Tuesday, April 11, 2017

'Not allowing debate on Act 355 is an assault on Parliament'

Charles Santiago     Published     Updated

MP SPEAKS It's been a few days now since the first Parliament sitting ended, but the last two days of the proceedings stick out like pointy edges, nudging me to write down my thoughts.
 
The developments leading to the parliamentary debate on the Syariah Act amendments (Act 355) will go down as the lowest point in the institutional life of the highest law-making body in the country.

The assault on Parliament hints at a cleverly prepared and coordinated exercise between the government and the Parliament Speaker's Office.

Yes, you read that right: between the executive and legislator. This violates the notion of separation of power and brings forth the pivotal question of what more the Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, would do to stay the top man in the country.

Scheming to debate Act 355

The day before Parliament ended, debate on important bills were furiously rushed, with five bills inexplicably postponed for the July sitting.

Lawmakers were forced to debate bills up to 5am the day before, just to accommodate the debate on the syariah law amendment bill, which seeks to give power to state legislation to increase punishment for syariah offences.

The bill was sneakily fast-tracked from item Number 12 of the parliamentary Order Paper to be debated on Thursday last week. In fact, the entire parliamentary sitting on that day was dedicated to the debate on the bill introduced by the Marang MP Abdul Hadi Awang, who is also the president of the Islamic party, PAS.

And we are still waiting for the speaker of the august House to explain why a private member's bill took precedence over government bills.

The mockery of Parliament didn't stop there. The Islamic party was given about two hours to make its case and Parliament was adjourned abruptly, without giving Pakatan Harapan an opportunity to respond, which is normally the case.

It is now public knowledge that events leading to the debate and conduct of the speaker was decided at the Barisan Nasional supreme council meeting. Leaders of the BN parties were told that the PAS president will be allowed to introduce the amendment, and that no debate would be allowed.

The speaker of the Lower House executed the orders of the ruling government.

Cooperation between enemies: Politics and not religion

At the heart of Hadi's controversial bill is the need to stay relevant and to win the next general election for the two Malay-Muslim political parties, which are considered weak at this time.

Prime Minister Najib’s popularity dwindled as a result of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal and the Islamic party's popularity dropped due to poor performance in the state of Kelantan.

PAS has kept eerily silent on allegations of financial embezzlement levelled against Najib. 

So, the bill is a grand reunion of nemesis-turned-allies securing their vested interests. Here, Najib has the advantage, given the resources and state machinery available to him. He broke up the opposition coalition capitalising on the unresolved thorny issues and growing conservatism within PAS with the primary aim of manipulating PAS to secure the Islamic party's rural base.  

Meanwhile, PAS needs to flex its muscles through the bill to stay relevant to its support base and has to work with Umno to push through its agenda. 

How this drama will unfold is anybody's guess. But it promises to be a continuing saga, similar to an Indian drama, especially when the director is quite clueless as to how to conclude a popular serial.

But what is clear is that Najib will use every chapter in his playbook to stay in power.

And this might involve an unwritten - BN plus1- formula to face the opposition in the coming election. And PAS might take up this offer, for it could earn the party a place in government.
 
Alternatively, Najib could cut the Islamic party out if he finds that an Umno-PAS pact is not a winning strategy.
At the end of the day, it is not about Hadi's bill but the survival of Najib. It's unclear as to why Hadi doesn't see through this shadow play. 

But the victims of this unending greed for political power are the Malaysian citizens who feel powerless when institutions designed to protect them are manipulated to protect one man. 

CHARLES SANTIAGO is DAP's Klang MP 
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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