(Penang, Friday): I have today replied to Dewan Negara rejecting its censure motion on Dec. 22 demanding an unconditional apology and retraction of my reference to the Senate as a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods" and that the reference be expunged from the Hansard of the Dewan Rakyat.
In my reply to the Dewan Negara, which had written to me through the Dewan Negara Secretary, Abdullah bin Abdul Wahab, under the heading "Usul Meminta Yang Berhormat Tuan Lim Kit Siang Memohon Maaf Tanpa Syarat Kepada Dewan Negara Dan Ahli-ahlinya Dan Kepada Institusi-Institusi Yang Terlibat Di Dalam Pemilihan Dan Perlantikan Mereka Oleh Tuan Hamzah bin Mohd. Zain", I had proposed that the Senators respond to the 1998 New Year Message by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, calling for sacrifices by replacing the appointive system for Senators by an elective one.
This move would involve sacrifices by the Senators as I do not think many, even any, of them could get into the Dewan Negara if they have first to seek the mandate from the people at large.
I suggested in my reply that the Dewan Negara should do two things:
As presently constituted and functioning, the Dewan Negara has become a joke and appointment as a Senator is not an honour but an embarrassment.
A few senators have broken the ten-day silence of Senators since passing the motion of censure against me on Dec. 22, but where is the Senator who challenged me to repeat what I had said about the Senate outside Parliament without the benefit of parliamentary privilege so that he could sue me and the other Senator who had challenged me to a public debate?
In The Star today, a few Senators criticised me for calling for the dissolution of the Dewan Negara unless the Upper House is reformed both in terms of its appointment and function.
One Senator claimed that sometimes the Senate debated the bills more extensively than the Dewan Rakyat, but he did not explain why the Dewan Negara passed the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill 1997 on December 22 without debate whatsoever - vindicating my description of the Senate as a "rubber-stamp to a rubber-stamp".
I am not making any personal attacks against any particular Senator, but passing judgement on the Dewan Negara as a whole, and I am encouraged that my views have found support not only among the public at large, but also in the printed media and the Internet.
Eminent academician, Rustam Sani, in his regular column in Utusan Malaysia on 31st December 1997 under the heading "Pelantikan dan sumbangan" expressed support for the removal of political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods and the appointment of Malaysians of talent, calibre and distinction who could make the Senate an effective, meaningful and outstanding second legislative chamber in the country. He wrote:
"Pada hemat saya, cadangan Ketua Pembangkang agar tokoh-tokoh yang berkebolehan dari sektor swasta atau awam dilantik menganggotai Dewan tersebut merupakan suatu cadangan yang wajar dipertimbangkan - sebagai suatu langkah untuk memperbaharui dan menyemarakkan Dewan tersebut sebagai sebuah institusi perundangan yang tidak sahaja mempunyai sejarah dan tradisi, tetapi sebenarnya dapat memberikan sumbangan yang sebenarnya lagi substantif terhadap pertumbuhan sistem pemerintahan berparlimen di negara ini."
Former Federal Court judge, Harun Hashim, in his regular column in New Straits Times on 1st January 1998 under the heading: "Changes in senate may be necessary" put forward some thoughts and proposals for Dewan Negara reform, such as:
"Perhaps in these days of democracy and transparency, every political party that contested the last general election obtaining not less than five per cent of the votes cast at Semenanjung, Sabah and Sarawak levels should be entitlted to a seat in the Senate. At least they will be representing something. Such senators should be elected at a party convention and serve for a three-year term.
"What seems to be politically unacceptable, however, is for a politician who was defeated at a general election, to be appointed a senator almost immediately afterwards, likened to a back-door entry.
"The argument is that if he has been rejected by his own constituency, how could he be made nationally acceptable by appointment to the Senate."
Are the Senators in this category, who could not enter Parliament by the front-door but have to seek entry by the backdoor, prepared to justify their appointment to the Dewan Negara?
There is another category of the "political rejects" who get into Parliament by the backdoor after they have been found to be unfit to be re-nominated as candidates in the general elections!
The national discussion and debate about the role and effectiveness of the Senate is long overdue, healthy and should be encouraged. It would appear that the only persons who are happy about the Senate are the Senators themselves and I would advise them to come to grips with reality, show their love for the country and stop behaving like ostriches hiding their heads in the sand!
For a start, let the Senators come out in support for an elective system of appointment, which is in fact provided for in Article 45 of Constitution on "Composition of Senate".
Article 45(1) of the Malaysian Constitution provides that the Senate shall consist of elected and appointed members as follows:
"(a)two members for each State shall be elected in accordance with the Seventh Schedule; and
"(aa) two members for the Federal Territory or Kuala Lumpur and one member for the Federal Territory of Labuan shall be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong;and "
(b) forty members shall be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong."
Article 45(2) provides:
"The members to be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong shall be persons who in his opinion have rendered distinguished public service or have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service or are representative of racial minorities or are capable of representing the interests of aborigines."
What is pertinent is Article 45(4) which stipulates:
" 45(4). Parliament may by law - (a) increase to three the number of members to be elected for each state; (b) provide that the members to be elected by each State shall be so elected by the direct vote of the electors of that State; (c) decrease the number of appointed members or abolish appointed members."
There is therefore no need for any constitutional amendment to introduce the elective system to choose Senators, as it is already provided for in the Constitution, and all that is needed is for Parliament to adopt such a system by way of a motion.
Is the Senate prepared to take the lead for a change by introducing and passing a motion to provide for the direct election of Senators to the Dewan Negara?