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Parliament 101: What Is The Role Of A Strong Opposition In A Democracy?

parliament MPs opposition democracy

In a matured democracy, the Parliament serves many purposes and one of the key components to prove that democracy is alive & kicking is the role played by the Opposition side of the Government. Without a strong Opposition to keep the Government on its toes, the Parliament will be is nothing but a mere rubber stamp to all the nonsense that the Government will do. Image source: The Net

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Allan Perera & Indi Nadarajah from the famed Comedy Court are simply brilliant with this comedy of the lawyers Loga & Singam comparing the British & Malaysian Parliament and despite knowing that it is a comedy, it is actually the reality of our Parliament in the country and this includes the powerless Speaker. 

Role of Opposition in Democracy

In a matured democratic country like Malaysia where there are multiple political parties representing the multi-levels of society & state, not all will end up forming the government. Eventually, you will have the pro-Government, pro-Opposition and neutral segment of members in the parliament. So what is the function of the Opposition in the Parliament?

The role of the opposition in parliament is to serve as a check and balance on the ruling government. This means that opposition parties are responsible for scrutinizing the government’s policies and actions and holding them accountable for their decisions.

Opposition parties are also responsible for presenting alternative policies and ideas to those of the ruling party, as well as representing the views and interests of those who did not vote for the government. They are expected to provide constructive criticism, engage in debate, and hold the government accountable for their decisions.

Furthermore, the opposition plays an important role in the legislative process. They can propose amendments to bills, raise issues that the government may have overlooked, and prevent the passage of legislation that they deem harmful or unnecessary.

In summary, the role of the opposition in parliament is to act as a critical voice, holding the government accountable, and presenting alternative policies and ideas to those of the ruling party.

(Source: ChatGPT)

Another is this:-

The opposition is formed by the largest party or coalition of parties that does not have the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. The opposition is sometimes called the alternative government because it could form government if it was to win the support of the majority of members.

The responsibilities of the opposition include:-

x Scrutinising – closely examining – the work of the government.
x Asking the government to explain its actions.
x Debating bills – proposed laws – in the Parliament.
x Working on committees that examine bills and important national issues.
x Providing alternatives to government policies.

(Source: Parliamentary Education Office)

The key duty of the Opposition is to ensure a proper check & balance on how & what the Government of the day is doing in managing the country. Nowhere in any publications or standards where it states that the role of the Opposition is to topple the Government of the day.

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One can only say that this is quite irresponsible considering the timing of this statement when the country has just dragged itself from a mud of instability, economic uncertainty and a deadly global pandemic that saw almost 37,000 Malaysia deaths from COVID19. Just when the country manages to put its head above the water, there are already plans to topple the government and cause another round of instability.

Hadi’s Comment

Whilst getting delusional & illogical statements from PAS’Hadi Awang is nothing new, the fact that he is saying that it is the norm for the Opposition to topple the Government of the Day does raise a serious sense of concern.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang says the opposition has every right to formulate plans to topple the current government, adding that no one can stop it from doing so.

Hadi told reporters in Parliament here that the opposition was working on retaking Putrajaya “not only through elections but also in Parliament”, adding that this is commonplace in a democratic country.
“This is normal in politics. Votes of no confidence, statutory declarations and even defections from among the government’s supporters. These are all normal processes.

“We can already see signs of discontent among the component (parties) making up this government,” he said.

Dismissing the notion that attempts to topple the government would go against the King’s wish for political stability in the country, Hadi said the King cannot prevent changes in a democratic nation.

“The King is subject to the Federal Constitution, (and) our constitution still upholds democracy,” the Marang MP said.

(Source: Free Malaysia Today)

It is rather misleading and irresponsible for Hadi Awang who is a Member of Parliament to say that it is normal for the Opposition to have the right to plan to topple the Government and to openly disregard the King’s call for stability between the political parties to ensure the country to recover after 2 years of instability & COVID19 pandemic.

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A rather feisty, rapid but gentlemanly manner of debating in the UK Parliament between the Opposition Leader, Keir Starmer and the newly minted Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak shows the quality and acknowledgement of good governance in the Parliament. When are we going to get something brilliant in the Malaysian Parliament?

