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Keeping Parliament independent

WHAT does it take for the Dewan Rakyat Speaker to reject or approve an emergency motion either in the House or in chambers?


Approved emergency motions in 2008

On 10 Dec 2008, the Dewan Rakyat uncharacteristically accepted an emergency motion by an opposition Member of Parliament (MP) to debate the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide. In announcing his decision, Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia said the issue met with the specific requirements of Standing Order 18(1), which states that an issue had to be specific, urgent and of public interest.

 


Table of rejected motions in chronological order

Previous motions raised primarily by opposition MPs for debate in Parliament have more often than not been rejected.

 


Table of rejected motions in chronological order

Up till 11 Dec 2008, there have been 22 emergency motions rejected since Parliament first sat on 28 April 2008. Only one of these originated from a Barisan Nasional (BN) MP.

 


Table of rejected motions in chronological order

The rejected motions included issues such as the appointment of Chief Justice Tan Sri Zaki Azmi, the government’s ban of Hindraf and the safety of National Service trainees.

Emergency motions enable Parliament to address current issues of national concern such as the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide. Former Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, who is also currently Ipoh Timur MP, explains that emergency motions can make Parliament more relevant and pertinent.

“Parliament must be able to address current important issues. Otherwise, it becomes a mockery,” says Lim, a six-term DAP MP, in a phone interview.

Apart from the motion on the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide, one other emergency motion that was approved was by opposition MP Salahuddin Ayub (PAS-Kubang Kerian) on rice price hikes on 6 May 2008.

Reasons cited for rejection have always been that the issue did not comply with all three Standing Order requirements.

Partisan?


Pandikar Amin (courtesy of Merdeka Review)

Pandikar Amin resigned as Kota Marudu Umno chief after his appointment as Speaker but he remains an Umno member. Though not an MP, he is qualified to be Speaker as provided for under Article 57 of the Federal Constitution. He was formerly Speaker of the Sabah legislative assembly.

Deputy speakers Datuk Ronald Kiandee is the Beluran MP from Umno, while Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar is the Santubong MP from Sarawak’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, a BN component party.

When the Speaker and the two deputies are from the ruling BN, it’s easy to imagine that the decision to approve or reject an emergency motion is not necessarily made independently of their political affiliations.

Lawyer Andrew Khoo, who is familiar with parliamentary systems, says it is in practice difficult to have an independent Speaker in Malaysia.

“When [the speakers] are so obviously someone from a political party aligned with the government, is it surprising that when they are made speakers, they had to make rulings in the House that favour a particular side?” asks Khoo.

But Kiandee stresses that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker do not have to toe the party line when ruling in the Dewan Rakyat, stressing that there is no such instruction from the BN leadership.

“I do attend BN’s pre-council meetings but when I sit in that chair [as Deputy Speaker], I tell myself that I must be fair,” he tells The Nut Graph in phone interview.

Ministerial advice

Kiandee also explains that it is important for the Speaker to seek advice from the relevant ministry if he or she is unsure whether to approve or reject an emergency motion.

For example, BN’s MP for Batu Pahat Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi’s motion to urge the government to take action against the closure of Palestine’s Gaza border by Israel was rejected. The Speaker disallowed the motion after consulting the Foreign Ministry, Kiandee reveals.

“For that particular issue, the Speaker spoke to the ministry and the ministry’s reply was that the government has already taken the necessary steps, so there was no need for more discussions,” Kiandee says.

But seeking advice from the executive branch of government does not mean the decision is influenced by a third party, Kiandee asserts.

“The Speaker’s decision is independent although he (or she) seeks advice from the concerned ministries. It is up to the Speaker to decide in the end,” he says.

He adds that frequently, an emergency motion is rejected because the Speaker feels that the matter proposed in the motion was not urgent, and that priority should be given to the business of the day.

“The Speaker does not want to waste time because in order to allow for an emergency motion, we have to adjourn the business of the day,” explains Kiandee.

He notes, however, that the Standing Orders exempt a Speaker from explaining why he or she rejected a motion.

Choosing the speakers

With the high percentage of motions from the opposition being rejected, and the Speaker’s prerogatives explained above, it is only natural for Parliament’s independence to sometimes be questioned.


With the high percentage of the opposition’s motions rejected, is Parliament independent?

But would having Speakers and Deputy Speakers who are not from the ruling government or party solve the problem?

In Malaysia, like in the UK, the Dewan Rakyat votes for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. The deputy speakers must be from among the MPs.

When Parliament sat on 28 April 2008 for its first sitting, the Pakatan Rakyat did not nominate anybody for the post of Speaker. But DAP’s MP for Kepong Dr Tan Seng Giaw was nominated to stand against Wan Junaidi and Kiandee in the election for deputy speakers. Predictably, Tan lost to the two BN MPs as no backbencher would vote for an opposition candidate.

Political analyst Ong Kian Ming does not think that having a party-independent Speaker is a viable option because MPs may not have respect for a non-partisan Speaker.

“A Speaker needs to know the Standing Orders like the back of his [or her] hand. If the Speaker is a non-party member, not an MP and has no experience of being in the House or chairing the House, the MPs won’t respect him [or her],” he says in an e-mail interview.


UK House of Commons chamber (public domain. Source: wikipedia.org)

In the UK, even though the Speaker is elected from the ranks of the MPs, he or she is non-partisan. MPs from both sides of the divide are often taken to task, including the prime minister, something that Malaysians have yet to see happening here.

Ong notes that one of the better alternatives would be to appoint an opposition MP as a Deputy Speaker to provide a check and balance against the Speaker from the ruling government.

In fact, this was what the Pakatan Rakyat wanted after the 8 March elections, arguing that since the BN had lost its two-thirds majority, the opposition deserved one of the two deputy speakers’ posts.

Kiandee says that to ensure impartiality, he and his counterparts use the Standing Orders as reference. “The Standing Orders say the Speaker has to be fair to everyone.” But at the end of the day, it is the Speaker’s prerogative whether to allow or reject an emergency motion.

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3 Responses to “Keeping Parliament independent”

  1. IH KASSIM says:

    The democracy that we have “agreed” to adopt as our system of governance must be implemented in the true spirit of democracy. The system structures established must be able not only to function effectively but must be seen to function correctly, justly and without fear and favour . As such, whoever sits in the chair of speaker/deputy speaker must accept the responsibility of the speaker/deputy speaker without fear and favour. His/her position at the very onset, as such, is protected by Parliament. There is no point having debates when we know fully well at the end of the day the proposals will be shot down due to partisan politics.

  2. pretty says:

    Keeping Parliament independent is a serious matter. It should not be one-sided but both sides should get equal treatment. It should be controlled, managed and run by both the ruling and opposition coalition, otherwise, everything about it cannot be accepted for it is corrupted.

  3. I am very skeptical about this idea of an independent Parliament because the whip is forever active on the side that’s won the government since 1955.

    The only way Parliament can be independent is to somehow urge the whip to be relaxed.


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