DAP National Deputy Chairman and MP for Kepong Dr Tan Seng Giaw urges the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to rethink about what is a meaningful Opposition in Parliament as a basis for parliamentary democracy. How far does he tolerate the rights of dissent?
The PM must review the part played by the media. How free are they? By that I do not mean the freedom to destroy the country.
As the Barisan Nasional (BN) has 91% members of parliaments (MPs) in the Dewan Rakyat, encouraging the backbenchers to ask tough questions and to criticize constructively would not produce a truely meaningful Opposition.
Dr Tan comments on Abdullah's statement yesterday that Malaysians live in a more open country, where criticism is not frowned upon and where different views are accepted for what they are--different views. Dr Tan believes that the rights of dissent, not to destruction, should be accepted.
The Prime Minister says that Malaysians today are free to express their views and opinions and that he has allowed his backbenchers in Parliament to ask very tough questions, telling them that their role is to be constructive in their criticism.
True, views and opinions critical of the Government are tolerated slightly more in this country, compared with some of our neighbours. But, Abdullah has to review the media to see how he can increase the coverage of opinions, views and criticisms.
While we can hear occasional backbenchers question certain things that the Government or the government-linked companies (GLCs) have done such as the saga of approved import permits (APs) of cars and the Malaysian Airlines System (MAS), they are muted in some ways. If we talk about the need to appoint women as syariah court judges, BN MPs are conspicuous in their silence. Hitherto, there is no woman syariah judge.
Very often, some backbenchers may be critical about certain issues such as the effects on women of the recent amendments to the Islamic Family Law and the possible monopoly of airport taxi service as a result of the amendment to the Transport Law, the BN Whip has threatened to take action against those who might vote against the bills. All backbenchers voted with the Government. For example, at the beginning of this month, Parliamentary meeting was temporarily adjourned on airport taxi service or license so that BN backbenchers could discuss the matter with Transport Minister or his deputy. There was much thunder and lightning, but precious little rain.
Let us be clear about the duties and obligations of MPs, be they BN or the Opposition. One of the duties is to analyse the policies of the Government and to offer constructive alternatives. The difference is that an Opposition MP can criticize Government policies more emphatically. Why does a person become an MP if he or she becomes a deaf mute in Parliament?
When the late Tun Hussein Onn and now Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad were Prime Minister, they were seemingly happy with different views within BN. Once they relinquish the post of PM, they believe in a stronger opposition. Tun Dr Mahathir says:"We need an Opposition to remind us if we are making mistakes." He felt that 90% BN majority in Parliament was too strong. I wish Tun Dr Mahathir was as positive on the Opposition when he was PM.
Tunku Abdul Rahman was critical in his views on Government policies after 1970. I spoke in the same platform as Tunku in 1988. Tun Hussein Onn expressed differing views when he was not PM. Now, Tun Dr Mahathir offers constructive criticisms on some issues such as APs and the need for a strong opposition.
The culture of sycophancy and patronage persists. For those MPs who do not believe in this type of culture, BN Whip guides them towards the nuances of tough questions and constructive criticism. Guided opposition among backbenchers is a form of delusion.
Tan Seng Giaw