Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Speaker and Westminster Parliamentary Democracy

The 13th Parliamentary sitting will take place on 24th June 2013 and we will witness the first battle between Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) – the selection of Speaker for Dewan Rakyat.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has agreed in consensus to name the former Federal Court judge, Datuk Abdul Kadir Sulaiman as the 13th Dewan Rakyat’s Speaker.

According to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the nomination of Abdul Kadir was presented by Bandar Tun Razak MP-cum-Selangor Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim on behalf PR on 10th June 2013.

He stated that the notice of the nomination letter was submitted to the Dewan Rakyat’s cleark according to Standing Orders 4(1) of the Dewan.

In a statement, he stated that PR insists that the Dewan Rakyat’s Speaker must be appointed from those who are independent, non-partisan, competent and qualified to serve.

Whereas, BN’s candidate was expected to be the 12th House of Common’s Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia. He was Sabah State Assembly’s Speaker from 1986 till 1988. He was also UMNO Kota Marudu Divison Head before he was chosen to be the Speaker for Dewan Rakyat.

When he was elected to this position, the resigned from his position as UMNO Kota Marudu Division Head and only retained his position as an UMNO ordinary member.

This is seen as necessary because Westminster Parliamentary Democracy inherited from UK would require the holder of this position to be truly impartial and independent from any influence of any political party.

Even so, in actual fact what Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia did was insufficient to prove his independence and impartiality. This is because in comparison to the countries that practice Westminster’s approach, those who are chosen as Speaker has to resign from their political party. For example, John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons in UK Parliament, also Buckingham MP for Conservative Party, has to resign from his party when he was elected to this position. When his predecessor, Michael John Martin (former Labour Party MP) tendered his resignation in 2009, John Bercow stood for the Speaker’s election and won it. He later resigned from the Conservative Party and became the Speaker of House of Commons until now.

On a side note, this could be strange to many Malaysians as John Bercow was an MP from Conservative Party and he got himself elected to be the Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009 when Labour party was the ruling government in UK then. It shows that the UK MPs choose their Speaker based on capability instead of following party line.

I now return to Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia as I have mentioned that his independence has yet to be proven with clarity in that he is still an UMNO member. This, somehow affects his integrity in chairing the Dewan Rakyat’s proceedings.

Not only Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia has yet to retired from his political party, in fact there has yet to be any Speaker at State Assembly level who have declared their resignations from their political parties.

This proves that the political climate in Malaysia still plagued by thick partisan element. Somehow resigning from their political parties is seen as inappropriate because the Speaker may have to rely on the party’s resources to retain his seat and serves voters in his/her constituencies.

By convention, Speaker’s constituency will not be contested by major political party out of respect for the Speaker himself/herself. For example in the 2010 UK General Election, the Labour, Liberal Democratic and Conservative party did not contest at John Bercow’s constituency (which is Buckingham) in the spirit of “The Speaker seeking re-election”.

In fact, this statement will be printed on the ballot paper for voters at the Speaker’s constituency. The Speaker often walks-over but he might face challenges from smaller parties or independent candidates.

This tradition is to ensure that the Speaker is able to carry out his duties with fairness, justice and independent from any influence from political parties. Thus, Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) proposal to nominate former Federal Court judge Datuk Abdul Kadir Sulaiman as the Speaker of Dewan Rakyat has to be viewed as a noble effort in achieving First World Parliament where the Speaker is truly independent and impartial in chairing parliamentary proceedings.

However, Datuk Abdul Kadir’s chance of winning the this position is slim because BN’s MPs will not vote him. Though I believe that his will open the people’s minds toward the importance of this role.

Former Selangor State Assembly’s Speaker Dato’ Teng Chang Kim’s remarkable track record has proven to the people that this position must not undermined as it was before. A great Speaker will definitely uphold the dignity, role and importance of the House. The House will not be seen as a rubber stamp anymore as the Executives will have to be answerable to the House.

Isn’t this benefit the people more?
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