TUESDAY was far from business as usual at the Dewan Rakyat. The Government had proposed to amend the Federal Constitution for the first time since 2007 and the Bill containing that change was due for its second reading that day.
The proposed amendment, according to the explanatory statement of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, is “made in line with the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement concluded in 1963.”
When tabling the Bill for the second reading, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad referred to Promise No. 40 of the Pakatan Harapan manifesto for the 14th General Election.
The pledge is to implement the Malaysia Agreement (MA63). More specifically, Pakatan says it wants to restore the rights of Sabahans and Sarawakians as provided in the pact and to return Sabah and Sarawak to the status accorded by MA63.
The Bill is without doubt a big deal and it certainly received plenty of attention in the Dewan Rakyat.
At 2.30pm, the Lower House began focusing on the Bill. By the time the MPs’ votes on the proposed legislation were tallied, it was about 10.20pm.
Over that eight hours or so, more than 60 lawmakers – about half of them from Sabah or Sarawak – had made their voices heard, including those who interrupted or sought clarification. The transcript of the proceedings runs to 136 pages.
There were in fact two matters that the MPs voted on.
The first was a motion from the opposition to send the Bill to a select committee for a comprehensive study.
This reflected the sentiment expressed many times by the opposition lawmakers throughout the debate that while they agree that the spirit of MA63 must be revived, the constitutional amendment must not be done hastily and without deeper discussions.
However, the noes outnumbered the ayes 136 to 60. It is interesting that one lawmaker abstained from voting.
The Dewan Rakyat then moved on to the matter of whether the Bill should become law. This proposed amendment to the Constitution required the support of at least two-thirds of the MPs.
To progress to the third reading, the Bill needed 148 ayes.
There were only 138 such votes. Although nobody voted against the Bill, 59 lawmakers abstained, which was enough to stop the Bill in its tracks.
It is obvious that the tradition of voting along party lines remains very much intact. It is rare indeed for an MP to vote according to his conscience, especially because he will likely face disciplinary action.
But why should we be guessing? Is it not time for the voting records of our MPs to be made public and easily accessible?
These records can help us better understand our representatives and what they stand for. Because politicians have been known to switch parties, we can rely on their voting records to gauge consistency and performance.
It is abundantly clear now that the Pakatan manifesto is more a throw of the dice than a collection of do-or-die pledges; not everything in it will be fulfilled.
But it is worthwhile to keep track of
Promise No. 16: “Restore the dignity of Parliament.”
Like many things, dignity is a two-way street; the more of it that you grant others, the more of it you gain.
A Parliament with dignity is one that operates transparently and with constant awareness that its members are there to serve the people.