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Government urged to present parliamentary reform roadmap

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The Seed Community for a Professional Parliament (SCPP) calls on the government to present a roadmap for parliamentary reform with a clear timetable.

It should stop using “coalition government” as a reason to conceal its lack of appetite and urgency to pursue institutional reforms.

After 15 months in power, the Pakatan Harapan-led government has not completed any major institutional reforms.

While commendable initial steps have been taken on reforms like the separation of the public prosecutor from the attorney general, we do not see concrete timelines that show urgency.

Without a commitment to introduce a fixed-term parliament law, it is perfectly possible that this Parliament could be dissolved before any major reform materialises.

This roadmap of parliamentary reform, in the view of SCPP, should include:

  • the enactment of a parliamentary services law that restores budgetary and administrative autonomy to Parliament
  • the strengthening and expansion of parliamentary select committees through standing order amendments
  • the earmarking of non-government business time in parliamentary sittings and enabling private members’ bills through standing order amendments
  • the enactment of a fixed-term parliament law and the prioritising of motions of confidence and no confidence through standing order amendments
  • recognition of a shadow cabinet, with resources and information access to shadow ministers

We do not accept PH’s reasons that the coalition government it leads is the reason for its delays in bringing about institutional reforms. Such an excuse is indirectly and unfairly framing its coalition partners – Barisan Nasional, Gabungan Parti Sarawak, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, Warisan – as anti-reformist by claiming a monopoly for reforms.

From Umno and GPS, we have seen serious institutional reformers like  the minister responsible for institutional reforms and the law, Azalina Othman Said, and former Senate president Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

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Coalition governments may have a stronger drive than strong single-party governments to deliver reforms when those reforms can benefit smaller partners of the coalition government. The UK’s Fixed Term Parliament Act, for example, was introduced by a Conservative-Lib Dems coalition government due to the demand of its junior partner, the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary reforms would provide more meaningful roles for government backbenchers and opposition members. As minor partners in government have fewer ministers in the cabinet, parliamentary reforms empower their parliamentarians.

While coalition partners may have different priorities and specific concerns about certain reforms, this only means more consultations are needed, not stagnation.

If coalition partners have their reservations or even objections, their views deserve to be heard and considered, not ignored in silence.

The preparation of this roadmap for parliamentary reform can be a productive process to align the interests and concerns of parties in the coalition government. It can even help in stabilising politics if the opposition Perikatan Nasional is invited and willing to take part to shape it.

The SCPP calls upon Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to seek the leadership of House of Representatives Speaker Johari Abdul and new Senate President Mutang Tugal to spearhead this roadmap and back it with full political and financial support.

Before both the 2018 and 2022 general elections, Malaysia experienced one political crisis after another, which exposed the multi-layered and systemic defects and vulnerabilities in our political system and our political culture.

This extended period of political strife led people from all backgrounds and political beliefs to recognise the necessity for structural reforms in our political, economic and social policies.

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It is undoubtedly a consequence of these factors that PH and its partners put the reform agenda front and centre in its electoral manifestos and won the backing of the people in both these general elections.

It is now time for PH to deliver on its reform promises, many made over a decade ago.

If PH and its coalition partners do not want to be punished by voters for promising reforms but not delivering them in time before the dissolution of the 15th parliament, they should communicate with the public on a reasonable timetable that underlines the government’s commitment.

The SCPP also calls upon the opposition parties, PN and Muda to support this call for a parliamentary roadmap.

Malaysia deserves a professional opposition that provides effective checks and balances on the government instead of plotting the downfall of governments through the collection and counting of statutory declarations.

Consistent with what the government has done for the separation of the attorney general and the public prosecutor, we also suggest that the reforms currently being planned be worked on by the relevant parliamentary special select committees. This would ensure better decision-making since members of Parliament from both government and opposition can contribute to the policy. There is also a greater likelihood of bipartisan support.

The government should not think the public will forget these reforms: a political financing bill, the separation of the role of the attorney general and public prosecutor, a parliamentary services law, amendments to the parliamentary standing orders, equal constituency development funds, the reform of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and a freedom of information law.

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We trust that the government will announce a clear timeline and strategy to the public to emphasise its clear commitment to institutional reforms.

This statement is initiated by the Seed Community for a Professional Parliament, a network of individuals active in civil society organisations, think tanks and academia working towards a professional Parliament that facilitates healthy policy competition between parties.

Signed by:
1. Projek Sama
2. Institute for Political Reform and Democracy (Reform)
3. Engage
4. Ideas
5. Maha Balakrishnan
6. Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih)
7. Bait Al Amanah
8. Undi18

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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