Name: Chong Eng
Constituency: Bukit Mertajam
Party: DAP (Opposition)
Years as MP: Since 1999
Government position: None
Wanita DAP chief
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucus:
Women’s Parliamentary Caucus deputy head member
Standing Order Committee member
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?
As a peace-loving and law-abiding citizen of Malaysia, I fully support the abolition of the draconian ISA. We say it is draconian because the principle of justice presumes a person innocent until proven otherwise; but [it is] not so with the so-called pre-emptive ISA where a person can be detained without trial.
The ISA also disregards the rule of law and the judiciary by placing the power of prosecution in the hands of the police and a politically-appointed minister. The home minister has the power to order for a person to be detained without trial for up to two years. It is no surprise then that ISA has been abused to persecute and weaken political opposition.
Malaysia has sufficient laws to prosecute criminal and civil offenses, so there is no reason why the outdated ISA should not be totally abolished.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
I think this is a western political categorisation which is unnecessarily forced on Malaysia. If by a secular state we mean that the government or the country is atheist and has no respect for religion, then obviously we are not a secular state and we can never be one.
Article 3 of our Federal Constitution accords the religion of Islam as the religion of the federation, while Article 11 provides for the freedom to profess other religions. The first principle of our Rukun Negara states a belief in God. Religion is therefore in-built in Malaysia. We have had no problem with this all this while.
Our problem begins when overzealous politicians manipulate religion to further their political interest. We have seen how, [for example], Umno tries to portray themselves as the defender of the Islamic faith against self-created invisible enemies. They want to scare everyone into toeing the line.
While we cannot deny our society’s religious nature, we must not allow a monopoly of a single religion to the point that other beliefs are oppressed. We also cannot subject non-adherents to religious laws, which is why the nature of our constitution is neutral, rather than secular.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
As a Member of Parliament, I represent the wishes of the people in my constituency in the Dewan Rakyat. We are, so to say, proxy rulers and administrators, that is, we make decisions on this country’s direction on behalf of all citizens of Malaysia.
Which is why it is important that we must take into consideration not only voters, but also those who are not yet voters and also those who cannot vote, including future generations. It is a heavy responsibility, almost sacred, but sadly, some people see an elected office as an opportunity to enrich themselves.
My colleague in Parliament, and party comrade, Liew Chin Tong, said in his book Speaking for the Reformasi Generation that the primary task of Malaysian MPs is [assumed] to be [about] attending social functions rather than to discuss and debate in Parliament, because while we are given transport allowance, we are not given allowance for research staff.
Let’s not talk about the western world. We can take the examples of our Southeast Asian neighbours. The Cambodian Parliament allocates an office and one assistant to each MP, while our Thai counterparts are given five assistants. MPs in Singapore are also given allowance to hire secretarial and legislative assistants.
If we are aiming to be a first world Parliament, then the quality of our debate must be improved. MPs must be given adequate research facilities because our country’s fate lies in the results of parliamentary decisions.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
I fully support a FOI Act because I believe it will promote accountability and combat the rampant abuse of power and corruption within the government. A government of the people should not be afraid to divulge information about its operations to its people.
We can understand if it is sensitive information about homeland security. But other than that, the people should have the right to access information such as details of budget, contracts awarded to private companies, government departments’ operations and cabinet decisions on these matters.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
The purpose of the separation of powers is to reverse the old system of autocratic rule by a dictator, whether a king or an elected ruler. The saying, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies in this case. When power is concentrated in the hands of a single person or a single political party, corruption ensues.
There is a need for check-and-balance of power. In this aspect, it is sad that the Malaysian Parliament is not playing its role as an independent ombuds[person] of the executive. Rather, it is now seen to be the executive’s rubber stamp. The same can almost be said of our judiciary. When this happens, the people will be denied of both justice and good governance.
To answer Question 5, it is vital that we restore the independence of the three branches of government — the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Only then can Malaysia move forward with a more accountable, competent, just and transparent government.
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