Saturday, August 27, 2016

Malaysian Senate 'unrepresentative swill'?

FMT - Think tank calls for Senate reforms

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has suggested reforms for Dewan Negara to make it effective as a guardian of democracy.

“Dewan Negara should have the powers to debate bills and challenge the decisions of the Dewan Rakyat. It should not be a mere rubber stamp,” said the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

He also said senators should ideally be elected by the people or appointed for their expertise.

He was commenting on the outcry over the National Security Council Act, which has come into force without the Yang diPertuan Agong’s assent.

Without going into itsy bitsy teeny weeny details, during Dr Mahathir's tenure as PM, under his dictatorship the Senate was changed through constitutional amendments - possible when the government has a two-thirds majority - from one which ensured the states and minorities could check and challenge the federal government's legislation which might not be in their states' and/or minorities' favour (which Wan Saiful Wan Jan is recommending above) into one which is controlled by the federal government or to wit, Mahathir himself.

And in that change, the Senate lost its raison d'ĂȘtre, its ability to check & balance legislations passed by the Dewan Rakyat that have been unfair to minorities or the states or even the rakyat.

The Senate previously had more states-appointed senators than the King's (but in reality the PM's) appointed ones, but the majority has now gone the other way.

The King's (PM's) or federally appointed senators, having been increased through constitutional amendments from 16 to now 40, could easily overrule the states' and territories' maximum of 30 even if the impossibility exists of all 30 states-appointed senators being from non-UMNO parties.

Mohamed Suffian Mohamed Hashim 

Mohamed Suffian Mohamed Hashim, former Lord President of the Federal Court, said that the amendments acted "contrary to the spirit of the original constitution which established the Dewan Negara specially as a body to protect in the federal Parliament, state interests against federal encroachments" and which our dear Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), has just criticised.

So what's new in Mahathir's Malaysia Boleh, which of course Ah Jib Gor has benefitted from.

It was just another obscene molestation by Mahathir of the already much mutilated federal Constitution.

The late Bhai Karpal was so incensed by Mahathir's mutilation of the Senate, and Najib's (including his PM predecessors') misuse of this convenient 'back door' to the cabinet that he )our late Bhai) proposed for the abolishment of the useless legislative institution, a sort of good-for0-nothing institution, which alas, it has been since Mahathir laid his grubby hands on it (through his then overwhelming 2/3 parliamentary strength, which BTW you gave to him - 'you' because I had voted DAP, wakakaka).

Mind, I don't agree with my Bhai hero as I think that his proposal was way too drastic.

At that time (May 2013), Gobind Rudra, a former editor of a newspaper wrote: DAP chairman Karpal Singh has gone overboard in asking for the Senate to be abolished. He’s throwing out the baby with the dirty bath water out of anger and disgust with the way that Umno-BN use the Senate for appointments to the cabinet.

I agree with Gobind Rudra's take on only that but most certainly NOT his other points in his article in the May 2013 FMT's Reform the Senate, not abolish it. I'll come back to Gobind later.

So as you can see, Wan Saiful Wan Jan's recommendations to reform the Senate is not new. It came up 3 years ago.

Needless to say, at that time when the late Bhai Karpal called for the Dewan Senate to be abolished, DAP's former VP and current foe, wakakaka, YM Tunku Aziz, disputed Bhai's call, stating that "... the Senate would unearth and develop more political and administrative talents for the good of the country",

But alas, my dear YM, that's not the purpose of the Senate, to 'unearth and develop talents', though I grudgingly grant there could be serendipitous side effects.

However, Tunku has been correct in saying the "Senate would give the government an opportunity to use a much bigger pool of talents to administer the country", though the only 'talent' the government had ever recruited via the Senate into the cabinet was King Guz, better known as the late Tun Ghazali Shafie, another of my 'heroes'.

In Tunku and Tun Razak's days, Ghazalie Shafie was a superb (probably the best ever) civil servant, and it wasn't surprising the 2nd PM brought this 'talent' into the cabinet via the Senate. His fortune took a tumble after Mahathir became PM, probably another 'victim' of Mahathir's Minus touch.

But I couldn't name 'back door' candidates for the cabinet, people like Koh TK and Waythamoorthy, etc, as 'talent' but more as 'mandores'.

Besides, Koh TK was resoundingly rejected by the Penang people. In the 2008 general election he was thrashed kau kau in Batu Kawan (56% Chinese-dominated constituency) by DAP's Ramasamy Palanisamy by nearly 10,000 votes majority. Yet Najib made him a senator-minister, ignoring that the people did NOT want him.

Senate appointment to the cabinet should NOT take on rejected election candidates but only people of the standard of Tun Ghazali Shafie, an exceptional civil servant converted expeditiously through the Senate into a working cabinet minister, or perhaps an exceptional captain of industry or a technological expertise.

Another senator, though wakakaka we cannot describe him as a Senate 'back-door' product* because he was NOT in the Malaysian cabinet (yet anyway), has been Senator Jaspal Singh, who is the MIC treasurer-general. Then he wrote a letter to Malaysiakini about the call by his 'countryman'** to abolish the Dewan Senate.

