Motion on six-month suspension of Fong Po Kuan as MP without allowances petty-minded, vindictive and travesty of parliamentary practices and should be withdrawn to protect international reputation of Parliament and Malaysia

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Oslo International Airport, Sunday/Monday Malaysia time)I have been in Oslo in the past three days to attend the annual meeting of PD Burma - the international network of political leaders promoting democracy in Burma - and the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Nobel Peace Prize 1991  awarded to Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi outside the Norwegian Parliament, an international live-internet event highlighted by the presence of several Nobel Peace Prize laureates like Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama, Jose Ramos Horta and the Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Bondevik.

Between 25 and 30 laureates attended the anniversary and signed an appeal, supported by some 2,900 Parliamentarians all over the world, calling on Myanmar's military junta to free the 1991 laureate, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest, the release of 1,500 other political prisoners and to shift to democracy.

I am shocked to be informed at the Oslo International Airport that the Minister in the Prime Miniser's Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim has given notice to punish the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan, to suspend her as MP for six months without allowance unless she apologises to the Speaker, Tun Mohamad Zahir Ismail for criticising the Speaker's rejection of her earlier motion to highlight the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) examination marks-tampering scandal.

Rais' motion on six-month suspension of Fong Po Kuan as MP without allowances is most  petty-minded, vindictive an a travesty of parliamentary practices and should be withdrawn to protect the international reputation of Parliament and Malaysia.

Rais' motion appears on the parliamentary order paper on the occasion of the World Human Rights Day, December 10. Is this the way that Rais and the Malaysian government is commemorating the World Human Rights Day by giving a further blow to democracy and human rights, particularly with regard to freedom of expression by MPs.

In fact, Rais' motion against Fong must remind Malaysians of the dark episode in the judiciary when lawyer Zainur Zakaria was convicted and sentenced for contempt for discharging his responsibilities as defence counsel to former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Now, Fong is to be pilloried and penalised for speaking up as an MP  for justice and fair play in the handling of the multi-layered CLP examination scandal.

Just as Zainur Zacharia's case was a blot to the judiciary (until it was purged by the Federal Court), Fong's case if Rais has his way would be a permanent shame for the Malaysian Parliament.

In the past two months, the Dewan Rakyat had cut down 18 days of debate for the ministry-by-ministry scrutiny of the 2001 Budget estimates to a mere 10 days, with only six MPs allowed to debate each Ministry estimates which run into hundreds of million, billions and even tens of billions of ringgit. Parliament has no time to thoroughly scrutinise and debate the RM100 billion budget estimates for next year, but it has a lot of time Rais' petty-minded and vindictive motion to penalise Fong - showing a totally perverted sense of priorities of the Malaysian Parliament and government.

What parliamentary crime has Fong committed, to the extent that the voters of Batu Gajah are to be deprived of their constitutional right to have an MP they had elected for the next  six months? If there had been parliamentary crimes, it is the negligence and irresponsibility of MPs who could not even maintain a parliamentary quorum, who could agree to the dismissal of parliamentary oversight of ministry estimates by allowing only six MPs with 10 minutes each to debate every Ministry, and the scandal of MPs who were more interested in the slaughter of three deer in the Parliament zoo for the Barisan Backbenchers Club feast when the animals should be sent to old's folks home for disposal.

The Speaker, Tun Mohamad Zahir should explain why Rais' motion is given priority over other official business, as it is placed No. 5 on the order paper, when in the past, substantive motions under Standing Order 43 to review the Speaker's rulings had never been allowed time for debate.

DAP MP for Teresa, Teresa Kok put in such a substantive motion last week and was summarily rejected by the Speaker and was never even allowed to appear on the Order Paper. I had moved several such substantive motions under Standing Order 43 when I was in Parliament and Zahir was the Speaker, and there was never a single time when such a motion was allowed time for debate.

The claim in Rais' motion that the proper avenue for Fong is to invoke Standing Order 43 to review the Speaker's decision is therefore baseless, frivolous and misleading.

The Speaker should persuade Rais to withdraw the motion for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, to uphold the dignity of the Speaker who must not be seen to be so thin-skinned that he could not tolerate criticisms of his decisions, especially as Standing Order 43 is a dead-letter as far as the Opposition is concerned, that he would countenance and condone Rais to put such a petty-minded and vindictive motion before the House.

Secondly, if the Speaker thinks that Fong's action is so serious as to warrant parliamentary notice, then the proper parliamentary traditions, conventions and practices should be followed - and the matter referred to the Committee of Privileges for consideration and recommendation.  By introducing a motion in the full House, Rais is not asking for the right and just thing to be done, but only want to by-pass the Committee of Privileges for a brute show of parliamentary strength of the Barisan Nasional in Parliament notorious for its brute and blind  parliamentary majority.

If Rais respects parliamentary conventions and traditions, he should withdraw his motion and instead refer Fong to the Committee of Privileges. Although the Speaker is the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, all it means is that on Fong's issue, the Speaker should excuse himself from participating in the proceedings and for a new Chairman to act in his place.

Thirdly, the proposal to punish Fong by withdrawing her MP allowance for six months is unprecedented, unparliamentary, illegal and unconstitutional - and highlights the venom and vindictiveness of the motion.

Rais should stop trying to bully Fong, the youngest MP in the House, who had distinguished herself by making up for her lack of parliamentary experience with the courage of her convictionhs - which is so sorely lacking in Ministers and MPs with long years of service in Parliament.

Rais would only make the Malaysian Parliament a laughing stock of the world if he persists with the motion - as Fong's case will become a cause celebre in the world Parliamentary community, especially the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), as the worst example of executive excesses and bully-tactics of senior Ministers against young but spirited and conscientious MPs.

I call on Suhakam to speak up against Rais motion because it constitute a fundamental threat to democracy and human rights - as how could Suhakam  protect and promote human rights of ordinary Malaysians when it could not even protect and promote the democratic rights of MPs?

If the Barisan Nasional uses its brute and blind majority to ram through  Rais' petty-minded and vindictive motion, then the voters of Batu Gajah, the people of Malaysia and the world Parliamentary community should make their outrage heard loud and clear by Rais and the Barisan Nasional government


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman