The Malaysian Parliament has scored several "firsts", which do not redound
to its credit or honour such as:
Before the Dewan Rakyat adjourned on Thursday after a three-day debate on the motion of thanks on the royal address, Deputy Speaker, Datuk Lim Si Cheng announced that there was one more day left for debate by the backbenchers before the Ministers would take the floor for the last two days to reply. Si Cheng said there were 40 more MPs who had indicated their interest to take part in the Royal Address debate.
I do not think Si Cheng was right when he said there were 40 more MPs who had indicated their interest to take part in the Royal Address debate, as he must be referring only to the Barisan Nasional MPs without taking into account another 40 Opposition MPs who also want to take part in the debate - putting the total at around 80 MPs waiting to have their chance to speak in the first policy debate in the new Parliament.
Apart from 66 elected MPs who are Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, there are a total of 127 backbenchers from both Barisan Nasional and the Opposition ( 82 Barisan Nasional, 42 Barisan Alternative and 3 PBS) in Parliament.
So far only 11 MPs had spoken in the debate, seven from the Barisan Nasional and four from Barisan Alternative. I will be surprised if out of 75 Barisan Nasional MPs who had not yet spoke, there arenít some 40 of them who would want to speak. Out of the 41 Opposition MPs who had not yet spoken, easily some 40 would also want to speak.
The question is whether Parliament could accommodate some 80 backbenchers before Ministers start winding up for the last two days reserved for them?
The Speaker had already imposed a 20-minute time limit for each MP in the Royal Address debate. It would be ridiculous to shorten this time limit any further.
If Monday is the last day of the Royal Address debate for backbenchers, this would mean that there would only be time for 15 MPs in the remaining five hours of debate - denying some 65 MPs from both the Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative the right to speak.
This is clearly unfair, undemocratic and unacceptable. Alloting six days for the Royal Address debate this time is ridiculous when more than eight days were given to the Royal Address debate in April last year. In fact, as the first policy debate in the newly-elected Parliament, there is a strong and powerful argument as to why the Royal Address debate should be extended by another three days to allow another 45 MPs the opportunity and the right to discharge their most elementary parliamentary duty of speaking up in Parliament.
The tenth Parliament and the new batch of MPs would be committing a
gross dereliction of duty if in the first policy debate of the new Parliament,
important issues are not raised or debated, such as:
With the three-day extension of the debate on the Royal Address debate, the 2000 Budget debate which is scheduled to begin on Monday 28th February can be deferred to Wednesday March 1, 2000, although the 2000 Budget could still be tabled in Parliament by the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin on Friday, 25th February 2000 without any change of plan.
The tenth Parliament will be a great disappointment to all Malaysians if it starts off by showing itself as the highest political and legislative chamber in the land only in name but not in substance, where MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Barisan Alternative, could not even get a decent chance to speak.
In these circumstances, a campaign should be launched in all the 193 parliamentary constituencies to allow the people to express their disappointment and disapproval that Parliament does not allow MPs from both Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative ample time to debate the peopleís concerns, starting a grass-roots demand for Parliamentary reform as part of a larger nation-wide demand for political and economic reforms in the country.