The Sun says: A missed opportunity to reform Parliament
Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 09:27
A window of opportunity to reform Parliament and to make it a world class legislature closed on Monday with the rejection of a plea by Barisan Nasional MPs that they be allowed to vote according to their conscience on matters unrelated to major policy issues and political programmes.
Other windows may open in the near future and it is hoped that this administration will take the chance to make good what it declared earlier on to reform Parliament and make it truly an institution with integrity.
It must walk the talk and demonstrate its commitment to the ideals of democracy and openness it proclaimed before, during and after the March 2004 general election where it won a massive show of faith in it.
And this is what puzzles us. One would have thought that with the overwhelming majority it won, largely on a promise to reform our national institutions, the BN government would be confident to relax much of the top-down style of administration that we have witnessed in the last two decades.
The plea for the whip to be relaxed and cracked only on policy issues and political programmes including the budget and amendments to the constitution is not unreasonable as it is practiced in other parliaments especially where the parties in power command comfortable majorities.
The reality is we don’t expect BN MPs to start acting like independent operators and go their own way, especially on major policy votes. That would be political suicide. But a small amount of space should be given to them to vote according to their conscience, even on those occasions when it means a meeting of minds with the Opposition.
We will say the same to the leadership of the opposition parties which are making a big deal out of the whole Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad affair. Leader of the Opposition Lim Kit Siang should also walk the talk. Indeed he should lead the way by allowing the DAP MPs to vote according to their conscience and not have its own whip in place all the time.
If both sides of the House practice this, it will be one step forward to restore the integrity and independence of the Dewan Rakyat. More importantly it will be accepted once again as an institution that is relevant to the rakyat – a legislature where their voices, through their representatives, are heard.
Thus, it is unfortunate that Barisan Nasional chairman Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to end the manoeuvrings within the BN front and backbenches, had to declare that BN MPs must toe the party line at all times and are not free to vote according to their conscience in any motion moved in Parliament.
He may have his reasons for sounding unbending and unduly harsh, almost
uncharacteristic of the man who only 30 months ago unveiled his reform pledge and agenda. Maybe he had to enforce party
discipline before any power play within the benches of the BN gets out of hand. But we do hope that when the window to reform Parliament opens again, perhaps under
better circumstances than what transpired last week, he will rise to the occasion.
As Shakespeare said: “There is a tide in the affairs of man, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”