Name: Azalina Othman Said
Years as MP: Since 2004
Government position: None
Pengerang division chief
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucuses:
Would you support the abolition/review of the Internal Security Act (ISA), in particular the provision that allows for detention without trial? Why or why not?
I support a review, subject to the contents and amendments made. I think the government has realised that detention without trial has to be reviewed.
My personal opinion is that it’s extremely important to have the right of fair hearing. In any part of the world, when you arrest on security [grounds], certain rights of those arrested must be emphasised. Then again, after [11 Sept 2001], the US is going back to a situation where they can detain without trial.
The [proposed] amendments [for the ISA] will be brought before Parliament, so it’s premature for me to comment now.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
Malaysia is a multiracial country, so it cannot be a 100% Islamic state. It would be difficult to enforce any of the legal requirements because it would be selective enforcement on Muslims. [However], for Muslim politicians to say this is a secular state — that terminology sounds bad.
A fair description is to say we are a multiracial country and everyone has their own religion. So, it’s important for everyone to have a high tolerance level. To say it is an Islamic state, I doubt it can be implemented.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
I think the government should stop concentrating on physical development and start looking at human development. I think we have enough schools and hospitals. What’s lacking is funding to assist people in rural areas.
[MPs] should be involved in an empowerment process; for example, supporting youth organisations and religious associations in an area. These are associations that represent the people, and the government should give them a lot of support. Associations — whether religious, educational or gender [focused] — are the government’s third eye. Such non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can assist parliamentarians in their work because the public can voice out their concerns to these NGOs.
So, my suggestion is for the Barisan Nasional government to emphasise more on building relationships with NGOs at the Parliament level. The government should also support them financially and assist NGOs when they run their programmes.
We have a lot of funding for physical development, repairs and upgrading, which sometimes I think tends to be overspent. But there are not enough funds to go around for NGOs. The government should give more funds to MPs to support NGOs in their parliamentary area.
Malaysia has achieved a lot of physical development in 2010. But we’ve not really seen human capital development, which I think can be achieved by supporting NGOs.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
Of course I support a Freedom of Information Act. There are the three arms of government — legislature, judiciary and executive. The media has been the watchdog for these institutions for time immemorial. If we talk about democracy, we have to be ready for criticism and comments.
If you look at developed countries like the US and the UK, there is a lot of media freedom there. That freedom becomes an eye for the system. The government cannot totally control the media, whether the new media or [traditional] media. More animosity is created when there’s no freedom of information.
There must be media freedom, and any political party must have the confidence to handle criticism. There must be transparency. We talk about democracy — it cannot be guided democracy anymore. In another 10 years, it will be 2020; I think Malaysian voters’ demeanour will change. When you implement guided democracy, it will [backfire] on you. But I’m a young politician, so I may have a different opinion.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
The most important thing to strengthen parliamentary democracy is there must be a lot of checks on parliamentarians. When we go in there, we represent our constituency.
But there’s always a conflict between representing your constituency and the party. There’s a lot of expectation that party members must behave within party lines. I have a different view. I believe that the priority should be the voters who voted you in.
My definition of parliamentary democracy is there must be accountability to the people first, then the party second. I can’t implement this now because I’m not in power, but in the future, that is something I would like to see. There is a great need for parliamentarians to understand who their customers are, and who put them there.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
Of course. If you look at it globally, the world economy is affected by this. When investors come to the country for economic investment, they look whether there’s this guarantee of separation of powers. In any country, whether developed or developing, this requirement is extremely needed. I believe that it can guarantee a nation’s betterment. But I’m idealistic.
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