Name: Tan Kok Wai
Party: DAP (Opposition)
Years as MP: Since 1986
Government position: None
Disciplinary committee chairperson
Party election chairperson
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucuses: None
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?
Certainly, abolishment of the Act is long overdue. The ISA is an obnoxious law — draconian, unjust and undemocratic. It is totally and absolutely against human rights principles and the right to a fair trial. There is no trial at all under this law.
I would not agree with the government’s intention to bring about cosmetic changes to the Act in the form of amendments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was endorsed by the United Nations 62 years ago. Unfortunately, Malaysia has shown total ignorance of the declaration’s basic principles.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
The Federal Constitution’s essence enshrines the principle of Malaysia as a secular state. It is not an Islamic state. This is a country that is made up of various religions and races, and an Islamic state is against the founding principles and spirit of Malaysia as a nation.
We recognise Islam as the country’s official religion. This is accepted by all. But Islam as the official religion doesn’t mean we are an Islamic state. An Islamic state is a country where the people are subjected to a theocracy, which is again against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Everyone has the right to practise their own religious beliefs, and this is provided for in our constitution.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
In Bahasa Malaysia, MP is wakil rakyat. We represent the people. Our role should be defined by the people’s aspirations and hope. We are supposed to be the voice for the masses — for the constituents we represent in particular, and all Malaysians in general. In this country, an MP’s most important role is to ensure that Parliament plays a responsible role in upholding democracy, justice, fair play and good governance.
Parliament has failed miserably in providing sufficient infrastructure and support for MPs to fulfill their role. Every time MPs’ remunerations are increased, I raise the issue that we don’t actually need a lot of increment in our basic allowance. What we need is allowance for supporting staff such as researchers and constituency helpers, as well as for backup facilities such as a constituency office. These are not provided at all. We need these to enable MPs to work more efficiently and effectively, as well as to engage in more constructive debate in Parliament. In many other countries, including poorer countries, they have all kinds of facilities.
Furthermore, we are not only legislators; we also have to serve our constituency. This is particularly challenging in Kuala Lumpur. I [envy] some MPs who have a few state assembly[persons], who are also our party colleagues, in their constituency to help them. In KL, there are no assembly[persons] and councillors, and we have such a big populace and a constituency with various problems. I have easily 250,000 people in my constituency.
This is why my service centre is like a people centre. Every day, people come to my office, seeking assistance and advice. You can imagine what it would be like if we did not have enough backup staff. I have to employ and pay my staff on my own.
[On top of our work as a legislator and in our constituencies], we also have our party work.
If Malaysia aspires to be an advanced and modern nation, our Parliament should also be of world-class standard. But MPs do not have the structural support that we urgently need, which is why sometimes we find it hard to adjust to the demands made of us.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
This is also long overdue. We have been fighting for this legislation for a long time. We have been victims of lack of freedom of information. When we talk about freedom of information, it also means freedom for the media. This is an information-technology era, and the people have the right to know about aspects of governance and government policies.
There are too many curbs on freedom of information such as the Official Secrets Act and the requirement for the annual renewal of permits for the print media. This is a deterrent to a more open society. While the government has pledged a more transparent and responsive government, in reality, it will not happen as long as a Freedom of Information Act is not in place. It’s just bluff.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
A two-party system would strengthen parliamentary democracy. Only when this materialises will there be a balance of power. For the last 11 general elections before 2008, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government has always had a thumping two-thirds majority in Parliament. It was the 12th general election that finally brought about the emergence of a two-party system.
This system is still young and new. And there have been attempts by the BN to apply dirty tactics to entice some weak-willed Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs to join them in order to get back the two-third majority. They are also attempting to destroy the two-party system, which is why there’s a need for all Pakatan Rakyat MPs to stand on guard and reject the BN’s lure.
I hope the next general election will establish a rock foundation for a two-party system. Only this can ensure the nation’s well-being and prevent the various evils prevailing in the country, namely racialism, money politics, a biased judicial system, cronyism, unhealthy political patronage, rampant corruption, abuse of public funds and so on.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
Yes. This is the democratic system. But the separation of powers has not been effective in this country. It has been damaged to a large extent by the government. Separation of powers can provide the most effective check and balance for the government. But the government itself has made a mockery of it.
For example, take the two bills introduced on 12 Apr 2010 — the Land Public Transport Bill and Land Public Transport Commission Bill. Both aim to put land transport matters, including the railway, under the Prime Minister’s Department.
Public transport is already in a real mess because we have different ministries dealing with different areas of transport. The Transport Ministry has been degraded into a junior ministry. The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (LPKP) used to be under the Entrepreneur [and Cooperative Development] Ministry. When it was abolished, LPKP was put under the Prime Minister’s Department. Why is the PM’s department looking after this?
Now, railway and other forms of public transport are also supposed to come under the PM’s department, while the Transport Ministry handles air and sea transport. This is clearly encroaching on the Transport Ministry’s duties and powers. How to have check and balance when things like this happen?
The executive manipulates Parliament into being its rubber stamp. Parliament serves the ruling elite’s whims and fancies. It has failed to transform into an independent body, into a genuine forum of the nation. The government bulldozes policies and bills through. Parliament should be accorded with not only the highest honour, but power. In other countries, the speaker can be the second most important person after the president. But here, Parliament fails to play its rightful role.
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