Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Perak DUN Ruckus: Democracy Overworked

I was at the Perak State Legislative Assembly on an official duty on 7 May only to witness the ugliest scene in Malaysia's legislative history. It was expected that some kind of ruckus would happen in the DUN on that fateful day but what I witnessed was beyond my imagination.
I was shocked to see DAP and PKR assemblymen crossed the aisle (a very unparliamentary act) to harrass BN and Independent assemblymen and prevented them from speaking.
The shove and scuffle in the Dewan, which lasted for more than five hours, with intermittent break in between, made similar experience in Taiwanese parliament a storm in a tea pot.

By now, the Malaysian public already knew the what and how of the ruckus. What matters now is how they perceive it. Let me deal with some of the perceptions and give my own eyewitness account.

1. Sivakumar was deprived of his right as a Speaker.

No, it was not true. Nobody stopped Sivakumar from doing his job as a Speaker when the Dewan convened. He entered the Dewan and sat on the Speaker's Chair. He then ordered the seven BN assemblymen who had earlier been suspended, including the MB, and the three Independents to leave the Dewan. This was despite the court's decision which declared the suspension of the seven BN assemblymen was illegal. No reason was given as to why he ordered the ten assemblymen to leave. He also refused to allow Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli who had been standing for more than 15 minutes to speak. As the Speaker, he was the most powerful man in the Dewan he said. This means he is 'untouchable" and could do anything he wanted in the Dewan. So who deprived whose right?

2. The sitting was never convened because Sivakumar refused to begin the sitting unless the 10 ADUNs leave the Dewan.

Yes, Sivakumar did say that he would never begin the sitting unless the 10 ADUNs leave the Dewan. But he erred in law. Order 13(1) of the Standing Order clearly states that the order of business begins with the entry of the Speaker. Speaker's announcement is item no 4 in the order of business. So when Sivakumar entered the Dewan, sat on the Speaker's Chair and made "announcements" that the 10 ADUNs should leave the Dewan, the Dewan was already in sitting.

3. If Sivakumar was not deprived of his right as a speaker, then why was his microphone turned off?

Get the fact right. The microphone was turned off only after the motion to remove Sivakumar as a Speaker was duly passed by the Dewan. This means, when the microphone was turned off, Sivakumar was no longer the Speaker. He therefore had no right to speak as a Speaker. He should have honourably left the Speaker's Chair and taken his seat as an ordinary ADUN. By refusing to vacate the Speaker's chair, he actually obstructed the new Speaker from discharging his duties. In fact, it was a necessity that the microphone was turned off. Sivakumar kept shouting "saya tidak dengar apa-apa, saya tidak dengar apa-apa, saya tidak dengar apa" when Menteri Besar YAB Datuk Seri Dr. Zambry Abdul Kadir moved the motion to remove him. Don't we think that it was an obstruction of the business of the Dewan?

4. The Speaker cannot simply be removed.

If an MB can be removed, why can't a Speaker? A Speaker can be removed by a motion passed by a majority of the members of the house. On May 7, the MB used his authority under Order 13(2) of the Perak DUN's Standing Order to move a motion to remove the speaker. It is as simple as that. And it would be against the public interest if a Speaker cannot be removed.

5. The BN wanted to remove the Speaker because he is a member of the Opposition. This is unfair.

How would you run a westminster system of parliamentary government if a Speaker who is a member of the Opposition cannot be removed. The scenario would be like this. Whenever the government wants to introduce a Bill in the Dewan, the Speaker will find fault with government assemblymen and suspend them for one or two weeks, or worse still, for 12 or 16 months. (Don't rule out the possibility of arbitrariness in suspending the assemblymen as this is what Sivakumar exactly did in the suspension of the seven BN assemblymen previously). The Speaker will make sure that the number of government assemblymen he suspends would be enough to reduce them into a minority. No government Bill can be passed. What if the Bill is a Supply Bill. The government will be in a "loss of supply" position, i.e. having no money to spend constitutionally. Don't we think that this will lead to the collapse of a constitutional government? Removing the Speaker in the Perak case is a matter of necessity.

6. The police had acted arbitrarily by dragging Sivakumar out from the Dewan.

The police had been very cautious in taking action aginst the trouble makers. I bumped into a high ranking police officer outside the Dewan during the recess. Someone asked him why the police did not go in to stop the ruckus. His answer was that the police had taken enough heat in handling the protesters outside the Dewan. Interfering in the business of the Dewan would only worsen public perception toward the police. But why did the police finally come in and dragged Sivakumar out of the Dewan? The answer is simple. The situation was totally out of control. A Bentara was injured when he was trying to remove Sivakumar from the Speaker's Chair. The Speaker had no choice but to call the police in. And that was after five hours of shove and scuffle in the Dewan. My hunch is the PKR and DAP assemblymen purposely wanted the police to come in as part of their perception play. In fact the whole drama is just part of their perception play.
7. Democracy is dead
No. Democracy is not dead. It just overworked. Some people had just stretched the limit of democracy. In fact, it is bordering on anarchy. Yes, I mean it. It is anarchy with some leftist-leninist strand! Are some people slowly showing their true colors now?
But throughout the ruckus, I was wondering why PAS assemblymen sat quietly in the Dewan. Some were SMSing and others just looked poker faced. Hmmmm ....
Note: All views expressed in this article are solely of my own and not of the institution(s) that I am currently attached to.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

If - Rudyard Kipling

In my final days at ANU, Rudyard Kipling's beautiful poem "If" was a source of inspiration to me. As thesis submission deadline was approaching, and I as was not so sure what the future holds for me, the poem's soothing words calmed my nervous self. I shared the poem with my wife and friends. Here is the poem,
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise.

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
- Rudyard Kiplling
With new reponsibilities that I am shouldering now, I will have to remember Rudyard Kipling's soothing words even more.