* while being nominated to the Senate is a constitutionally legal process and a singular honour, taking a senator into the cabinet particularly one already rejected resoundingly by the voters, people like Koh TK and Shahrizat etc, or one who is hardly a representative of a minority group, like Waythamoorthy, have been insults to the rakyat.

** if you're a Sikh, you'll know the flippant and humorous reference to 'countrymen', wakakaka.

Jaspal Singh's letter to Malaysiakini titled Karpal's pitch to abolish senate ill-considered has only one good point for us to share, while the rest of his letter consists of attacks against Karpal and DAP, which was okay since Jaspal is from MIC, wakakaka - now, surely you don't expect him to praise Karpal or DAP, do you?

Jaspal wrote in his opening paragraphs:

The Dewan Negara plays a critical role in Malaysia’s democracy. It reviews laws passed by the raucous lower house. It allows minorities, like the Orang Asli, or for that matter, Sikhs, to have a voice in the legislative.

It also ensures representation for states. Senators comprise individuals of worth and if Karpal finds some of them unsuitable, his personal views cannot be confused for widely-held public opinion.

I might have some questions on his claim that 'senators comprise individuals of worth' wakakaka, but I would grant he had been partially right, considering that not all senators have been cast-aside & recycled rubbish.

However, Jaspal Singh failed to put his above statement, though correct, in full context, and I suppose I couldn't blame him because I didn't expect him to criticize Dr Mahathir for messing up the Senate as he (Dr Mahathir) had messed up most things he laid his hands on.

What would be this 'full context' I've just mentioned

As mentioned above, Mahathir altered the composition of the Senate from one which ensured the states and minorities could check and challenge the federal government's legislation which might not be in their favour (previously 30 senators as opposed to federal appointed 16) into one which is controlled by the federal government  (now 30 senators as opposed to federal appointed 40).

Again, as mentioned above, the Senate thus lost its raison d'ĂȘtre, its ability to check & balance legislations passed by the Dewan Rakyat that were deemed as unfair to minorities or the states.

And that's the 'full context' within which Jaspal Singh should have made his comments on the Senate, namely, that it is now one that can no longer protect the interests of minorities or the states, but just a rubber-stamping factory for the federal cabinet's legislations and a 'back door' avenue for the PM to reward failed and rejected politicians like Koh, Shahrizat, etc.

Jaspal Singh should appreciate why his 'countryman' the late Bhai Karpal was so outraged by the 'unrepresentative swill'* that is the Dewan Senate today.

* the term 'unrepresentative swill' was first used by former Australian PM Paul Keating to describe the Australian Senate, though his words carried a different meaning to the one I have for the Malaysian Senate, where mine indicates that Malaysian senators have not been directly voted into office by the rakyat.

Mahathir was not unlike the fabled King Midas, though of a version which changed everything he touched into disaster (instead of gold). I had previously named him King Minus (not Midas).

Do we recall someone had once cried in equal despair at the curse of what he erroneously imagined would be his magic touch?

And hadn't everything he touched turn into disaster? Forex, Sabah, Senate, the Pandora Box of religion (LKS' condemnation of Mahathir's 617 and 929 Declarations), crooked bridge, etc etc etc, even his beloved NEP ended up with him (not someone else) criticizing his UMNO people for continuing to lean on crutches.

But alas, unlike King Midas, King Minus Mahathir is not repentant. He doesn't believe in the curse he has in his hands, changing every everything he touched into disaster, even and especially for those he favours.

But let's return to Gobind Rudra's proposal to reform the Senate. Gobind spoilt a serious proposal, for a start, by his rants against Singapore (which I have to admit I have not been too fond of, wakakaka, though only against the late LKY, wakakaka).

Mind you, Gobind Rudra's rant against a 85% Chinese-dominated Island State has omitted mention of the Island army chief being another bhai too, wakakaka - not something you will ever see here in Malaysia.

However, Gobind behaved in an irrational angry manner, a behaviour which incidentally he had accused Karpal Singh of, when he wrote:

Karpal seeks to destroy what would be an institution that could strengthen democracy and the people’s interests. He is disgusted that P Waythamoorthy was made a deputy minister. So he says close down the the Senate.

But didn’t the DAP appoint Tunku Aziz Ibrahim as senator? And when he was appointed, didn't the DAP trumpet the fact that he was the first DAP senator?

Yes indeed, DAP did appoint Tunku Aziz to the Senate as allowed by the Constitution, BUT NOT into the cabinet via the Senate 'back door'.

That has been the fundamental difference which unfortunately Gobind, in his anger against Karpal Singh wakakaka, failed to distinguish. Thus, Tunku Aziz was NOT a 'back door' appointment.

Then strangely for someone who claimed to speak for the rakyat, Gobind cast his anger at the Dewan Rakyat in saying:

Karpal’s suggestion for only one house, of a Parliament consisting only of the Dewan Rakyat, is a disguised appeal for the supremacy of parties and politicians, instead of the supremacy of the people.

