(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Firstly, I wish to announce that Sdr. Kerk Kim Hock, former DAP National Organising Secretary and Member of Parliament, has been appointed as Co-ordinator of the Sympathy, Support and Solidarity (SSS) with Lim Guan Eng Campaign.
The SSS with Lim Guan Eng Campaign is now at a very important stage as the Federal Court has fixed Monday, August 24 for the hearing of the appeals by Guan Eng against conviction and the 36-month jail sentences for sedition and publishing false news under the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
Yesterday was probably the last day Guan Eng spoke in Parliament when he took part in the debates on the urgent, definite public importance on the latest strain on Malaysia-Singapore relations arising from the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) station at Tanjong Pagar, the Development Funds Amendment Bill 1998 and the motion on amendments to the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
As Co-ordinator of the SSS Lim Guan Eng Campaign, Kerk Kim Hock would be responsible for the series of SSS Lim Guan Eng programmes in the run-up to the Federal Court hearing on August 24.
Kerk’s appointment as Co-ordinator of the SSS Lim Guan Eng Campaign marks his return to active politics and I welcome other party stalwarts in the past to return to active DAP politics for two reasons: to help the DAP face the worst political crisis in the party’s 32-year history and to write a new chapter in Malaysian political history by ensuring that the Barisan Nasional is denied its two-third parliamentary majority in the next general elections.
The next general elections is not far away, primarily because the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad must have now realised that the longer he delays the polls date, the worse it is going to be for the Barisan Nasional, as the Malaysian economic crisis has not reached the rock-bottom with no light at the end of the tunnel, and the worst is yet to come.
How bad the Malaysian economy is could be seen from the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index, which at 11.30 a.m. today plunged to 379.86 or 6.58 points lower than the end of yesterday’s trading - not only the lowest ever in the entire 13-month-long economic crisis, but also for the past decade!
Mahathir would of course lose his 10-sen wager with me that general elections would not be held this year, but what is a 10-sen wager compared to choosing the most opportune, or least worst, time for the holding of general elections?
Another reason for early polls is that there are component Barisan Nasional parties who are pressing Mahathir for it, on the ground that they should take advantage of the internal turmoils in the DAP and not to give the DAP time to recover and consolidate to face what is undoubtedly the most exciting and challenging general elections since Merdeka.
This is because for the first time in Malaysian elections history, the possibility of denying the Barisan Nasional two-thirds parliamentary majority in the next general elections is real and near, although I concede that the Barisan Nasional would have no problem in being returned to Federal power whether polls are held this year or next year.
I do not rule out the possibility of Mahathir dissolving Parliament and holding general elections in October or November after SUKOM next month. Furthermore, I would not be surprised if the Sabah state general elections and the national general elections are held simultaneously this time.
The need for a stronger opposition presence in Parliament and the denial of the two-thirds Parliamentary majority of the Barisan Nasional was further underlined by the last item of the Parliamentary business yesterday - the proposal to amend Standing Orders which seriously infringe the privileges and rights of Members of Parliament from diligently performing their duties to their electorate and the people at large.
DAP had originally wanted to support the proposal to introduce morning sittings for Parliament, increasing the daily Parliamentary sitting from four to six hours, i.e. sitting daily from 10 am. to 1 p.m. and from 2.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. instread of the present four-hour sitting from 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. but to oppose other amendments which degrade the role of MPs and constitute serious infringement of the rights and privileges of MPs.
We were under the impression that this amendment would give MPs more time to debate the various government bills, motions and to deal with other parliamentary business and we were shocked when the Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Tajol Rosli, indicated that this would not be the case when introducing the motion in Parliament yesterday.
Tajol told a shocked House that the purpose for the introduction of morning Parliamentary sitting is to cut down the number of days of a Parliamentary meeting so as to save costs, and not to ensure that there would be a significant increase of parliamentary meeting hours a year.
The most ridiculous and insupportable amendments, however, are proposals which make the Malaysian Parliament a mockery in the Commonwealth Parliament, treating MPs like school-children in the performance of their parliamentary duties, as reducing from 20 to 10 the number of oral questions an MP can ask at each parliamentary meeting - which can be as long as 50 days during the budget meeting - and the highly ridiculous proposals limiting oral questions to not more than 40 words and motions of urgent, definite public importance to not more than 300 words.
These are amendments which no self-respecting MP could support, which probably explains why no Barisan Nasional MP, except for the Gerakan MP for Bukit Bendera Chia Kwang Thye, was prepared to expose themselves to public contempt and ridicule by speaking in support of such degrading proposals.
For the first time in the 40-year Malaysian parliamentary history, MPs would have to count the number of words for their questions and motions of urgent, definite public importance if they are not to run afoul of the new Standing Orders.
As I illustrated during the debate in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, when I picked up at random the previous Wednesday’s Order Paper, nine of the first ten questions asked during the question hour on 22nd July would have been disqualified on the ground of exceeding 40 words!
I believe that on the basis of the 40-word rule for oral questions, some 80 to 90 per cent of the oral questions raised the MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition, would have been thrown out as against the Standing Orders.
I had asked which Parliament in the Commonwealth has such a ridiculous and childish rule as to limit oral questions to not more than 40 words, and nobody could give an answer.