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Imposing 14-day parliamentary ban on errant MPs could lead to better policy-making, but still more to be done, say NGOs

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — Imposing a 14-day ban on errant federal lawmakers and senators during parliamentary sessions can strengthen policy discussion, said several non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

However, they also said that the calibre of MPs determines the quality of debates.

Youth group Architects of Diversity Malaysia (AOD) co-founder Jason Wee said better quality debate rely on a more educated public who can evaluate the performance of MPs.

“I certainly hope that the King’s words can strengthen Parliament’s true role in being a space for policy discussion, rather than a place of identity-based attacks. The public is equally responsible for observing and holding their MPs to a higher standard.

“Standing Orders can only go so far to maintain decorum and the quality of debates relies on better MPs. We can clearly see age not being a determinant of quality in both positive or negative ways, and I am looking at Siti Mastura’s cousin-allegation farce,” he told Malay Mail, referring to Kepala Batas MP Siti Mastura Muhammad.

Wee added that more political education funding is needed to expand outreach to youth.

Former Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said that the Yang diPertuan Agong’s warning is an encouraging move to steer MPs away from “embarrassing” behaviour in both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.

“But we should not wait until the King speaks before MPs learn how to behave!” she said.

Maria said MPs’ behaviour during parliamentary sessions reflected each party’s leadership.

“They need to show statesmanship as well as take down those who are vulgar, sexist and racist,” she said.

Maria recommended capacity-building sessions for all MPs and their officers, even to the extent of involving all political parties in order to improve the calibre of MPs.

“Topics must include learning decorum in the Dewan, identifying key issues and framing analysis to present substantive and solid policy or law changes and to understand that issues need not be divided into race and religion, but are for the improvement and progress of the nation.

“Most of the issues raised in Parliament are related to local constituency issues and are not national. Constituency issues can be raised at Kamar Khas whereas in the Dewan, national issues, policies and laws need to be key concerns backed with factual arguments and not based on non-evidence based presumptions,” she said.

Maria added that good research staff behind an MP can raise the quality of the debates.

“MPs are meant to advocate for national policies and laws so that they create an enabling environment and eventually benefit those who are discriminated against or left out of the system. Services and programme work should be shared more with state assemblies and councils,” she said.

For Undi18 movement co-founder Qyira Yusri, the Agong’s stern warning to MPs was to ensure the focus is on debating policy matters and not deviating from it.

“But I think debates will still be somewhat emotional, because politics will always touch on issues close to the heart of the rakyat, such as cost of living.

“But it’s also important to remind politicians to focus on issues rather than personal attacks of sexism and racism which can get out of control very quickly,” she said.

Qyira, who is also a public policy consultant with Asia Group Advisors, added that the Standing Orders should be the official guide on managing parliamentary matters.

“But a reminder from the King to our MPs sends a strong message that it is important to maintain decorum and not let Parliament descend into chaos. Our MPs should, after all, reflect the best of us and the country!” she said.

Qyira suggested that some MPs demonstrated “embarrassing” behaviour in the past because they took their responsibilities and job too lightly.

“I think it is because sometimes politicians are very comfortable in their role as policymakers and take their responsibilities in the Dewan Rakyat too lightly.

“I am very supportive of pushing for more diverse representation in Parliament, especially among our MPs, to ensure that the debates will also centre on different perspectives,” she said.

On Monday, Yang diPertuan Agong Sultan Ibrahim stated his support for the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat and the President of Dewan Negara to take stern action against any member of either House who “oversteps the boundaries”.

His Majesty, in his inaugural royal address at the opening of the First Meeting of the Third Session of the 15th Parliament, said that the action would include the imposition of a 14-day ban if such behaviour persists.

Sultan Ibrahim decreed that the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat and the President of Dewan Negara should firmly carry out their duties, to ensure that all MPs and Senators comply with the rules throughout the sitting.

His Majesty also reminded all government and Opposition MPs to remain united, and work together to build the country for the benefit of all Malaysians.

On Tuesday, Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Johari Abdul instructed MPs not to bring their political arguments into the Dewan Rakyat, and to keep discussions in the federal legislature to the topics at hand.

Highlighting their recent pledge to uphold Rukun Negara, he urged MPs to lead by example in adhering to its five principles.

He also directed them to observe the Standing Orders that prohibit discussions regarding the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay Rulers, as well as language that could be seditious and provocative.