FOR DEMOCRACY’S SAKE, TAKE LEAVE MINISTER!

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 24 August 2019

Malaysian politicians do not seem to understand what democracy and the rule of law mean – they think that they are still in a feudal fiefdom where there is an expectation of privilege of office whatever the circumstances. Paul Yong Choo Kiong, who has been charged at the Sessions Court for rape has refused to go on leave pending the disposal of his court case, arguing that he will continue carrying out his responsibilities as Perak executive councillor despite being advised to.

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MPS SHOULD VACATE SEATS WHEN THEY LEAVE THEIR PARTY

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 20.9.2018

Those Members of Parliament who have resigned from the coalition under which they stood during the GE14 have an ethical obligation to vacate their seats because they were elected based on their coalition affiliation. They forfeit their seats either when they leave the party/coalition, switch parties or are expelled before they finish their term.

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DEMOCRACY MEANS TERM LIMITS FOR ELECTED OFFICIALS

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 31 March 2017

As the 14th Malaysian general election looms, it is almost comical to see aging politicians still trying to justify their “right” to stand for elections even while they clamour for “change” in the political order. They cite political conspiracies by their political opponents to justify hogging their electoral seats. Some have been in Parliament since the era of the Tunku – half a century ago! During that time, UMNO (hardly the paragon of democracy) has changed party leaders five times! It is no coincidence that these long term political leaders exert control over their respective political parties to ensure all prospective party candidates is beholden to them. They argue that they are indispensable and even justify their right to selectively hold both federal as well as state seats.

The late Karpal Singh was a stern opponent of this grabby practice by established party leaders of hogging federal as well as state seats. His famous line when a former DAP stalwart left the party was: “No one is indispensable.” That surely applies to everyone in the world. Or are some people exempt from this mortal truism?

Why are term limits vital for democracy?

Clearly, many Malaysians still do not appreciate the meaning of democracy. During the historic Paris Commune of 1871, elected officials were subject to immediate recall.  In ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago, many offices were term limited so as to limit the power of individuals, a practice that was seen as vital for the greater good of society. Even in other democratic countries, we see responsible and honourable politicians resign at the slightest failure of judgement on their part or when their term has reached a convenient point for some other younger leader to take over the party.

Many modern republics employ term limits for their highest offices. The United States place a limit of two terms on its presidency while some state governors and state legislators also have term limits. The Russian Federation likewise limits the head of state to two terms; any further terms cannot be consecutive.

The democratic justification for this term limit is simply that elected officials can over time obtain too much power or authority and thus makes them less representative of all the citizens. The democratic principle behind term limit is that no one person should have too much power nor for too long. The concept of term limits minimizes the amount of power any one person can gain over a period of time.

Preventing chances of corruption

As we have seen only recently, even within the two-term service, corporate interests including those in property and finance can provide inducements to the incumbent especially when they have developed familiar relations over time. There is clearly a correlation between the length of time a politician serves and the degree to which he/she has opportunities to engage in corruption. The principle of term limits has always been applied to the civil service which is why civil servants and police personnel are transferred every so often to prevent the acquisition of power and inducements to corruption in any one post.

Term limits would make this less likely since there is less time that a politician can be influenced by the power of the office that they hold. Corporate interests cannot become as entrenched when term limits are in place. With term limitations, corporate influence still happens, but not to the extent that it can when such interests develop unhealthy relationships with career politicians who are in office for a long time.

Preventing careerism

In a democracy, elected representatives are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens. As most politicians will tell us when they are interviewed, their work is supposed to be a service to society as a whole. Being a Member of Parliament or State Representative is not a profession even though it has become a career for many people. In fact, elected officials should operate on the understanding that they are only serving the people for a period of time until it is someone else’s turn. Term limits ensure that their representatives focus more on representing the public than on hogging the office and power.

