Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad’s decision to quit as the Chairman of the Backbenchers' Club (BBC) must be complimented as an act of courage and conviction reminiscent of an earlier act committed by him some 18 years ago.
In 1988, he quit his parliamentary seat of Johor Bahru to force a by-election so that voters would have a chance to judge the misdeeds of the Mahathir regime. In that by-election on 25 August 1988, Shahrir trounced the BN candidate obtaining an astounding 64.2 per cent against the BN’s 28.8 per cent. It was the worst defeat suffered by the BN under Mahathir.
This time in similar vein, on a matter of principle, Shahrir has turned his back on the Backbenchers’ Club. In doing so, he has enhanced his personal integrity and exposed the questionable integrity of Parliament on 4 May 2006. Shahrir had provided a golden opportunity for the backbenchers to rise above party lines by supporting a motion introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, Lim Kit Siang. The motion involved the principle of integrity and independence of Parliament to investigate one of its own members through the Rights and Privileges Committee for conduct deemed to have affected the dignity of Parliament.
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What was at stake was not the policy of the government or a Bill introduced by it. The BN would not have lost out anything by supporting Lim’s motion. On the contrary, the Barisan would have come through looking good for having created Parliamentary history by going along with the Opposition for the first time in our entire existence as a nation. It was a matter of right and wrong and, on this crucial issue, the backbenchers chose to stand on the wrong side. Shahrir stood gallantly on the right side – but he stood all alone, deserted by his own club members.
The flimsy argument extended by some that the BN could not go against the party line in this instance was effectively demolished by Shahrir himself who argued that it was not a party matter. He took the only honourable route open to him by resigning on the grounds that “it would be meaningless for him to debate on the principles of Parliament, the running of Parliament, how it should be managed if he did not get the support from his colleagues”.
Crossing partisan boundaries and rising above party interest would require courage, conviction and integrity. Many of the BN MPs had in the past spoken vociferously on matters of principle but, when it mattered most as in this instance, they failed miserably. We are reminded of that great saying, “It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.”
What is the use of setting up a Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity to seek the views of Malaysians to enhance and promote integrity as a way of life when integrity is not upheld in Parliament as a shining example to motivate Malaysians?
5 May 2006