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Stand up and be counted

How should MPs behave in Parliament?

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Opposition lawmakers ought to perform and vote with responsibility and conscience, Mustafa K Anuar writes.

The commotion that erupted in the parliamentary sitting on 1 December was understandable because it involved a vote miscount.

Irrespective of whether the count was off by one vote or more, accuracy should always be aim.

This is especially so in a parliament where the ruling Perikatan Nasional government is said to enjoy only a wafer-thin majority, while the seemingly less united opposition would need every available lawmaker in its fold to vote with one solid voice.

It came about when Tasek Gelugor MP Shahbudin Yahya, who was the teller in charge of counting the votes for the government, was found to have incorrectly marked MP Nazri Abdul Aziz (BN-Padang Rengas) as one who voted for the allocation for the Ministry of Finance on 30 November, when he was actually absent.

Hence, after an amendment, the votes supporting the ministry’s budget stood at 106 – not 107 – while those who voted against remained at 95. The absentees stood at 19, instead of 18.

When every vote counts in a parliament where abstention or absenteeism can tip the scale either way, it baffles the mind why certain opposition MPs were not in the Dewan Rakyat when their numbers were much needed to scrutinise the budget of each ministry and if necessary, reject it.

They must detect any budget that is unnecessarily bloated at the expense of the needs of the people, particularly the poor and the marginalised, and Covid-19 victims in general. These MPs, like any other lawmakers, are expected to be in Parliament to perform their important duties as representatives of the people.

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The high expectations of Pakatan Harapan supporters came crashing down on 26 November, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim gave last-minute instructions to PH lawmakers to not seek divisional voting for the Budget bill.

Many felt the opposition had squandered the opportunity to test the political legitimacy of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which, in turn, triggered unhappiness and even rage among the opposition and the voting public.

If the debacle is cause for concern, the recent antics of Warisan, a PH ally, should be just as worrying, if not more so.

To protest Anwar’s controversial decision to not vote against Budget 2021 at policy stage, eight Warisan lawmakers decided to absent themselves from two key votes on the supply bill.

While critical engagement within the opposition can be appreciated as being part of the democratic process under normal circumstances, fighting among themselves over the questionable supply bill is nothing less than losing the plot.

Moreover, infighting within PH at this critical juncture doesn’t inspire confidence in people nor does it depict itself as a deserving government-in-waiting. Indeed, it appears as if it has painted itself into a corner.

The disunited opposition, especially after recently promising sound and fury but eventually signifying nothing, in some ways provided a fillip to the nascent PN government, which goes against the very notion of having a respectable and vigilant opposition in a democracy.

The opposition must get its act together if it is serious about its purported goal of making a difference in the political arena as well as in larger society.

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We expect well-prepared verbal sparring as well as informed decisions from the lawmakers, particularly those on the opposition bench – even if these do not lead to a change of government, as hoped for by the Opposition.

To ditch this important role in Parliament amounts to dealing the electorate yet another cruel blow of betrayal.

Opposition lawmakers ought to perform and vote with responsibility and conscience.

To put it in terms uniquely familiar to the Malaysian Parliament, to do otherwise is to flash the middle finger at the electorate.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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