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As Malaysia sinks, Parliament needed more than ever

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Mother’s Day was celebrated just a couple of days ago, and so, Aliran wishes all mothers happy Mother’s Day. We especially salute single mothers who sacrifice so much to provide for their children under great pressure. Such motherly love should be treasured.

Next up: Hari Raya celebrations. Muslims all over the world will rejoice at the end of Ramadan after a month of holy fasting. Aliran warmly wishes all our members, friends and readers selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir dan batin.

In normal circumstances, these celebrations are occasions for much merriment and cheer. But the persistent Covid pandemic, which has besieged the world since early last year, has wreaked havoc, snuffing out lives and destroying the livelihoods of many.

Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. The recent spike in Covid cases has now led to a full lockdown throughout Malaysia from 12 May. The health director general has also appealed to all Malaysians, especially those celebrating Raya, to avoid large gatherings, which could be ‘super-spreader’ events. Good advice – but will it be heeded?

The rollout of the national Covid immunisation programme started well, but supply remains an issue. Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister in charge, lamented that pharmaceutical companies had prioritised richer countries in the distribution of the vaccines.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said so far 7.6 million Malaysians have registered for the vaccination, but only 670,000 people have been fully vaccinated by the end of April.

The risk of infection is high, so let’s remind each other to be vigilant in observing physical distancing, wearing face masks and washing hands frequently.

Some netizens have criticised the authorities’ handling of the pandemic of late. Cases of double standards don’t help, as officials seem to get away with violating restrictions while ordinary citizens are subject to heavy fines.

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Livelihoods need to be preserved, hence the decision to allow Ramadan bazaars to remain open was understandable. But surely, the authorities could have given more thought to measures to control crowds and ensure physical distancing. Instead, the government seems focused more on ‘politicking’ than on easing the threat to livelihoods among struggling communities.

Many believe the emergency declaration was aimed at preventing the convening of Parliament as the Perikatan Nasional government has only a shaky majority at best. Officially, the emergency was imposed to fight the pandemic, but the current spike in Covid cases brings that into serious question.  

To ‘demonise’ critics of the emergency, Pas president Hadi Awang, a supporter of the current regime, used bizarre, twisted logic to refer to opponents of the emergency as worse than suicide bombers.

Instead of giving poor excuses to justify the emergency, the government should help the lower-income group who face financial difficulties arising from the pandemic.

As Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) chair Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj said recently, everyone is trying to survive this devastating Covid storm, but we must remember we are all ‘sailing’ in different vessels. Those who are in sturdy vessels such as superyachts and ocean liners will barely feel the storm. But it is a different story for those in rickety sampans relying on their oars to move forward.

Government measures to help the various categories of people seem to be motivated at ensuring future support instead of looking at the needs of aid recipients. For example, civil servants, whose salaries have not been affected by the pandemic were entitled to government handouts. But what about those whose incomes have been hit by the pandemic, those who have lost their jobs, daily wage earners, urban settlers, Orang Asli and estate dwellers? They may not receive aid (or enough of it) to enable them to get by.

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Somehow, to expect this government to reach out to such vulnerable communities seems like wishful thinking. We see those in power making calculated moves to protect their vote banks, hoping to remain in power at the next general election.

This administration appears to be severely lacking in good governance practices. The home affairs minister was heard in a phone conversation commenting on the choice of the new inspector general of police and the chief police officers of the various states. The minister later confirmed the conversation was genuine, and even claimed it was totally legitimate and within his authority. He believed that, as chair of the Police Force Commission, the choice was entirely his prerogative.  

At Aliran, we hold a different view: there should not be any political interference in the affairs of the police force.

Those in positions of power should adhere to the principle of the separation of powers. They must recognise the independent roles of the three arms of government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

But with the declaration of emergency, the legislative arm has been effectively silenced. Elected representatives are unable to speak up for their constituents effectively. Although these representatives continued to get paid, they are unable to carry out their legislative duties effectively. With the suspension of Parliament and the state assemblies, their members can make little progress with legal and political reforms.

This situation concentrates much power in the executive arm of government, and the potential for abuse is large.

On another matter, many gender-sensitive people celebrated young student Ain Husniza’s brave move in calling out a male PE teacher who had callously made a joke in class about rape. Rape jokes are not OK, and some have called for the teacher to be disciplined. Then there was the male student who ‘jokingly’ threatened to rape Ain.

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Unfortunately, the powers that be appear to have done little to tackle Ain’s concerns. Instead, news reports have emerged indicating the school plans to take disciplinary action against Ain for missing school for a few days. Ain had not turned up as she genuinely did not feel safe there.

The Malaysian Academics Movement (Gerak) has asked the authorities not to vicitimise Ain for speaking her mind. She has actually done the nation a favour by being brave enough to expose the rape culture that pervades our society. Support her, don’t make her a victim.

Former education minister Maszlee Malek has openly challenged Education Minister Radzi Jidin to either speak up on the issue or resign. Maszlee has even furnished a memorandum written during his tenure as minister which “detailed his intention to beef up laws to better protect children”.

Some are concerned that the current administration may try to extend the state of emergency beyond August, using the dire pandemic as an excuse. Sufficient arguments have been presented and enough examples exist from other countries to show that parliament sittings can proceed safely under pandemic conditions.

Hence the government should urgently convene Parliament. It should also use its power to uphold the good governance principles of integrity, transparency and accountability.

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
10 May 2021
Thanks for dropping by! 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.

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