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Eagerly awaiting the reopening of Parliament

The government cannot be made accountable in a 'crippled' democracy

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Calls from lawmakers and the public for our Parliament to reconvene must have been so deafening lately that it took two members from the executive to respond recently in a span of one day.

Even then, the two responses seemed to have contradicted each other, much to the chagrin of concerned Malaysians.

The first response came from Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin, who rejected parliamentary sittings for the supposed fear of infection clusters that might emerge among attending MPs.

Hence, he added, Parliament could only reconvene after herd immunity has been achieved, which, going by the slow pace of the immunisation programme, might take a long time. Herd immunity can be attained after 70% of the population has been vaccinated against Covid.

De facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan, on the other hand, declared that the government had agreed “in principle” to the idea of having a hybrid parliamentary session. This means that some MPs would be physically present in Parliament while the rest would attend online – which is good news.

These responses came on the heels of a recent call made by Deputy Dewan Rakyat Azalina Othman Said, who sought for the resumption of Parliament, which, incidentally, jarred with the opinion harboured by her boss, Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun.

A member of Umno, which is part of the ruling pact, Azalina rightly pointed out the necessity to rescind the suspension of Parliament – without any motions of confidence to be heard – so that the country could move.

The Pengerang MP also proposed an interim emergency government to be formed with representation from all political parties, given the various challenges facing the country arising from the pandemic.

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She is also concerned that the government cannot be made accountable in a “crippled” democracy where Parliament is still suspended. Trust in the government, she rightly said, could not be built when a better understanding of government policies and actions is not made available to MPs without a parliamentary sitting.

Indeed, a parliamentary session is also crucial so that strategies to combat the pandemic and address economic challenges could be better crafted with input from both sides of the political divide.

The recent confusion over the approval given to 95,000 businesses by the international trade and industry minister at the start the “total lockdown” should be instructive.

Given the apparent lack of coordination and planning, it would seem that a thorough debate on this matter in Parliament would have helped to ensure a better strategy and smoother implementation – which would have prevent the chaos and inconvenience that industries, business people and workers consequently had to endure.

To be sure, Azalina is not alone in seeking the reopening of Parliament. Opposition MPs, such as Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang, had also made similar demands.

In February, 65 parliamentarians and 25 former lawmakers from Thailand, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore and Myanmar had also called on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Prime Minister Mahiaddin Yasin to allow Parliament to continue functioning so as “to ensure government accountability, review emergency measures, protect human rights, and contribute to major policy decisions”.

Meanwhile, members of the public have taken to social media to express their frustrations arising from the suspension of Parliament, where their political representatives could have otherwise helped to register their problems and anxiety amid the pandemic.

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There is a six-minute-22-second video clip that is less likely to escape one’s attention. Perhaps driven by unbridled frustration, an individual whose identity cannot be ascertained behind his face mask, took the mickey out of the parliamentary suspension.

Dressed in a two-piece suit in front of a cowshed, the man (who may well be a lawmaker) declared he had to address “the speaker” before presumably listening cattle as Parliament had been suspended, depriving him of the opportunity to articulate the people’s views regarding the government’s questionable handling of the pandemic.

The urgency of reconvening Parliament can no longer be sidestepped, nor can we wait till the cows come home. – The Malaysian Insight

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