Cabinetocracy is not democracy

Press Statement
by Dr Tan Seng Giaw

(Kuala Lumpur,  Wednesday): We believe that 219 Members of Parliament (MPs) should set a good example for the people by using democratic method to elect their Chairman, that is, the Speaker. Otherwise, the backbenchers will unhesitatingly follow the 22 Cabinet ministers who are MPs and have decided on the choice of candidate.

Cabinetocracy is not democracy. Minister for Parliament Datuk Nazri has said that the voting for the Speaker will be by a show of hands and the use of the Whip. Nazri has just become the minister. He would need time to be familiar with the Standing Orders. Article 4 states: “…If more than one member or person be so proposed or seconded the House shall proceed to elect a Yang di-Pertua (Speaker) by ballot.

“For the purpose of a ballot the Setiausaha shall give to each member present a ballot paper on which the member may write the name of the member or person for whom he wishes to vote. Ballot papers shall be folded so that the name written thereon shall not be seen, and shall be signed by the member voting.

“Ballot papers shall be collected by the Setiausaha, or by some  officer of the House deputed by him, and shall be counted by the Setiausaha, at the Table of the House. The result of the ballot shall be declared by the Setiausaha.”

Datuk Nazri has not only insisted that voting for the Speaker is by the show of hands, but also the use of the Whip to make sure that all backbenchers support the choice of the 22 Cabinet ministers. He must reconsider the democratic rights of the 197 members against the autocracy of the Cabinet (Cabinetocracy). We hope he can take back the decision to impose the will of the Cabinet on the backbenchers through the Whip.

The Speaker must be impartial in imposing discipline on members. Passions can run high and tempers flare in the House. The Speaker must resort to his or her experience for many years in parliamentary committees within and outside the country to deal with a member for alleged breach of privilege. The Speaker is the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges. ‘There shall be referred to this Committee  any matter which appears to affect the powers and privileges of the House.

It shall be the duty of the Committee to consider any such matters to them referred, and to report to them to the House.’

Besides the Committee of Privileges, ‘in any case where it appears to the House that there has been the commission, whether by a member or by any other person, of any acts, matters or things as are made punishable as contempt under the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Ordinance 1952, the House may appoint a committee summarily to enquire into such a case and appropriate action in accordance with the said Ordinance.

Since the Speaker has renounced the allegiance to his party, he can  deal with the alleged case of contempt impartially, including punishment  such as a reprimand, no entry to Parliament, stoppage of allowances and even imprisonment.


* Dr Tan Seng Giaw, DAP National Deputy Chairman and MP for Kepong