(source: parlimen.gov.my)Name: Teresa Kok
Party: DAP (Opposition)
Years as MP: Since 1999
Government position: None
DAP national organising secretary
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucus:
Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus
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 am totally in support of abolishing the ISA.
Firstly, it offends human rights because it is a law which allows arbitrary detention without trial. Detention without trial infringes upon Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which are against arbitrary arrest, [outline the need for] a fair and independent trial for everyone, and [stress] that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Secondly, the use of the ISA disregards the principle that all persons are subject to the law and that the same law applies to everyone.
There are ISA detainees who have been arrested and detained on grounds that do not satisfy the criteria of threatening national security. Some have been held for allegations such as counterfeiting money, falsifying documents and human trafficking. All these allegations can and ought to be dealt with in court under relevant laws. The rule of law requires that compelling evidence has to be presented and that the detainee has a right to defend himself [or herself] in court.
Thirdly, the ISA betrays democracy because it grants the ruling government gratuitous power to suppress persons deemed undesirable under the guise of “national security” and [on] the flimsiest of excuses.
I can never forget Ops Lalang in 1987, [a] dark and most shameful episode in Malaysian history, when the government detained 106 persons, mainly opposition politicians and social activists, in an ISA swoop and held them without trial.
Prime Minister [Datuk Seri] Najib [Razak]’s proposal to merely review the ISA gives no assurance and holds no credibility at all. History has shown that past amendments to the ISA have only made the ISA even more powerful and destructive to citizens’ interests. The ISA’s continued existence makes a mockery of Malaysia’s claim to being a democratic state.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
Malaysia is a secular state, not an Islamic state. All constitutional documents leading up to Merdeka in 1957, and the Malaysia Day Agreement , and the highest judicial pronouncements of the land clearly state that Malaysia was conceived as a secular state with Islam as the official religion, and not an Islamic state.
I uphold the Federal Constitution which makes no reference whatsoever to Malaysia being an Islamic state. It states that Islam is the religion of the federation which cannot be equated with Malaysia being an Islamic state. Lord President Tun Salleh Abas made it clear in a Supreme Court case in 1988 when he stated that we are a secular state and the civil court administers secular law.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
My role as an MP is to be the voice, ears and eyes of the people of Seputeh in Parliament, and to represent their interests in Parliament.
There’s a lot more that Parliament can and should be doing to help me and other MPs fulfill our roles with utmost effectiveness. Parliament needs to allocate an adequate budget to all MPs, regardless of their political party, to rent a premise for a service center, pay for utilities, and hire competent full-time researchers and secretarial staff to assist us in our work.
My constituency, Seputeh, is one of the highest populated constituencies, with 76,000 voters. You can imagine the amount of issues raised by my constituents, and the costs involved in serving them. Like many other MPs, I need to bear these costs through fundraising, which actually takes time away from [my] work on policy-making and representing [voters] in Parliament, which is what an MP should be doing.
Would you support a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act? Why or why not?
Yes, I am in full support of a FOI Act. The people have a fundamental right to seek, receive and impart information on government policies and procedures which affect their lives.
People must have access to information so that they can be empowered to make decisions. This includes whether to vote [one] way or the other and [whether to] change the government. Democracy without freedom of information is a hollow democracy.
A government that is clean and transparent would be in full support of a FOI Act because it helps curb corruption, promotes accountability among our elected representatives and civil servants, and personal dignity.
The Selangor Pakatan Rakyat government, where I am a senior executive councilor, will table a FOI Act at our next state assembly [sitting] in April 2010. In the interest of transparency, Selangor has also declassified or is currently in the process of declassifying various documents for public knowledge and inspection, such as the public documents on all assets and contributions given to Yayasan Basmi Kemiskinan, the Hazardous Map which indicates the level of risks in residential areas in Hulu Klang, and the investigations report on the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide.
Any exceptions within the FOI Act should be made only in specific and defined areas of law enforcement, privacy, national security, business confidentiality, public or individual safety, and the effectiveness and integrity of government decision-making processes.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
I would completely overhaul our electoral process to ensure free and fair elections, and adopt proportional representation to replace our existing first-past-the-post electoral system.
Parliamentary democracy in Malaysia has been continuously undermined through gerrymandering (manipulation of electoral composition) and malapportionment (manipulation of electoral size). A clear example of malapportionment is how in the March 2008 elections, Putrajaya, with a population of about 5,000, sent one MP to Parliament while my constituency, Seputeh, which has over 76,000 voters, also had only one seat in Parliament.
If you consider the March 2008 elections, Barisan Nasional (BN) obtained barely half of the popular vote — about 51% of the 7.9 million votes cast and yet they controlled 63% of the seats at stake in Parliament, i.e. 140 out of 222 seats. If you exclude the voters in Sabah and Sarawak, where BN won all but two seats, their popular vote dips to 49.8% in Peninsula Malaysia. (Source: http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=10778)
This kind of electoral manipulation is traitorous to the people’s will.
Proportional representation would make gerrymandering and malapportionment much more difficult to accomplish and ensures that the people’s wishes are represented more justly in Parliament.
If I could choose to do one more thing, I would organise all 222 MPs into select committees, whereby each select committee is given the mandate to monitor and inquire into a designated issue or government portfolio, such as education or health, and scrutinise all bills relevant to the portfolio. It is unrealistic to expect all MPs to be up to speed on all issues. The specialisation of the select committees would allow MPs the liberty to be more effective as the people’s voice and as government watchdogs.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary is essential for these three branches of government to act as a check and balance to each other. Each branch should be empowered to govern without prejudice and be subject to governance without prejudice as well.
This is a prerequisite for a fully functioning democracy. Separation of power allows diverse and independent ideas and opinions, including dissenting opinions, to be expressed and executed without fear of retaliation in any way.
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