Providing leadership opportunities for others

Democracy and organizational development are about providing diverse opportunities to as many people as possible and especially to the young, women, indigenous people and the marginalized. In our society, there are so many individuals with untapped potential for leadership as if that is not clear for all to see. In recent years, we have seen the surge of many young capable leaders in politics, including women from various ethnic origins.

Even the ancient sage Laozi could appreciate what true leadership is: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Isn’t this a far cry from the aging leaders whose delusion of self-importance makes them cling to power?

Let’s face it, the number of available seats in the federal parliament and state assemblies are strictly limited. To have served four terms in parliament is a reasonable limit and allows new candidates to make themselves known to their constituents and have a go at representing the people. Term limits will create the opportunity for younger people to get elected to public office. Modern society needs service-oriented young people in different elected positions, providing diversity and strength to the citizenry. A wider pool of candidates also gives voters a wider choice of new people and new dynamic ideas.

Overdue democratic reform for Malaysia

Thus, this democratic principle of term limits for elected officials is to ensure that no one person can hold a position of control or power for an indefinite period of time. This is also to allow and encourage more young people to have the opportunity to become leaders in the political process. This urgent democratic reform for Malaysia should therefore limit the terms of ALL elected officials, namely, that of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister or Menteri Besar to two terms, and that of Members of Parliament and ADUNs to four terms.

VOTE ACCORDING TO ONE’S CONSCIENCE AND NOT THE PARTY WHIP

VOTE ACCORDING TO ONE’S CONSCIENCE AND NOT THE PARTY WHIP
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 14 May 2016

Who can forget the number of times the DAP have called on BN wakil rakyat to “vote according to your conscience” and not the party whip? Whether it was for the formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) or voting against the Hudud law or over countless other BN-proposed motions, this admonition to BN representatives has been the stock-in-trade of debates in the Malaysian Parliament for decades while the DAP has been in opposition. The prime example of the DAP’s call for all wakil rakyat to breach the party lines and to “search your conscience” is seen in the current attempts to “Save Malaysia” from the corruption-stained Najib administration.

Now that we have a DAP-led state government in Penang, the tables are turned and such timeless admonitions to vote according to one’s conscience seem to be lost on the DAP leaders. Five Penang PKR backbenchers had abstained from voting in the motion supporting the state government’s land reclamation project at the last state assembly sitting in November and this has led to charges of treachery against them by the Chief Minister. Consequently, this has even led to two of these PKR leaders being relieved of their posts in the State-owned companies.

The PKR deputy president Azmin Ali has since waded into the controversy by saying that it is important for backbenchers to play a role in supporting the state government’s policies. But we do not know whether the PKR president concurs with her Deputy President on this issue or with his invitation to PAS to join Pakatan Harapan, and also his working with Mahathir to “save Malaysia”.

Land reclamation is a public interest issue

What is at stake for the people of Penang and Malaysia is not inconsequential. The motion on the impending land reclamation in Penang is too important to be belittled as an “UMNO motion” for this massive infrastructure project is of great public interest. It will not only bring serious environmental, economic and social consequences to Penang Island but will further erode land assets belonging to the people by transferring into private hands. This trend of increasing “privatization of the commons” by both the BN and Pakatan state governments in the name of neo-liberal necessity must be stopped as it is contrary to the interest of the people. Already access by the people to public beaches in Penang and elsewhere in Malaysia, has been restricted through private development of luxury hotels and other such properties.

Full and transparent public consultation

At this late stage of the project, the Penang state government has still not released in full the report done by the SRS on the Penang Transport Master Plan. Instead, it has only made available to the public very selective and superficial parts of the study.  As the Penang Forum has pointed out, this is not acceptable for a state that professes to practice “competence, accountability and transparency” (CAT) given that the report was given to the state in November 2015. The Penang NGOs have complained that the public sessions conducted are mainly top-down briefing sessions by the consultants with little follow-up on how the questions and concerns raised are to be addressed:

When several NGOs provided written feedback, instead of getting together to professionally discuss the concerns raised and going through the objections and facts scientifically, a press conference is called to debunk the NGOs who are accused of not doing their homework. There is no positive engagement. Among the fundamental issues raised are the population and ridership assumptions, the costs of the different public transport systems, and the lack of financial feasibility studies for each of the proposed public transport systems

“it is more difficult to manage and run them efficiently and in a financially viable manner so as not to plunge the public into huge debt as has happened in many places, including the LRT system in Kuala Lumpur, that had to be bailed out by the government. Hence, we have been asking that a detailed financial feasibility study be provided to the public for each of these proposed systems. This includes not only the construction costs, but the operation and maintenance costs, the depreciation costs, the replacement cost, the ridership forecast, the projected revenue, the financial break even analysis, the expected profit or loss, how much the state would have to subsidise yearly, etc.”

What participatory democracy Pakatan?

‘UBAH’ was the cry in the general election to vote out the BN. Thus, under Pakatan, the public has every right not only to know what is happening but also to participate meaningfully in such decisions that affect their lives. In return, the State has every obligation to provide accurate and full information and to make the process as transparent as possible. This is the true meaning of the participatory democracy that we expect from the Pakatan government.

Given the multiple potential impacts of such a massive land reclamation project, it is imperative that a thorough process of dialogue via public hearings takes place long before any projects are decided upon and finalized.  And all NEW reclamation projects must be postponed until detailed oceanic, environmental and social impact studies are completed and made public. If such a huge land reclamation project is found to have a negative impact, it should be abandoned.

This land reclamation issue in Penang is clearly one that cuts across party lines. It calls for the each wakil rakyat to vote according to his/her conscience after weighing up the facts in order to uphold good governance and to safeguard the peoples’ interest in sustainable and equitable development.

Reform the legislative process

How often have we seen articles by Pakatan leaders full of sound and fury, pontificating about the need to reform Parliament? And yet they are speechless when their Dear Leader blasts these PKR leaders for having voted according to their conscience!

If voting in the legislature is based on the conscience of an individual, it will reform the legislative process into a more meaningful decision-making vehicle. Under such procedures, the lawmakers would need time to study the law or bill and to listen to the views of the people. They can then vote according to the wishes of the people and based on their own judgment and conscience.

People who want to see authentic democracy in practice wish to see lawmakers exercise their votes according to conscience. Such a “conscience-based” culture and environment is in fact what Pakatan parties have been courting Barisan politicians to support in their call to eliminate corruption and for Najib to resign. It is thus patently an indication of double standards that when some of their members chose to support or abstain from the Umno motion, they were criticised and punished.

There is indeed an urgent need for more public hearings and participation on this important issue concerning land reclamation in Penang and the right of the wakil rakyat to make decisions on the basis of what is best for the public. We urge the state government to honour its CAT promise and not to rush into signing this multi-billion project that will destroy Penang’s natural endowments, sell off the peoples’ assets to private hands and burden Penang rate payers for generations to come.

Democratic Practices must be Protected and not Punished

For Immediate Release
21st April 2016

Democratic Practices must be Protected and not Punished

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) condemns the recent string of investigation against advocates and supporters of the Citizen Declaration (Deklarasi Rakyat).

Contrary to narratives by certain quarter, the call for the resignation of a public official following any scandal or dereliction of duty is a democratic right and not a threat against Parliamentary democracy and cannot be described as a seditious. Police reports made against these individuals and police investigations against them can only be described as frivolous and a waste of public resource.

If the authorities wish to proceed with the investigation of Azrul Mohd Khalid, Joe Haidy and others for their support and advocacy of the Citizen Declaration, it would be inevitable that members of the public will perceive such investigations as an attempt to intimidate the advocates of Citizen Declaration and would be supporters.

In light of the democratic implication, SUARAM calls for the investigations against these individuals under the Sedition Act 1948 to be dropped immediately.

In Solidarity,
Sevan Doraisamy
Executive Director
SUARAM