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East Malaysians want their veto power restored

It’s a blessing in disguise that former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad publicly disclosed that Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia was unhappy in his job and had resigned. That has reminded Sabahans and Sarawakians once again that they are unhappy too with Parliament.

We now know the full story on the Speaker’s resignation, but let’s not get into the mini spat between Mahathir and Pandikar.

Again, suffice to say that Pandikar isn’t the only one unhappy with Parliament. Sabahans and Sarawakians as a whole, have been unhappy with the august house for a very long time.

Let’s skip the details on Pandikar’s unhappiness with Parliament at the personal level.

At the macro level, Pandikar hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that the government doesn’t accord Parliament the dignity that it deserves. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak himself allegedly sets a very bad example and hardly turns up in Parliament. As a Chinese proverb goes: “The fish rots from the head.”

The Speaker was worried at the growing public perception that Parliament was under the thumb of the Executive and has been reduced virtually to a rubber stamp. That compromises the Doctrine of Separation of Powers, which holds that the three arms of government – Executive, Legislative and Judiciary – are separate, equal and independent, each exercising oversight on the other in a sort of balance-of-terror. That makes for transparency, public accountability and good governance. In any case, the presence of the Executive itself in Parliament treads into the domain of the latter, but can be considered an “evil” which we have to live with as in other Commonwealth countries.

The last time that someone, specifically Padang Serai MP N Surendran, asked whether Parliament had become a rubber stamp, he was suspended for six months for contempt. In the wake of Pandikar’s complaints, he was quick to take to Twitter and ask implicitly whether it was now safe to call a spade a spade. He didn’t, however, call for Pandikar’s suspension. He probably feared that he would be suspended again.

Pandikar himself has vowed to resign, again, if things don’t improve at Parliament House and in Parliament. He wants the Parliamentary Act of 1993, abolished during the time of Mahathir Mohamad, to be brought back and updated. Indeed, how could Parliament be supreme and sovereign without such an act?

In Sabah and Sarawak, the people want the peninsula’s veto powers in Parliament done away with and returned to the two nations.

The Malaysia Agreement 1963 and other constitutional documents on Federation with the peninsula hold that the Borneo nations combined should have veto power in Parliament, i.e. a minimum one seat more than a third of the seats in Parliament. At 222 seats, Sabah and Sarawak should have a combined 75 seats.

Instead, since the departure of Singapore in 1965, their position has been compromised and they now have only 57 MP seats, including the Federal Territory of Labuan. The restoration of the veto can only be done at some point in the future within the context of an overall increase in the number of seats.

As if being shortchanged by 18 MP seats has not been enough, peninsula-based political parties are also now in Sabah and Sarawak, further reducing the number of seats available for local parties. In the process, these peninsula-based parties have diluted the voice of Borneo in Parliament while adding the strength of the region to theirs in the peninsula and thereby weakening it further.

No doubt this phenomenon has something to do with the fact that the politics in the peninsula is split down the middle, a sort of balance-of-terror in place, as the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat slug it out for political supremacy. There’s no reason, however, why this should be done at the expense of the people in Borneo.

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