WE will soon see two by-elections for the Parliamentary seats of Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar. But what are the parties seeking to win, really? Let us take this opportunity to understand Parliament and its members.
Parliament functions as the legislative chambers of the Federation. In general, Parliament enacts and amends laws, controls the use of the country’s finances, monitors how the Federal Government governs the country and discusses national issues.
Parliament consists of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and two chambers known as the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.
The lower chamber, the House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat, has 222 members elected by the voters of Malaysia. They are known as Members of Parliament (MPs).
Meanwhile, the upper chamber, the Senate or Dewan Negara comprise 70 members known as senators.
A Parliamentary sitting is a meeting between the MPs in the Dewan Rakyat or between the senators in the Dewan Negara.
After every general election, the King “summons” Parliament to sit. The King is advised to do so by the Prime Minister or by Cabinet.
Parliament must have its first sitting within 120 days from the date of the last general election.
Parliament sits in sessions. However, Parliament cannot break for more than six months between sessions.
Parliament automatically dissolves five years after its first sitting following a general election.
Parliament can be dissolved earlier than five years, with the King’s consent. However, when a request for dissolution is made, the King may withhold consent although by convention he will not do so.
When Parliament is dissolved, a general election must be held within 60 days from the date it is dissolved.
Any Malaysian living in Malaysia who is at least 21 years old can take part in an election to become an MP.
Any Malaysian living in Malaysia who is at least 30 years old can become a senator. A senator is appointed for a three-year term, and each senator can only serve two terms.
A person cannot become an MP or senator or continue to be an MP or senator if the person is of unsound mind, is a bankrupt, holds an office of profit, spends more money than what is allowed under the law on his or her election campaign, is found guilty of a crime where the punishment is a jail term of one year or more, or a fine of RM2000 or more, or becomes a citizen of another country.
An MP or senator may also resign from his or her seat. However, if he or she does so, he or she will be disqualified for five years thereafter. This is also the case if he is disqualified for any of the reasons above.
When an MP or senator dies, resigns or becomes disqualified, there will be a vacancy in the seat, such as what happened in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar
This vacancy must be filled within 60 days. This means that a new MP must be elected through a by-election within 60 days or a new senator appointed within 60 days.
However, if the vacancy for an MP occurs within two years before Parliament is automatically dissolved, the said vacancy need not be filled.
MPs and senators take an oath to discharge their duty to the best of their ability, that they will bear true faith and allegiance to Malaysia and preserve, protect and defend the Federal Constitution. MPs therefore have a duty to the people who voted them, the country as well as the Constitution.
Unfortunately, too many times it appears that MPs act as if they owe their allegiance to their respective political parties first, instead of the people.
Parliament plays an important role in the country. As such, we Malaysians must understand what our MPs and senators do in the framework of the nation.
If we do not do so, MPs and senators will be able to just do as they please without being accountable to us.
(This article was written with guidance from the MyConstitution Rakyat Guides booklet, prepared and published by the Bar Council.)
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.