For a start, to argue that the Dewan Rakyat is not an expression of the supremacy of the rakyat shows his somewhat confused understanding of parliamentary democracy, warts and all.

Additionally, he failed to explain how a Dewan Senate would be different from a Dewan Rakyat in terms of politicians and political parties, other than a few rep of minorities may be there.

He was talking as if his reformed Dewan Senate would be completely divorced from the Malaysian political sphere. What was he smoking?

Or, was he prejudiced against the Dewan Rakyat because there hasn't been 'someone' in the lower house of parliament he wanted to see?

But nonetheless let us examine what he had offered:

What Malaysia needs is a reformed Senate as well as a reformed government and reformed politicians who believe in the principles of democracy and will uphold them. One of those principles is representation of the people. Another is separation of powers. And another is check and balance.

Okay, no problem, though all mentioned have been motherhood statements thus far, but alas, nothing enlightening. Let's read on.

A reformed Senate, if given due respect from reformed politicians and a principled government, would provide a check and balance against a house of MPs who believe their word should be law merely because they were successful in conning an unthinking and gullible rabble into voting for them.

Again, a motherhood statement with a wee patronizing rant at the hoi polloi lowly simple-minded voters at the end wakakaka, though I did question (at that time) his particular rant against the Dewan Rakyat as not being the law maker. 

My dear Bhai, they (Dewan Rakyat) are or were the legislative arm of parliament, and if they are/were not the law-makers, who are?

I'm getting worried about his understanding of parliamentary democracy.

A reformed Senate would give voice to ethnic minorities, like Aborigines, Thais, etc, as they would probably be sidelined by the political process. Also the Senate should allow all minor religions to be represented.

In Muslim (Sunni) majority Malaysia, it's essential that the Shias, Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, Hindus, Ba'hais, followers of folk religions and animists including followers of native religions, be given a voice.

Maybe technocrats could be appointed to represent industries and trades.

Some good points but I have a few questions for him:

(a) who, apart from ethnic minorities like the Aborigines and other (East Malaysian) natives, are those 'sidelined by the political process'? OK, I can name one, the Thais.

(b) but who is an ethnic minority? How would we define an ethnic minority in Malaysia? One with less than 3, 2, 1 or x % of the Malaysian population? Or perhaps one with less than 8%, wakakaka.

(c) what did he mean by 'those who cannot, or will not, take part in the dirty business of winning votes'? Is he advocating a departure from the (his) 'dirty business' of democratic elections?

Is he suggesting imperious (note: not imperial) appointments instead of the choice/voice of the people?

I gathered Gobind Rudra hasn't been exactly a man in favour of democratic elections, sneering at it as 'dirty business', but I suspected then, only because those he supported couldn't get elected into Parliament, wakakaka.

A reformed Senate would have direct or indirect elections (the latter the current practice) for people to represent the 14 states, but I prefer the former.

Importantly it should provide for royal appointment, by which minorities (in race and religion) could have a voice.

But then I had obtained the sense he was a Hindraf sympathizer or even a member who wanted a SARSIwakakaka.

He wanted an upper house as a place for unpolitical debate, for a calm rethink of what the rowdy politicians in the other place demand.

But unpolitical debate? There is no such animal when one deals with issues pertaining to, or involving parliament, to wit, its lower and upper houses, the states or governments, in defining policies and legislations of any state. All these are political. He was a totally clueless person on the political process.

As for his rowdy politician, well, what could I say except wakakaka.

I had hoped someone would propose a Senate based on the powerful Australian version, to make amends for King Minus Mahathir's mutilation of it. But I doubt it'll occur in the next 20 years.


  1. a very good write kt. i would suggest that the dewan negara comprises 40% (government/bn); 35% (opposition); and 25% crossbenchers (minority ethnic group and minor religion and others). the dewan negara should be given the power to stall/stop resolutions/legislations passed by the dewan rakyat. however, for the members to become 'backdoor' cabinet ministers is not an issue to me.

  2. we're talking about state and minorities rights.

    So we have 2 reps from each state, 2 x 9 from the sultanate states (like Selangor), 2 from non-sultanate states like Sabah, Sarawak, Penang, Malacca and FT (only one FT - Labuan and Putrajaya have to combined with WP) = 2 x 5

    total state reps (s determined by their state governments) = 28

    Minorities must outnumbered the states' reps - say 35

    2 from Peninsula Aborigines
    2 from Sabah natives
    2 from Sarawak natives
    2 from Thai Malaysians
    2 from Eurasian Malaysians
    = 10

    2 from Shia Muslims
    2 from Taoists
    2 from Buddhists
    2 from Christians
    2 from Hindus
    2 from Confucians
    2 from very minor religions
    = 14

    etc etc etc

  3. Be careful what you ask for....
    With the current political atmosphere in the country, a directly elected Senate A'La Australia , could find the Dewan Negara filled with Islamists bent on imposing an Islamic State, with DAP ineffectually making maximum noise in one corner.