The relationship between the Legislature and Executive is not only unhealthy but has degenerated into a servant-master relationship without a shred of parliamentary independence, making Parliament quite irrelevant in the political decision-making process
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on Sunday that one of the primary reasons behind the country’s success is the healthy relationship between the Legislative and Executive wings.
Speaking at the closing of the 32nd Conference of State Assembly and Parliament Speakers, Abdullah lauded a relationship between the Legislature and Executive which is totally fictional which cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
This is because the actual relationship between the Legislature and Executive is not only unhealthy, but has degenerated into a servant-master relationship without a shred of parliamentary independence, making Parliament so subservient as to be quite irrelevant in the real political decision-making process, when it should be the apex of the political system of parliamentary democracy.
In the past 44 years since the first parliamentary election in 1959, there has been one constant in the parliamentary process – the relentless subversion of the principle of parliamentary supremacy and usurpation of the powers of the legislative (as well as the judicial) wing of government by the Executive, aggravated by an unbroken two-thirds parliamentary majority of the Executive and formalized by repeated emasculation of the parliamentary standing orders to constrain and conscribe rather than to expand the responsibilities and powers of Members of Parliament, regardless of party affiliation.
Although the functions of Parliament have been described as legislative, control of finance and deliberative, the Malaysian Parliament has failed in all three regards – which was again highlighted in the unveiling of the RM7.3 billion economic stimulus package outside Parliament, when it should have been presented in Parliament. When Parliament reconvenes for a eight-day meeting on June 16, the RM7.3 billion economic stimulus package will not be presented to Parliament for approval or debate, underlining the dismal state of effective parliamentary control over the Executive.
The Malaysian Parliament is only a law-making body in the most formal sense. The legislative process has four interlocking and overlapping functions: 1. Inspiration; 2. Deliberation and Formulation; 3. Legitimation; and 4: Application.
The Malaysian Parliament is not involved in Stage 1 or 4, very formally in Stage 2 and only involved in Stage 3 – which is why it has become primarily a rubber-stamp to merely legitimize what the Executive has decided should be legislated, which is a perversion of the principle of parliamentary supremacy and an Executive usurpation of the powers of the legislature.
Even as a “sounding board of the nation” to be the highest deliberative chamber in the land, the history of Parliament is littered with a long catalogue of failures – the most recent being its failure to debate a single one of the eight Suhakam reports which had been released in the past three years, the three Suhakam annual reports and its five special reports on human rights in Malaysia!
In March, Abdullah brilliantly diagnosed the Malaysian malaise of “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” as the greatest impediment to the country’s achievement of full developed nation status – and one of the most glaring symbols of this “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” is a Parliament which is totally subservient and beholden to the Executive, rendering the principle of effective parliamentary control and oversight of the Executive a myth than a fact.
Twenty-three years ago, on June 17, 1980, I had moved a motion in Parliament to establish a Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Reforms to reform parliamentary procedures and practices to make the Dewan Rakyat a more effective legislative and deliberative chamber and to give substance to the important principle of parliamentary control of the Executive. The motion was defeated after a wide-ranging debate in Parliament.
Today, such a motion by an Opposition MP would not even see the “light of day” to get debated, although the degradation of the status of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive had progressively worsened in the past 23 years.
If Abdullah believes in a healthy and proper relationship between Parliament and the Executive, then he should allot two days for a full debate in the June meeting of Parliament to conduct an inquest into the role of Parliament in the Malaysian political system in the past 44 years since 1959, and to initiate far-reaching parliamentary reforms to restore the rightful place and role of Parliament.
In this connection, it must be pointed out there is no incompatibility between a strong government and a strong opposition. There is not only no necessary contradiction between having a strong Executive and an efficient and effective Parliament, both are prerequisites if Malaysia is to have good governance and an efficient and trustworthy Executive.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman