Parliamentary tug-of-war

Reference is made to the statement by Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, dated on the 11th of June 2013, whose statement was “If you do not come on the first day, is it not an insult (to the parliamentary process?) If they can boycott the democratic system, we will boycott their swearing in,” as reported by The Malaysian Insider on the 11th of July 2013.

First of all, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia has the galls to make a threat to the PR elected representatives of Parliament. As a Parliament Speaker, whose term that would expire on the 24th of June and with no clear cut signs that he would retain his post as Speaker, it is truly regrettable to see such a Speaker whose statement is truly a reflection of his arrogance. As mentioned by PKR’s N. Surendran, under Rule 5(2) of the Standing Order,

“…on any day on which the House sits a member who has not previously taken the Oath may present himself at the Table at the time appointed under Standing Order 14, and thereupon the said Oath shall be administered to him and he shall sign the book.”

which means that the administrations of the oaths is the solemn responsibility of the Speaker and that the role of the Speaker itself is to be a neutral voice in Parliament, listening to both sides of the divides, treats both sides with equal fairness without prejudice and exhibits no biasness to either side. His threats however, are a clear indication and a tantamount to him seeking to abuse this power bestowed to him by the Parliament.

Under the Federal Constitution, it does not specifically states the consequences that a Member of Parliament would face if one refuses to swear the oath, other than the repercussions of having one’s seat to be vacant, thus it would result in a by-election for said seat, which effectively creates a situation whereby the same ousted MP can be able to recontest said seat and if possible winning indefinitely, such is the peculiar case of Charles Bradlaugh, an English MP for the parliamentary constituency of Northampton.

In Charles’ case, whose religious views was atheism, had requested the then Parliament of 1880 to allow him to affirm rather than to take the Oath of Allegiance, an oath to God, which is hypocritical to his views as an atheist. The parliament, however, did not entertain his request, which resulted in him having to forfeit his seat. These events have led up to him recontesting and winning his seat back for 4 times in succession. After his fourth win, in 1886, he was finally allowed to affirm, as well under the risk of prosecution under the Parliamentary Oath Act. This incident had, however, paved the way for a revised Oaths Act in 1888.

If we were to delve into this matter more deeply, the Federal Constitution, as mentioned before, only vacates a seat for an MP who did not swear by the oath, it does not, however, bar the same MP, the party from sending other candidates or even swapping evicted MPs to contest in these seats.

The constitution does not force a resignation of an MP either, as in the case of the Johor Bahru MP, Shahril Abdul Samad, who recontested his seat as an Independent after resigning from it during the 1988 constitutional crisis, to which he returned back to the UMNO camp a year later. This is later amended according to the 2008’s revision of the Federal Constitution, whereby now if a member resigns, he is disqualified from being a member of the House of Representatives for a period of 5 years starting from the date from which he resigned.

Readers, however, must take note that by not swearing for the oath, it does not signify nor constitute that an MP is resigning, as it results in a vacant seat for the former, while a vacant seat and a disqualified rep for the latter.

Either way, this predicament would lead to one side relenting to the wants of the other, but the question is: Can the BN-UMNO coalition recapture these seats? Seats that were lost in a general election that performed far worse that in GE12 or would the luck of Charles Bradlaugh favour the Pakatan and create a perpetual headache for the coalition?

M. Kula Segaran DAP National Vice Chairman & MP for Ipoh Barat