THE number of Members of Parliament (MPs) who fully participated in the MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project is just slightly more than those who did not, at 113 to 109. There are a total of 222 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs were the most participative, with 61 or 80.2% out of 76 MPs submitting full replies. The Barisan Nasional (BN) had 46, or 33.6% of its 137 MPs responding to the project.
Among the key BN parties, the lead party, Umno, had the lowest participation rate. Only 24 out of 78 MPs replied in full, a participation rate of only 30%. Of the MCA’s 14 MPs, nine or 60% of the total replied. For the MIC, all four of its MPs participated, and for Gerakan, one out of its two MPs responded.
In the PR alliance, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) had the highest response rate, with 21 or 87.5% of its 24 MPs submitting full replies. A PKR MP said that soon after the MP Watch project was launched, PKR’s parliamentary research unit brought it to all party MPs’ attention. PKR MPs had prior knowledge about the project by the time they were individually contacted by The Nut Graph.
For PAS, 18 of its 23 MPs or 78% replied, and in the DAP, 22 of its 29 or 76% of its MPs did the same. Among the opposition party heads, only DAP chairperson Karpal Singh and PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim participated.
East Malaysian MPs
By region, West Malaysian MPs provided the majority of replies. Only 16 out of 56 East Malaysian MPs participated, comprising 14% of the 113 MPs who replied.
The 12 from Sabah were Maximus Ongkili (BN-Kota Marudu), Abdul Rahman Dahlan (BN-Kota Belud), Hiew King Cheu (DAP-Kota Kinabalu), Anifah Aman (BN-Kimanis), Siringan Gubat (BN-Ranau), Raime Unggi (BN-Tenom), Joseph Kurup (BN-Pensiangan), Ronald Kiandee (BN-Beluran) who is also Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker, Liew Vui Keong (BN-Sandakan), Bung Moktar Radin (BN-Kinabatangan), Shafie Apdal (BN-Semporna), and Chua Soon Bui (SAPP-Tawau).
The four from Sarawak were Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (BN-Santubong) who is also Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker, Fadillah Yusof (BN-Petra Jaya), Nancy Shukri (BN-Batang Sadong) and Joseph Salang Gandum (BN-Julau).
By government position, only 18 of the 56 cabinet members who are elected MPs responded. The whole cabinet comprises 72 members, of which 30 are ministers and 42 are deputies.
Among ministers, of the 24 who are elected MPs, only a quarter replied. They were Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Maximus Ongkili, Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai, Human Resources Minister S Subramaniam, Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman, and Housing and Local Government Minister Chor Chee Heung.
Of 32 deputy ministers who are elected MPs, 12 replied. They were Chua Tee Yong (agriculture and agro-based industry), Joseph Kurup (natural resources and environment), Joseph Salang Gandum (information, communications and culture), Wee Ka Siong (education), Fadillah Yusof (science, technology and innovation), M Saravanan (federal territories and urban well-being), Saifuddin Abdullah (higher education), Hasan Malek (rural and regional development), Razali Ibrahim (youth and sports), and Liew Vui Keong, Ahmad Maslan and SK Devamany (prime minister’s department).
Attitudes towards MP Watch
There are some internal assumptions by The Nut Graph as to what factors may have influenced the response rate.
One reason could be the varying degree of awareness about The Nut Graph‘s presence and popularity as a news analyses and commentary website as compared with other breaking news sites.
Another reason is, perhaps, the inaccessibility of a large number of BN MPs from East Malaysia and from rural parts of the peninsula who are possibly less frequent internet users. This appears to have some correlation to the low response rate from BN MPs in East Malaysia, as the project questionnaire was sent to each MP via e-mail, either to his or her e-mail account or to an aide’s. Questions were also sent by fax in cases where MPs requested it or had trouble accessing the internet.
A third reason could be that MPs might have preferred to respond through a personal interview with someone they could put a face and a name to, rather than to compose their answers via fax, e-mail or over the phone. We discovered this in some cases in the course of collecting responses.
A fourth reason may be the different opinions MPs have about the value of such a project. MPs were not uniform in their appreciation of MP Watch. Among those who did not reply, one MP said his stand on such issues had already been frequently expressed through other channels like personal blogs, speeches or writings. At least two MPs who were BN component party members said their answers to certain questions might put them at odds with the BN whip.
Another said the topics asked were not priority issues for people as compared to development and economic issues. Another view was that rural constituents without internet access would not be able to read the MPs’ responses anyway.
Many also said they were busy and declined upfront to participate, or said they would attempt to reply but did not in the end.
Each MP was given a two-week response deadline, and for those who missed it, a “No Reply” was published against their profile on The Nut Graph. However, the project allowed them to submit late replies, which were used to update their profiles. This was deemed the most feasible and transparent way to inform readers that an MP had been contacted but had not been able to respond within the allotted time. Setting a deadline was also a way to gauge the efficiency and accessibility of an MP’s office in handling queries on legislative issues.
Some MPs, including from the PR, were not pleased with this approach and were no longer keen to participate once they had been published as a “No Reply”.
Of the 113 MPs who originally did not reply, only 19 came back with full responses after their deadlines. They were Ab Aziz Ab Kadir (PKR-Ketereh), Abd Khalid Ibrahim (PKR-Bandar Tun Razak), Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid (PKR-Kuala Langat), Abu Bakar Taib (BN-Langkawi), Amran Abdul Ghani (PKR-Tanah Merah), SK Devamany (BN-Cameron Highlands), Fadillah Yusof (BN-Petra Jaya), N Gobalakrishnan (PKR-Padang Serai), Hasan Malek (Kuala Pilah), John Fernandez (DAP-Seremban), Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor), M Saravanan (BN-Tapah), Maximus Ongkili (BN-Kota Marudu), S Subramaniam (BN-Segamat), Siringan Gubat (BN-Ranau), R Sivarasa (PKR-Subang), Tan Ah Eng (BN-Gelang Patah), Tony Pua (DAP-Petaling Jaya Utara), and Wan Abd Rahim Wan Abdullah (PAS-Kota Baru).
A few replied after being approached and reminded in person by The Nut Graph reporters in Parliament.
Others who replied late said they still felt it was important to do so because of the relevance of the questions, even if they had been too busy to meet their original deadline. Pakatan Rakyat MP Sivarasa said: “The questions were important and [the project] provided a forum for communicating to a particular audience.”
An aide to BN MP and Human Resources Minister Subramaniam said he preferred to reply in person, which he did through a personal interview, as he did not have the time to write his answers in an e-mail.
Another BN MP, Siringan Gubat, said he had intended to answer but cited time constraints in meeting the original deadline.
In terms of ease with online communication, it was found that MPs who used social media actively were also those who replied to MP Watch. Of the 113 MPs who replied, 31 were found on Twitter. But there were also MPs who were active Twitter users who did not participate.
MPs from Sabah and Sarawak were by far the least social media-savvy and were also the toughest to communicate with using the internet. Sabah MP Siringan Gubat said he did not use either Twitter or Facebook, but kept a blog. “However, I understand the importance of social media to let people know what is happening in my constituency … and to let them know what I am doing,” he said in a post-project phone interview.
MPs in rural constituencies were less likely to use social media tools given that, as Siringan also said, “many people [in my constituency] are [relatively] deprived when it comes to information technology. Though many now have handphones, radios and television, most still cannot afford Astro or computers … Many do not even have [reliable] electricity supply.”
In comparison, an urban MP like Subang’s Sivarasa said he used Twitter, Facebook, his blog and interviews or statements issued to online news portals as a means to communicate with the public.
Some MPs who kept blogs also posted their responses to MP Watch or wrote about it on their personal websites. The project, however, did not appear to get a wide reach on social media or blogs except for a few here.
In the traditional media, the only organisation to give media coverage to MP Watch was Astro Awani through a news report broadcast on 18 Feb 2010. The Nut Graph had not requested for publicity with the channel or any other media organisation.
Points to ponder
The MPs’ response rate, some of their reasons for not replying, and the project’s reach through traditional and social media suggest a few things. For one, not enough MPs make the connection between the issues raised in the survey questions and their role as federal lawmakers.
Secondly, MPs appear more concerned with what their immediate constituency thinks about them than with how other citizens, like those in urban areas with internet access, view them as national leaders. The notion that MPs also make laws and represent the interests of a broader spectrum of Malaysians is not widespread.
Third, in this day and age of online technology, many MPs are still uncomfortable with using the medium as a communications channel.
And fourthly, the limited media reach on MP Watch suggests that not enough citizens caught on to the project to press their MPs for their positions on the issues of democracy that were raised.
More analyses are being done on the MPs’ answers by topic according to the questions they were asked in the MP Watch survey. Summaries of these analyses will be available on The Nut Graph in months to come, but the full analyses is intended for a parliamentary guidebook to be published in 2011.
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