Reform key institutions before fixing govt's term, says Maria Chin

KUALA LUMPUR: Stability in government should not come at the expense of reforms, says activist and former Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.

She said the recent suggestion for a Fixed-Term Parliament Act (FTPA) may help stabilise the Executive and protect against repeats of the February 2020 Sheraton Move or recent purported Dubai Move plot.

"Malaysia needs (this) stability to move forward (but) there are questions that need to be considered.

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"Could this Act (pose the) danger of keeping a government in power even if it cannot deliver on its policies?

"Will it create a deadlock in Parliament that could be dangerous to our nation, especially at a time that requires critical action?

"Suggestions that are of national interest need to be discussed and there must be processes for debates to take place before jumping in blindly to support piecemeal reforms," she said in a statement on Monday (Jan 15).

Maria, the former Bersih chairperson, said if the intention is to improve upon parliamentary democracy then there should be more systematic planning of reforms in the short, middle and long terms.

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"(Post-GE15) a number of reforms were suggested as stopgap measures to prevent political crises, which will not do. We have to be strategic (and) provide clearer direction on reform priorities," she said.

She cited examples like the anti-party hopping law, the proposed revival of the Parliamentary Services Act and legislation on political financing as well as fixing the term of the prime minister.

"The (anti-hopping law) was passed with the intention to end party hopping but unfortunately its implementation has failed badly, with glaring loopholes.

"We should remember that once passed, laws are not easily repealed or amendable if something does not work out.

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"Many promises of reform were suggested during the various governments' terms but till now, the public remains unaware of their status.

"Due to the Dubai Move, we are faced with a sudden proposal for a fixed government term – but whose interests does this serve?

"The proposed law may be perceived as dangerous and undemocratic," she said.

Maria said while some supporters of the proposed FTPA have argued that some parliamentary democracies in the West had adopted such a law, they overlooked the serious problems that arose if such legislation was poorly drafted.

"Some even led to calls to repeal the Act just a few years after being passed.

"One example is the United Kingdom where a similar fixed-term government act caused a political crisis and led to a standstill at a time when the country needed decisive action.

"A government (with a fixed term) needs to be premised on a conducive political environment.

ALSO READ: Fixed term may be unconstitutional, say some MPs

"At present our key institutions, like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission and the police force, are in need of reform to counter corruption, abuse of powers and violation of freedoms.

"We need these institutions as checks and balances if we are to even consider any fixed-term government.

"Unless these are improved, a fixed term for a government is not a solution," she said.

Maria said she hoped to see more active public discussion on the FTPA as well as a clear reform plan before Parliament begins drafting the relevant Bill.

"Bring the discussion not just to Select Committees or to the Executive but to the public.

"Amendments that touch on the Constitution deserve public participation and must not be left to the whims and fancies of an elite few.

"We need to move towards a more participatory and discussive approach, without fear or favour, if we are serious about democracy," she added.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said a specific law should be introduced to allow any government to complete its full five-year term.

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