DAP calls for root-and-branch reform of Parliament to revitalize and restore a strong Parliament to ensure genuine representative democracy and a good and accountable government

- DAP forum on parliamentary reforms 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur,  Thursday)The   past 44 years, and in particular the last two decades, have seen the unchecked  decline, denigration and emasculation of the role and function  of Parliament, with its powers relentlessly usurped  by the  Executive  and an increasingly overbearing Prime Minister.

In the 1976 Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Lord Hailsham coined the phrase of “elective dictatorship” to describe the  Westminster democracy where “the government controls Parliament, and not Parliament the government”.  But what Malaysia has is not “elective dictatorship” but “Prime Ministerial dictatorship” where one man controls government and Parliament and nobody controls the Prime Minister.

A review and audit of the 44-year record of the Malaysian Parliament will show that it has failed to perform its three most important functions  in an effective and meaningful fashion, i.e. to legislate, to deliberate and to hold the government to account.

One way to measure the performance of Parliament in the past 44 years is to ask the following three questions:

If there is genuine representative democracy in Malaysia, the state of human rights in the country would not be in such a parlous state despite the existence of a Human Rights Commission to “protect and promote human rights” – where distributing a pamphlet is even regarded as a crime!

If there is good and accountable government, there will not be such a long list of “high-profile” police reports against VIPs where investigations have gone nowhere despite the highlighting of the issue by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim. 

I am very skeptical that Parliament when it meets on June 17 would be informed of the status report of the investigations into every “high-profile” case, including the police reports which I had lodged, whether against the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik or about the criminal breach of trust of the Pensions Trust Fund (KWAP) in the Time dotCom IPO scandal, resulting in the loss of a quarter of a billion ringgit!

If Malaysians have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, we will not have the extraordinary “929 declaration” where the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad could unilaterally, arbitrarily and unconstitutionally declare that Malaysia is an Islamic State, flying in the face of the 44-year 1957 Merdeka Constitution and “social contract” of the major communities and reaffirmed by the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak  that Malaysia is a democratic, secular  and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State – without any Parliamentary sanction, national mandate or reference to the UMNO, MCA or Gerakan general assemblies; and the questioning of the “929 declaration” to defend the Merdeka Constitution and “social contract” suddenly regarded as sensitive and an offence under the Sedition Act!

It may sound paradoxical that one important reason why there is no genuine representative democracy or good and accountable government is because there is no strong Parliament – as the Barisan Nasional had enjoyed unbroken two-thirds parliamentary majority  in Parliament since Independence.

But the strong Parliamentary dominance of the Barisan Nasional  - presently enjoying  four-fifth majority – is precisely the fatal flaw of the Malaysian system of parliamentary democracy, as what we have is not a strong Parliament but a strong Executive and even stronger Prime Minister rendering Parliament effete, impotent and even useless to carry out effectively the trinity of its functions to legislate, to deliberate and to hold the government to account.

A  root-and-branch reform of Parliament to revitalize and restore a  strong Parliament to ensure genuine representative democracy and a good and accountable government must rank as one of the top priorities of the  national agenda and one of the major issues in the next general election.  This is because there is no chance or hope whatsoever for meaningful parliamentary reforms to restore greater checks and balances to our system of governance unless the political hegemony of the ruling coalition is broken by bringing to an end its  suffocating uninterrupted  two-thirds parliamentary majority since Independence.  

Only then is it possible to restore Parliament as a place where the Executive is held properly to account by Members of Parliament, where the Government policy is first announced and tested and where the terms of trade between the Government and Parliament are shifted back in favour of  the latter.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman