Global Bersih believes the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to deny Parliament its role in providing checks and balances on the power of the executive.
The Malaysian government’s decision to hold a Parliament sitting on 18 May 2020 for only one day, with no debating session, raises serious concerns over whether Parliament is being allowed to exercise its role and prerogatives.
Parliament provides checks and balances on the government’s power and has a fundamental role in holding the government accountable for its actions to the people, whom members of Parliament represent. Parliamentary proceedings also help provide transparency on the actions of the government.
Parliamentarians must be allowed to exercise their duty to approve legislation and budgets, as well as to scrutinise government actions, especially its management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the handling of the RM250bn Covid-19 stimulus package.
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Parliament should be given the opportunity to debate urgent and important issues, such as whether the stimulus package is being well spent to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and to reboot the economy. MPs should also be allowed to discuss the best strategies to be undertaken by the government once the movement control order is over.
Global Bersih therefore urges the government to extend the Parliament sitting to at least two weeks to allow proper debate on important issues and decisions facing the country during this difficult period.
Global Bersih is aware of the need to exercise social distancing in a Parliament sitting but does not believe that this is a valid reason not to have a sitting of normal duration. There are examples of other countries which have continued parliamentary business through virtual parliament sittings.
The UK’s House of Commons, for instance, has adopted a hybrid system that allows up to 120 MPs to take part in any parliament proceedings virtually and another 50 MPs to participate physically while adhering to strict social distancing rules. If the House of Commons with 650 MPs can organise themselves to sit while respecting social distancing, Global Bersih believes the Malaysian Dewan Rakyat with only 222 MPs can do the same with ease and that any legal or technical issues can be overcome.
Global Bersih believes the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to deny Parliament its role in providing checks and balances on the power of the executive, and in helping make government actions more transparent. This would be seriously detrimental to the preservation of democracy in Malaysia.
Global Bersih is an international endorsing NGO of Bersih 2.0