It is with
great reluctance that I wish to express my disappointment with Abdullah’s
first official day as the fifth Prime Minister – although DAP still pledges
full support to all his efforts to give meaning to democracy, the doctrine
of the separation of powers and the fight against corruption
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): It is with great reluctance that I wish to express my disappointment with Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s first official day as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia – although DAP still pledges full support to all his efforts to give meaning to democracy, the doctrine of the separation of powers and the fight against corruption.
Yesterday started beautifully for Abdullah and the country with his great speech when moving the motion of thanks to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad for his 22-year service as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, outlining and clarifying the principles that would guide him as the new Prime Minister of the nation.
With great modesty, Abdullah pledged to carry out his duties with integrity, trustworthiness, efficiency and fairness, and when he broke into tears at the end of his address as he called on Allah for “guidance and inspiration, strength and fortitude, patience and determination”, he impressed Malaysians who were following the live telecast with his humility.
Many Malaysians were euphoric about Abdullah’s speech, which was received as a “breath of fresh air” when he referred to the big issues close to the hearts of all thinking and patriotic Malaysians concerned about the future of Malaysia – democracy, corruption, first-world mentality that must go hand-in-hand with first-world infrastructure, transparency, the doctrine of separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary which is important to maintain the checks and balances needed to prevent abuses of power.
It is no secret that there were many things fundamentally wrong with the big issues touched on by Abdullah all these years, and although he did not go into details and nobody expected him to do so on his first day as Prime Minister, his acknowledgement of their importance was received as a promise that he would be addressing these issues with the seriousness they deserve.
Abdullah’s speech deserved high marks, for the promise and vision of a democratic, just, transparent and dynamic Malaysia and a clean and incorruptible government that he held out.
I also joined the majority of Malaysians in suspending my reservations as to whether Abdullah could match deeds with words and in the coming days introduce policy and institutional changes which are necessary to bring these promises to fruition, as Abdullah should be given the chance to prove himself.
This morning, however, I feel very disappointed to read Abdullah’s speech to Members of Parliament at a breaking of fast in Parliament House last night, urging MPs to uphold the integrity of the House and to refrain from bringing trivial matters to the floor, and the need for parliamentary debates of high quality.
Abdullah is right, but these are not the most fundamental problems and issues facing Parliament.
The institution of Parliament and the system of parliamentary democracy is facing a grave crisis of confidence, and the root problem is not about quality of debate or integrity of the House, but the undermining of the doctrine of the separation of powers with the usurpation of the powers of Parliament by the Executive and the emasculation of its role as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber of the land into a mere rubber stamp of the Cabinet.
Parliament’s stocks have never been lower in the history of the nation, with Members of Parliament, whether government or opposition, denied of any meaningful role in the various stages of legislation and policy-making – undermining and damaging the delicate checks and balances vital to the healthy growth of a mature democracy and a vibrant civil society.
Members of Parliament, particularly from the opposition, are deprived of the opportunity to effectively hold the government to financial, policy or administrative account whether because of undemocratic laws or unfair parliamentary practices, such as the violation of the universal parliamentary convention that the Public Accounts Committee should be headed by an Opposition MP, no Opposition motion being allowed to be debated in the House in the past 18 years and the failure of Parliamentary Committee of Privileges to meet a single time in the past two decades, resulting in the scandal of the Anti-Corruption Agency investigations into excessive claims by MPs exceeding RM10,000 a month.
Parliamentary standing orders had been repeatedly amended to further curtail and emasculate the already very-limited spaces available to Members of Parliament, particularly from the Opposition, to discharge their sworn elected duties to be the voice of the people.
In theory, the Executive is answerable to Parliament, but the Executive’s usurpation of the powers and role of Parliament had advanced so far that Parliament has become a mere appendage of the Government.
As compared to other Commonwealth Parliaments, the Malaysian Parliament had missed decades of parliamentary reforms to make Parliament a meaningful and effective national legislature such as with innovations like the establishment of specialist standing committees to allow MPs to specialise as well as having a greater say in the nation’s decision-making process
Before Abdullah’s speech in Parliament yesterday, I had proposed that Abdullah should start with Parliament as the first institution to restore public confidence and to uphold the doctrine of separation of powers with far-reaching parliamentary reforms to make it a meaningful and effective national legislature and the highest political forum in the land – whether through an all-party parliamentary committee or alternatively by independent, representative and credible Parliamentary Reform Commission to make recommendations which could be considered and adopted by the 11th Parliament after the next general election.
It may not be fair to expect Abdullah to act on this issue whether yesterday morning or night, but he should have indicated awareness of the crisis of confidence in the institution of Parliament as a result of Executive usurpation and undermining of the doctrine of separation of powers, as well as his preparedness to address it as a matter of top priority.
In his speech in Parliament yesterday, Abdullah pledged to be “open and ready to accept criticism and contrary views to ensure that the culture of democracy thrives”. He should take this, probably his first critique as the fifth Prime Minister, in this spirit.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman