International public appeal
to Abdullah to honour his pledge to uphold the separation of powers, defend
parliamentary independence and protect Parliament from Executive abuses
and interference by withdrawing the party whip to allow Barisan Nasional
MPs to freely choose to vote between Ramli and Seng Giaw as the new
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament House, Thursday): Two questions for Najib - (i) whether BN MPs would be punished for breach of party whip and discipline if they do not vote for the Cabinet choice of Ramli as Parliament Speaker; (ii) whether Parliament is to continue as a rubber-stamp of the Executive
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said at the collective Cabinet Hari Raya Open House at Putra World Trade Centre on Sunday that the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had proposed Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib as the new Parliament Speaker and that the nomination had been endorsed by the Cabinet last Wednesday.
He said Deputy
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would propose Ramli for the Speaker’s
post as Abdullah is unable to attend Parliament when it reconvenes on Monday
as the Prime Minister would be attending the Asia Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Chile.
There are two questions for Najib, firstly, whether Barisan Nasional MPs would be punished for breach of party whip and discipline if they do not vote for the Cabinet choice of Ramli as Parliament Speaker on Monday; and secondly, whether Parliament is to continue as a rubber-stamp of the Executive.
If MPs must blindly and unthinkingly vote for the Cabinet choice of Parliament Speaker, without the right to find out the respective views of the candidates - i.e. Ramli and Dr. Tan Seng Giaw (six-term MP for Kepong), on how to transform the Malaysian Parliament into a first-world Parliament, parliamentary reform and modernization – and to vote for the best person among the two for the job based on their conscience and judgment, how does this square with the principle of parliamentary supremacy and independence as well as the doctrine of separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.
The first thing Abdullah did when he became Prime Minister last year was to come to Parliament on his third day in office to deliver his maiden official speech, to underline the primacy, importance and relevance of Parliament in the system of parliamentary democracy, pointedly pledging to restore and uphold the doctrine of separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, a constitutional principle most critical and crucial to ensure good governance through proper checks and balances to prevent abuses of power.
However, if Barisan Nasional MPs, who control over 91 per cent of the parliamentary seats, do not even have the freedom and right to make an informed decision and exercise their own judgment as to who would make the better Speaker for a Reform Parliament but must submit to the Party whip to rubber-stamp the Cabinet choice and candidate, then the first casualty in Abdullah’s first year as Prime Minister is his promise to restore and uphold the doctrine of separation of powers by defending the independence and dignity of Parliament and to protect Parliament from Executive abuses and interference.
With such a bad example, what hope and credibility is there that all the other sky-high expectations of the Malaysian people about the pledges of Abdullah to have a clean, incorruptible, efficient, accountable, transparent and trustworthy government would be fulfilled?
This is why the election of the new Parliament Speaker on Monday is so significant and important, with far-reaching implications about the Abdullah premiership, not only on who among Ramli and Seng Giaw is the better person for the job to transform the Malaysian Parliament into a first-world Parliament, but also the prospects for the restoration of the independence and public confidence in the many institutions and organs of government which had been seriously eroded in the past decades, as well fulfillment of Abdullah’s many pledges about a First-world Malaysia in keeping with the slogan of “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang”.
Malaysia’s founding fathers responsible for the Malaysian Constitution and the basic documents of the nation never intended the election of Parliament Speaker to be one of pure formality, with MPs just being a rubber-stamp of the Executive or Cabinet. Nazri was wrong when he said that the election of the Speaker will be by show of hands.
The Parliamentary Standing Order 4(3) stipulates that the election of a Parliament Speaker will be by ballot and not show of hands if there is a contest, viz:
4(3) If only one member or person be so proposed and seconded as Yang di-Pertua, he shall be declared by the Setiausaha without question put, to have been elected. If more than one member or person be so proposed and seconded the House shall proceed to elect a Yang di-Pertua by ballot.
4(4) 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.
4(5) 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.
If the nation’s founding fathers had intended the election of the Speaker to be a pure formality, dependent on the will or whim of the Executive, with no role whatsoever for MPs to play except to be a rubber-stamp, then there would be no need for the requirement for a ballot as a simple show of hands would suffice.
When he was asked by reporters why Ramli was chosen to be the government candidate for Speaker, Nazri said: "He is a senior politician, a Menteri Besar for almost 17 years and he has the standing. As for other qualifications, he is a lawyer."
These qualifications are open to dispute.
Ramli was Perak Mentri Besar from March 1, 1983 to November 1999, for a period of 16 years 8 months. In his early years as Mentri Besar, two of his contemporaries at the state government level were Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was Mentri Besar of Pahang from 1982 – 1986 and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassim, Mentri Besar of Johore 1986-1995. Najib is now Deputy Prime Minister and sixth Prime Minister-designate, while Muhyiddin a senior Cabinet Minister.
When Ramli was moved from Perak to the national level in the 1999 general election, he created “history” of sorts when he was appointed merely as a Deputy Minister for Transport although he was Mentri Besar for one of the biggest states in the country for close to 17 years. After the 2004 general election, Ramli was not deemed to have sufficient political standing to be reappointed as Deputy Minister.
It is precisely because Ramli had been Perak Mentri Besar for 17 years, and there had been various allegations of scandals under his leadership of the Perak state government, which had been made both inside and outside the Perak State Assembly, and which had not been given full and satisfactory accounting or rebuttal to date, that there are two things which he should do before Monday’s election of the Speakership:
I find his statement that it is premature and not proper for him to express his views about parliamentary reform and modernization so as not to be construed as campaigning for the Speakership most ridiculous and outrageous, especially coming from a person who had spent the past three decades of his life in campaigns and elections, whether in UMNO, Perak State Assembly or Parliament!
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman