Why are M’sian MPs so bored?

By Sim Kwang Yang (Malaysian Mirror)

KUALA LUMPUR – We were told recently that the Dewan Rakyat had problems getting quorum again. The bell had to be rung to entice ministers and MPs from the corridors and the café to go back to the chamber to make up the numbers.

This is an old problem. Ministers and MPs themselves are bored with the proceeding in the house. They are not interested in the bills and other business being debated, and they do not like to listen to other MPs talking.

mp-inside-parliament-2.pngBarisan Nasional MPs sometimes blame the opposition legislators for not helping out with making the quorum, and the opposition MPs will retort that according to parliamentary conventions, it is the responsibility of the ruling party to ensure that there is always quorum in the house.

Parliament sessions are boring

I was MP for Bandar Kuching in Sarawak from 1982 and 1995. During those years, whenever Parliament was in session, I would make it an effort to attend the meeting of the Dewan Rakyat everyday.

Contrary to common perception, parliament meetings were, and must still be, extremely boring.

The only excitement that could be generated was in the first hour of the daily meeting, during the oral question time. There, when the time for supplementary questions arrived, you could get the rare opportunity for spontaneous off-the-cuff exchange between the MP and the minister.

Sometime in the early 1980s, the Speaker ruled that reading from prepared text was to be allowed.

When the debate for the bills began, MPs would just stand up and read their prepared text like a robot. (I seldom had a prepared text to read out.) Summing up the debate before the vote, the minister or his deputy would also read out his prepared text like a tape recorder. One gets the impression that even a village idiot can be an MP or a minister, as long as he can read.

mp inside parliament.jpgThe standing order makes provisions for any MP to seek clarification from another MP when the latter is making his speech. He can also seek permission from the minister during his summing up. But MPs and ministers are so fearful of a real debate that as a rule they declined to give permission to be interrupted.

Therefore, you practically never have any debate in the house. You only get a series of long droning boring monotonous monologues and soliloquies that drove everybody in the house to sleep. That is why most of the ministers and MPs sauntered out in search of more pleasant pastime like socialising in the corridors and cafes.

The Speaker can make a start to keep the MPs in the chamber by banning the blind reading of prepared text in the house. But even that may not solve the problem of anaemic quorum in the house.

The Parliament is the symbol of the sovereignty of the people. It is supposed to be the highest political forum of the land, expressing the general will of the people. In that august hall and over-cooled chamber on Parliament Hill, the amorphous diverse collective voice of the people is supposed to be heard.

But we are still a developing democracy. Our Parliament is still torn by incurable partisan schism. 

Maximum bills in minimum time

For the ruling BN coalition, the Parliament is an inconvenience to be overcome, a place for government legislations to be passed as quickly as possible. The Speaker’s office is beholden to the prime minister acting as the House majority leader. His job is to expedite the passage of the maximum number of bills in the minimum of time.

With that unwritten assumption in mind, all MPs know that speeches are actually extraneous to Parliament proceedings.

mp-reporter.pngDuring the pre-council meetings before Parliament starts, MPs will be told by their party chiefs to attack the opposite side whenever they can. The speeches they make are to score political points, and have very little to do with the general will of the people. Those who stand out demeaning their opponents across the floor will catch the eyes of the party elders and stand a chance for promotion in the party inside and outside the House.

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