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Pathetic and powerless parliament

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The worsening crisis of parliamentary democracy has reduced the Prime Minister’s much vaunted promise of real change to sheer hype, writes Martin Jalleh.

Pandikar Amin - Photo credit: galeriusbo at flickr.com

As the political tsunami of 2008 and Najib’s chant of change entered their second year, the public expected Parliament to be truly a place of intellectual discussion, discourse, and debate to determine and decide on the laws and direction of the nation. Sadly, it proved to be a great disappointment.

Instead of displaying a parliament with verve, vigour and vibrancy, there were MPs who got into verbal brawls, others took pride in telling vulgar jokes, some remained virtually silent or vanished from most of the parliamentary sittings and a few were very versatile in histrionics and in veering towards a fist-fight!

There were of course those MPs who vaulted out of the PKR for reasons most vile and venal to be “independent” of the will of the very people who voted for the party they once represented! Their only contribution in parliament was to spew venom against the PKR and to spill its supposed secrets, ironically spoiling their own reputation.

Vacuous answers were given by Ministers, their deputies or representatives to vital questions posed especially by members of the Opposition. To preserve the BN’s veneer of consensus, BN MPs voted according to what the PM and Umno wanted – they were reminded that they have no volition of their own when in parliament!

At times the vituperative speaker and his deputies ignored and even allowed virulent attacks by the BN MPs on PR MPs. Umno MPs had a field day flagrantly violating the rules of parliament. A huge percentage of motions from the opposition were rejected whilst bills were blindly rushed through by the BN’s unabashed brute majority.

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Biased Speaker

The sad and scandalous state of affairs in Parliament came to a climax on 16 December 2010. Anwar Ibrahim and three other senior leaders of PR were suspended from Parliament for six months through two separate resolutions in a process fraught with misinterpretation, misrepresentation and deceit.

Well-known writer Kim Quek called it “the butchering of democracy” in Parliament and “undoubtedly the most shameful episode in our parliamentary history”. Soon after the fiasco and fracas, almost all fingers were pointed at the man who plays a very decisive role in Parliament – Speaker Pandikar Amin.

Free Malaysia Today (21 December 2010) put Pandikar in his place: “At every turn, Pandikar Amin was there to thwart the every move of the opposition to seek a just hearing. He was prompt to throw out those sitting on the other side without reason or rhyme. He acted as if he is lord and master of all he surveys and Parliament is just a plaything.

“When coming down hard on the opposition, he gave the impression that opposition lawmakers are an unruly bunch of hotheads who do not deserve to sit in the chamber. They should be ejected. He portrayed the other side as gentlemen of high honour and decorum.

“Pandikar Amin may be the big boss in the Dewan Raykat but he cut a sorry figure in the court of public opinion…Every step he makes is strictly in accordance with the wishes of the ruling political masters….(He) may be a champion and a hero to the BN crowd, but to the people, he is a fraidy-cat who dares not beat an independent path”.

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To Tunku Abdul Aziz (a very well-respected public figure and a vice-president of the DAP), “Mr Speaker is a total disgrace and has turned the Parliament of Malaysia into an object of fun and ridicule. He has completely lost the respect of all fair-minded people, and for sheer incompetence and arrogance he typifies the proverbial square peg in a round hole.”

He added rather aptly: “To the politically biased, it is all too tempting to blame members of the opposition for reacting robustly to the Speaker’s diabolically provocative and heavy-handed ‘interventions’ bordering on intimidation. But that is to ignore the fact that the House is as good as the Speaker. After all, he sets the tone of the House and the standards of parliamentary behaviour.”

The outrageous suspensions of the four PR leaders can only be seen as the pinnacle of Umno’s arrogance. The party has not changed at all. They still make use of the nation’s key democratic institutions like Parliament in their dirty and desperate political game to cling on to power and to contain, cripple and crush legitimate dissent and/or to hinder genuine change advocated by the Opposition.

The worsening crisis of parliamentary democracy in Bolehland reduced the PM’s much vaunted promise of real and radical change and his visage of a transformed country to sheer hype and hypocrisy – especially considering the fact that he was hardly in Parliament in 2010 due to his frequent overseas ventures.

Perhaps for Najib, Parliament is a real nuisance, a non-entity in his great plans to change the nation. If parliament was so indispensable to the PM he would not have unveiled his supposedly radical and revolutionary New Economic Model (NEM) outside the august House – when Parliament was in session!

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Soon after the circus on 16 December, a disappointed and disgusted Lim Kit Siang declared that it is now “left to the Malaysian people to use their vote in the next general elections, which is not far away, to administer the full lesson by sending an unmistakable message that the country needs wide-ranging reforms and institutional changes, including Parliament, if Malaysia is to fulfill her promise to take her rightful place in the international arena as a united, competitive, progressive and prosperous nation in the international arena.”

FMT shared Kit Siang’s view: “The only way to restore dignity, honour and justice to the tarnished House and make the Speaker’s chair an object of respect is through the ballot box. Parliamentary democracy can only thrive when the Speaker works for and not against the people’s representatives.”

Martin Jalleh, a well-known political commentator, is a regular Aliran Monthly contributor

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