The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) condemns the appointment of Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Rahman as Malaysia’s ambassador to Indonesia as an affront to both Parliament and the Pasar Salak electorate if he does not resign from Parliament before taking up his appointment in Jakarta.
That Tajuddin, who joked about a light rail transit accident under his watch as Prasarana chairperson is chosen as ambassador over decorated career diplomats is also an affront to our diplomatic service.
Paid a monthly allowance of RM16,000 before all other claims and allowances, an MP’s job should be treated as a main – if not fulltime – job. An MP must represent voters in Parliament to debate on laws and policies on the one hand and to attend to voters’ needs in the constituency on the other.
How can one perform the role and duties of an MP when taking up an ambassador’s appointment, which requires one’s physical presence overseas? In the US, where politicians are occasionally appointed as ambassadors, they would have to first resign from their elected office.
This flawed practice of appointing sitting MPs as ambassadors and special envoys, however, has been in place in Malaysia before 2018 and continued through the Pakatan Harapan, Perikatan Nasional and Barisan Nasional governments.
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Notable recent examples include the late Rompin MP Jamaluddin Jarjis who doubled up as ambassador to the US (2009-12) and former Kulai MP Ong Ka Ting who doubled up as special envoy to China (2011-13), whose moonlighting job was succeeded by current Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai (2018-20) and the current Bintulu MP (2020-). Two other MPs are still taking a second pay as special envoy since 2020 despite staying at home most of the time: Marang MP Hadi Awang as special envoy to the Middle East and Serian MP Richard Riot as special envoy to East Asia.
Alarmingly, another MP, Nazri Abdul Aziz, is rumoured to take up an appointment as ambassador to the US.
To end this flawed practice of turning ambassadorial appointments into patronage, Bersih makes the following demands:
- Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to immediately revoke Tajuddin’s appointment in Malaysia’s best interest and replace him with a career diplomat
- the parliamentary Special Select Committee on International Affairs to be given the power to scrutinise and endorse nominees for high commissioners, ambassadors and special envoys
- Article 48(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution to be amended such that a sitting MP is prohibited from holding a permanent position in a foreign mission
- Tajuddin Rahman to immediately resign as MP for Pasir Salak, if his appointment is not revoked. (Unless Article 48(6) of the Federal Constitution is amended and amendment enforced retrospectively, Tajuddin would be disqualified from re-contesting in any parliamentary seat for the next five years)
- Article 54(1) of the Federal Constitution to be amended to allow by-elections to be held for a vacancy before the last six months – instead of the last two years – of parliamentary term. (This would ensure Tajuddin’s vacancy in Pasir Salak can be filled unless Parliament is dissolved before the by-election takes place)
- Parties to commit in their manifesto:
(a) Ambassadorial appointments would prioritise career diplomats, and nominees would be scrutinised and endorsed by the parliamentary Special Select Committee on International Affairs
(b) An amendment to Article 48(1)(c) to bar MPs from holding ambassadorial appointments and
(c) An Amendment to Article 48(6) to allow a by-election before the last six months of a parliamentary term