(Source: parlimen.gov.my) Name: William Leong Jee Keen
Party: PKR (Opposition)
Years as MP: Since 2008
Government position: None
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucuses:
Public Accounts 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?
I support abolishing the ISA. Detaining enemy combatants is allowed under international laws for the duration of an armed conflict. [The need to detain] communist insurgents without trial ceased when the Emergency ended in 1960. [The ISA has no validity] after the Malayan Communist Party laid down arms following the signing of the Peace Accord on 2 Dec 1989.
Preventive detention without trial lacks legitimacy in law. It offends the principle that no innocent person shall be punished. It deprives a person’s liberty on the suspicion that a crime will be committed in the future. This is punishment for an act that has not been done.
Criminal trial procedure applies a time-tested system in administering justice to ensure innocent people are not convicted. Under the ISA, these standards are lowered. Evidence and information are used that would not meet the strict requirements of a criminal trial.
The minister’s decision is based on subjective consideration and not the normal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. The ISA therefore fails the test of legitimacy for lawfully depriving a person of his [or her] liberty.
The ISA offends the morality standards in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is open to abuse by the ruling elite to detain opposition members and those who pose a threat to them (instead of the nation). It does not further the cause of a democratic government, founded on the rule of law.
[…] The [post 9/11 argument] justifying detention to prevent terrorists using weapons of mass destruction lost credibility after the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq revealed that this [reasoning has no] basis. The US learned that incarcerating suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay without trial did not reduce, but on the contrary, increased the risks of terrorist attacks by provoking more recruits to join.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state?
The question is not whether Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state. Malaysia should comply with the understanding and agreement of the social contract set out in the Federal Constitution in 1957. The constitution’s framers did not intend Malaysia to be a theocratic state [where] Islam not only enjoys state endorsement but can also exercise the state’s coercive powers and authority in accordance with the religion’s precepts. An example of this is Islam in Iran.
It is clear from Articles 3(1) and 11(1) of the Federal Constitution that Islam is the official religion of the federation, but the freedom to practise other religions in peace and harmony in the federation is guaranteed. [We are meant] to have a “confessional constitution” — one that affirms Islam’s special place in the country’s traditions, while ensuring the practice of other religions has equal protection. An example of this is the United Kingdom, where the Church of England [is the official church] with religious freedom protected.
Article 162 and Section 3 of the Civil Law Act 1956, [which provides for English common law and equity to apply in Malaysia, also supports this].
An Alliance memorandum to the Reid Commission [also states] that Islam as the “official religion” shall not impose any disability on non-Muslims professing and practising their own religions. It shall also not imply that we are not a secular state. This was applied by Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas in the 1988 Federal Court decision of Che Omar bin Che Soh v Public Prosecutor. It held that Malaysia is not an Islamic but a secular state.
The first three prime ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn, each publicly declared that Malaysia is not an Islamic state.
By these reasons, the question as to whether Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state does not arise. I am committed to maintain the understanding as envisioned by the constitution’s framers that Islam is the official religion and has a special place in the federation while maintaining the freedom of non-Muslims to practise their religions.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and facilities to fulfill your role?
I represent and voice the concerns and aspirations of [my constituency]. It is my duty as far as practically possible to ensure that my constituents’ interests, welfare, safety and development are improved. I am also an intermediary between the constituents and the various levels of governments and their agencies.
It is well known that there is a special development fund for all constituencies called Peruntukan Khas Perdana Menteri that the government provides for development and welfare projects. These allocations are, however, only given to Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs and not to opposition MPs.
This is not correct as all MPs, [whatever their party], should be provided with the same facilities to carry out their duties. The funds are from the people’s taxes. They are not private funds from the BN. MPs are part of the legislative arm of government, and there should not be any discrimination on the availability of these funds. This is important because the constituents are Malaysians, and they should not be deprived of their rightful allocation [just because of] how they chose to exercise their lawful right to vote.
Would you support the Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
I fully support the Freedom of Information Act. Freedom of information will ensure greater accountability and promote good governance. The present endemic level of corruption is due in part to the lack of transparency in government dealings and decisions. The Official Secrets Act, the Printing Press and Publications Act, and other similar legislation provide a shroud for government officials and bureaucrats to hide behind and stonewall the public from obtaining information affecting their lives and property.
A Freedom of Information Act would provide a mechanism for the release of information and ensure there is a proper and prompt response. An example of a document that was needlessly protected by the Official Secrets Act was the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide report, which was finally declassified following the Selangor government’s pressure for its release. Those who lost their relatives and friends or properties are entitled to know the landslide’s cause and to claim damages from those who were negligent.
A government that acts in accordance with the law and in the nation’s interests should not have anything to hide from its citizens.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia what would it be?
I would want the ruling government to recognise that an effective and responsible opposition is essential for the success of parliamentary democracy. [It assures citizens that differences can be resolved by peaceful means]. Democracy is not about one party winning the majority of seats and then filling up all the seats in democratic institutions and committees, thereby sidelining the opposition. This does not provide the opposition the opportunity and the means to voice the minority’s concerns.
[Democracy means a system where citizens can have a free and fair chance to peacefully change the government if it disagrees with its policies.] This is preferable to a situation where political change can only take place through violence or unconstitutional means.
The present system of “winner takes all” is not democracy but a tyranny of the majority … Time and again, opposition motions to debate important matters do not see the light of day. The opposition is blindsided by important bills and acts being tabled on an urgent basis without sufficient time to study their effects and implications.
The opposition has a vital role to play in the process of democratic governance. It is not only to oppose but to offer positive counter proposals. It is also to make the majority aware of the minorities’ views and the effect of the majorities’ proposals and policies on them.
The opposition has to present themselves as a credible and responsible alternative government. The ruling government’s failure to understand the need to have a working relationship with the opposition would cause the people to perceive that political change can only be accomplished by violence. The government must therefore provide the opposition with necessary resources, [sufficient] parliamentary time to debate and raise issues of concerns, fair access to the media, and opportunities to monitor and scrutinise the government’s performance and dealings.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the Government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
The separation of powers and the system of check and balances ensures that there is no unbridled power. Lord Acton warned that “all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Separation of powers ensures that the government’s vast powers of coercion will not overwhelm the individual, and that the citizens control the government, not the other way around.
Malaysia’s constitution is based on the Westminster model and does not provide for a strict separation of powers such as the American presidential system. It provides for a fusion of powers with the executive, comprising the prime minister and the cabinet, drawn from the legislative branch.
This model is based on the requirement of a responsible government and an independent judiciary. A famous passage by Montesquieu states: “There is no freedom at all if the power to judge is not separate from legislative and executive power. If it were joined to executive power, the judge will have the force of an oppressor.”
The erosion of public confidence in the Malaysian judiciary has given rise to the concern that the Westminster model may not be sufficient in the hands of an irresponsible government. It is necessary for the people to consider making changes to ensure that the check and balances are real and not illusory.
Separation of powers is the cornerstone of a constitutional democracy, and it is the difference between a government by the people for the people and a dictatorial government. It is up to the people to decide in the next general election whether the present model is sufficient to ensure that the doctrine of separation of powers is implemented.
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