Friday, May 05, 2006

Shahrir's Ground Breaking Move

Many people up to now still haven’t realised the import of what Shahrir Abdul Samad, BN MP for Johor Baru, did when he supported a motion by DAP Lim Kit Siang. Lim had tabled a privilege motion, under standing order 26(1)(P) against BN politician for Jasin, Mohd Said Yusof for abusing his power in asking the Customs and Excise Department to ‘close one eye’ on a case of illegal import of non-permitted sawn timber into Malaysia.

It was far more important than his subsequent resignation as the Head of the Parliamentary Backbenchers Club (BBC), after his fellow BN backbenchers refused to join him in supporting Lim’s motion to refer the damning media report about the Jasin MP to the parliamentary Privileges Committee for investigation. Shahrir had staged a dramatic walkout before announcing his resignation.

He lamented: “I am disappointed that the backbenchers did not support this motion. I had hoped that they would because it was meant to safeguard the autonomy of Parliament and the dignity of MPs.”

Indeed, what he had done prior to his walkout and resignation was far more earth-shaking than his principles in his decision to reign, which of course is not to be denied nor dismissed. In fact, I take my heart off. But there was a far more monumental event.

Shahrir did something which, probably (can’t be sure here) no other ruling party MP has ever ever ever done in Malaya-Malaysia’s parliamentary history. In fact, if what I suspect is true, Shahrir has created Malaysian parliamentary history in adopting a bipartisan position.

Bipartisanship means the united support by members of two parties, especially two major political parties, in a resolution. Bipartisan resolution is quite common in western countries, when both parties feel the resolution is right, just or good for the nation’s interest. Here in Malaysia, bipartisanship has only been exercised by opposition leaders, but never by MPs of the ruling party.

What Shahrir had done was to bring parliamentary practice to a far higher level than had ever existed in Malaysia. It speaks well for the dignity, prestige and performance of Malaysian parliamentary democracy.

But alas, Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the PM’s department, demonstrated why in the general case in Malaysia, with MPs like him, there can never be bipartisanship other than the odd rare glimpse of that provided by Shahrir. On calling for Shahrir to retract his resignation and reminding him to respect the majority decision in the House, he said:

“I hope he doesn’t think that (when backbenchers do not join him) the backbenchers are casting aspersions on his leadership. The motion is too general and usually, we don’t support a motion tabled by the opposition.”

“…we don’t support a motion tabled by the opposition …” – voila! That’ says it all for the shallow understanding of democracy, parliamentary responsibilities and what could be in the national interests.

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