DECEMBER 5 — Eighty per cent of life is showing up, according to writer-director Woody Allen.
Obviously, this is lower in Malaysian politics, as MPs struggle to stay seated in the Dewan Rakyat, much to the chagrin of voters.
That’s the problem currently about session after session at Parliament suspended over missing quorums. A failure to muster 26 of the 222 MPs.
One sixth can’t be available, so the show can’t go on.
People might not understand what goes on in Parliament — who does anyways? — but they do understand attendance from their school years.
Poor attendance, bad. Great attendance, geek. Everyone prefers geeks as legislators to sort out Malaysia — in theory.
Which is why, in their consternation, they’ve suggested pay cuts to caning for the shirkers.
Though there is a cheeky afterthought: If elections, especially by-elections, are all about race, religion and reasons to hate the other side, why the surprise when those elected don’t measure up? After all they were never asked to be fit, intelligent and diligent.
You get what you prioritise. Are they praying, have they challenged the other side to a fight in the parking lot over race remarks and have they accused all the problems of the country on a group of people who can’t speak back? Then you have your model MP, the type who wins elections. Unfortunately, they are usually too cool for school, and the debating chamber.
Even Parliament’s canteen and restaurants can’t seat all skivers, if they attempt to escape the “very cold sometimes” dewan, as described by Deputy Minister Hanipa Maidin.
So, what are these numbers?
To begin with, Malaysia’s Westminster style parliament’s method constructs the executive from the legislative. This pares down the MPs available, unfortunately.
The 28 ministers, and their deputy ministers, special functions special officers, deputy speakers and the mentri besar MPs — Jerlun’s Mukhriz Mahathir and Semporna’s Shafie Apdal running Kedah and Sabah respectively — have pressing functions which limit their time for the Dewan Rakyat.
This leaves us with under 160 reps to meet the quorum.
So why no quorum? And it is here where it gets to the heart of the matter. And as it is in most things in life, it’s about self-interest.
The past to recalibrate
For 50 years, the Dewan Rakyat was solely to rubber stamp the executive’s will, most certainly in Mahathir Mohamad’s first lengthy tenure. Parliament is an afterthought after the Cabinet is named by the victorious Umno president.
However, the Constitution requires key steps to involve parliamentary process — the legislative’s take, participation and determination.
At those points, the executive summons it to do its will because BN has a two-thirds majority. Other times, Parliament is a mild distraction to an anointed system of government.
Malaysians wax lyrically about yesteryears where opposition politicians spoke up against injustices in Parliament, but in truth they had no legislative impact. They spoke, yes, but it had absolutely no effect on government action or reaction.
The Bills, annual Budget and resolutions are passed as per the prime minister’s desire. Which explains why the finance minister’s October Budget tabling is accepted by businesses, investors and taxpayers long before it is actually passed at year end.
It was a place for the opposition members to scream at the top of their lungs and for the government to not bother to listen. The few lines in the newspapers to show there is dissent in the Federation of Malaysia. Which is excellent, as government reveals dissent.
When the Barisan Nasional (BN) government fell, seamless change was expected. But seamless change is only window-dressing in disguise.
Here’s where the self-interest part kicks in, MPs must feel legislator duties advance their own agenda.
PKR President Anwar Ibrahim has accepted the role to lift the Dewan Rakyat’s value, and the Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md. Yusof has made inroads.
The Parliament website has improved, and there is a genuine interest to up transparency. However, only autonomy and funding independent of the executive can foster further Parliament’s drive to serve the people’s interest before the prime minister’s.
The fact this revolution is at a snail’s pace has everything to do with the prime minister wanting control far above reform.
A bolder path would be to extend more legislative powers to the Dewan Rakyat. Up until Abdul Hadi Awang tabled his RUU355 Hudud Bill, no regular MP could present a private Bill.
It was political strategy rather than reform. BN wanted to outflank PH on Islam by using PAS with no intention of an actual floor vote. Worked a charm.
There are less than 30 laws to be passed by Malaysia’s lower house in 2019. According to the Pew Centre, US Congress — with two elected and combative chambers, Senate and House of Representatives — passed 442 laws over two years (all of 2017 and 2018).
That’s an average of over 200 laws per year through functioning committees before the floors of both houses.
This government should seriously consider allowing private members Bills, so that legislators make laws and not limited to comment on them and vote along whip lines. They can campaign to their constituents about the laws they’ve championed, on agriculture or education or social services.
Bare it all
Subang MP Wong Chen asked for parliamentary attendance to be released back in October, and this can be done pronto.
Second, parliamentary and select committee proceedings should be televised. In the digital age, that’s not a challenge.
Third, absent thoroughly, dissection and analysis of what’s about to happen, has transpired and likely to occur in Parliament’s radar and how the actors — MPs especially — are faring in them.
Just televising the sittings won’t draw attention unless context is deliberated by media and analysts. On the controversial side, put on air those with an understanding of legislation and politics rather than those who have sub-standard intellect. Have political pundits, like in football, simplifying what is going on.
Fourth, release the voting record of lawmakers. Show of hands is outdated, the technology is available. MPs can stand by their convictions rather than hide behind the party whip.
Our better selves
MPs can get more power and say. The Senate can have its powers extended, to create a bicameral legislative. Their names can be on the walls for prosperity.
Yet, above everything else is idealism. Is democracy not an act to extend powers to all of us regardless if we deserve it? Our representatives are our better selves, a representation of all our hopes and dreams. The process lacks, and the people elected are after all human filled with frailties associated with our species.
Still, we wish they’d believe they can be better, and therefore by extension we can be better.
Every gesture by a MP in a developing nation is an indictment of how far that democracy has gone. A fragile nation expects its brightest to do the right thing even if it is a mortal blow to themselves. It expects them to put nation before self. Unfair of course, but how else to build a nation?
So despite the low impact, the Cabinet’s power and cold temperatures, MPs are the future of our democracy. The sooner they realise this, the better they’d perform. Can someone tell them? It's cold without them.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.