly.
In the Penang State Assembly, for instance, the Penang State Government proposes to impose a 20-minute limit for all speeches, which is completely unthinkable in the history of the Penang State Assembly.
I really marvel at the unprincipled and unscrupulous by-election tactics of the Gerakan. It is clear that Gerakan is now escalating its politics of fear in the Sungai Bakap by-election, graduating from warning the voters that their decision would decide whether Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad would continue or resign as Prime Minister to the warning that it would decide whether the Malaysian economy would collapses together.
I am shocked by such tactics of desperation by the Gerakan in the by-election, which it should be able to win without great difficulty, although it is going to face a sharp drop in the majority as compared to the 1995 general elections.
Gerakan leaders have been saying in ceramahs that the whole world is watching and waiting for the results of the Sungai Bakap by-election, and an adverse vote would not only undermine the credibility of Mahathir as Prime Minister but also cause the collapse of the Malaysian stock market as well as the Malaysian economy.
Sungai Bakap is only a by-election for the Penang State Assembly seat and there is no reason why there should be any international attention or focus on it. Sungai Bakap would only rivet international atttention if it becomes a national test of confidence in Mahathir as Prime Minister, which is what Gerakan has been proclaiming from all the rooftops throughout the Sungai Bakap by-election.
Gerakan President, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and the Gerakan are being most unfair to both Mahathir and Malaysia in projecting the Sungei Bakap by-election as a test of confidence as to whether Mahathir still enjoys the people’s support as Prime Minister - as Gerakan has forced Mahathir into a "no-win" situation just to get votes for the Gerakan candidate in the Sungai Bakap by-election.
This is because once Sungai Bakap by-election becomes a national test of confidence as to whether Mahathir still enjoys the people’s confidence as Prime Minister, then a single-vote reduction in the by-election majority by Gerakan as compared to the 1995 general elections result would be regarded as a loss for Mahathir. Is Keng Yaik confident that the Gerakan candidate will be able to maintain or even increase the Gerakan majority in Sungai Bakap by-election as compared to the 1995 general elections?
It is clear that Keng Yaik has lost touch with the ground, and this may be the reason why he has not appeared in the Sungai Bakap constituency ever since the Nomination Day, although he wants the voters of Sungai Bakap to believe that the by-election would have such far-reaching consequences as to decide whether Mahathir is to continue or should resign as Prime Minister and the even more important question as to whether the Malaysian economy, stock market and ringgit would collapse further.
If Keng Yaik is serious and sincere that the Sungai Bakap by-election is a test of confidence in Mahathir as Prime Minister, then he should be camping and campaigning in Sungai Bakap since Nomination Day to win every possible vote in the by-election. Why, then, has Keng Yaik stayed away from Sungai Bakap?
I believe that Keng Yaik must have been told that he should stay away from Sungai Bakap so as not to spoil Gerakan’s chances in the by-election, as every time he open his mouth, it could be disaster for the Gerakan by-election campaign!
In fact, Keng Yaik could not only be a disaster for Gerakan, be has done a great disservice to Mahathir and Malaysia in his style of campaigning for the Sungai Bakap by-election from outside the constituency.