Opposition In Jurisprudence

Whilst Hadi Awang and his supporters insisted that the call for the Opposition to topple the Government by election or other parliamentary process or otherwise, it is clear that they are missing the big picture on what they suppose to do as the Opposition and this is well articulated in an article in Malay Mail by Hafiz Hassan titled “Normal for Opposition to plan to topple govt?”

The role of an Opposition party, according to distinguished Canadian parliamentarian Stanley Knowles, is to check and prod.

But ultimately, it is to replace the government party. He wrote:

The opposition should so conduct itself in Parliament as to persuade the people of the country that it could be an improvement on the government of the day. No one will deny that the system works best when there is a change of government at reasonable intervals. (Stanley Knowles, “The Role of the Opposition in Parliament”, Address to the Empire Club of Canada, 21 March 1957, Ontario Woodsworth Memorial Foundation, Toronto, 1957)

It says “at reasonable intervals”. We can therefore agree with Community Communication Department (J-Kom) director-general Mohammad Agus Yusoff who said that in democratic systems a government change is usually done through general elections.

“When the next election comes, hand over the mandate to the people to make a choice,” Agus said.

General elections are therefore the “reasonable intervals” when a change of government can be done. But after the election, as Agus stressed, all parties need to work together to help solve the problems of the people and the country.

“All parties” must refer to the government and the Opposition, the latter being the largest non-government party or coalition of parties in Parliament.

This takes us to the role of the Opposition. Its main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable.

The Opposition is presented with ample opportunities to execute the role during parliamentary sessions as provided in Question Time, which now includes Prime Minister Question Time (PMQT) on Mondays, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Address debate, Budget debates, debates on legislation, notices of motion and no-confidence motions.

Further opportunities are provided in parliamentary committees which members of the Opposition are also appointed to.

The Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders (SO No. 4A) also recognise a Leader of the Opposition who is elected by the Opposition to be their leader and spokesperson. Although not constitutionally recognised, the Leader of the Opposition is provided with a special salary, entitlements and facilities.

The role and duties of the Leader of the Opposition have been said to include:

x Leading the Opposition in parliamentary and policy debate;
x Holding the government accountable and presenting the views of an alternative government;
x Chairing the meetings of Shadow Cabinet;
x Leading and publicising the development of party policy;
x Identifying as an alternative Prime Minister;
x Leading the party in an election; and
x Representing their electorate.

A Shadow Cabinet allows a Shadow Minister to follow closely the areas and responsibilities and activities of government ministers. It also allows the opposition to respond to government policies and initiatives and offer alternatives — like a Shadow Budget — to the people.

In summary, as Knowles put it, the Opposition should conduct itself in Parliament to persuade the people of the country that it could be an improvement on the government of the day. Be the alternative, not plan to topple the government. It is not normal or a new normal.

(Source: Malay Mail)

Understandably the call to change a Government that was formed after getting the most support in the Parliament is quite frightening. As one would have remembered, the road towards forming the next Government after the last general elections was rather stressful with no one political coalition having enough seats to form the Government on their own.

At the end of the day, the King called for a unity government formed from the various faction in the Parliament in which the Perikatan Nasional ended as the Opposition. Thus after they went on to say that they are planning to topple the Government, police reports were lodged:-

Investigations against PAS president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang on his claims that Perikatan Nasional (PN) was attempting to topple the government will be conducted by Bukit Aman’s Classified Crime Investigation Unit.

Sentul district police chief ACP Beh Eng Lai said police received reports lodged by Amanah and Selangor PKR youth at the Dang Wangi police headquarters on Wednesday (March 8).

“The case will be investigated by Bukit Aman’s Classified Crime Investigation Unit,” was his brief response at a media conference when asked about developments on the case.

The reports lodged were in connection with Abdul Hadi’s statement that PN and the Opposition block were making plans to topple the unity government led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Abdul Hadi told reporters in Parliament on Monday (March 6) that based on Malaysia’s democratic system, no one had the right to stop PN’s efforts to topple the government of the day, and such an attempt can be done either through a vote of no-confidence or via statutory declarations.

(Source: The Edge)

Although it seems like the police are investigating the matter, as in the case of past police investigations, it is unlikely charges will be brought up against Hadi. Further, at this point in the existence of a loose unity government, the Government may not want to proceed with any drastic actions against the Opposition unless there are strong pieces of evidence for prosecution.

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This is what we get in our Parliament – Opposition MPs that are more interested to disrupt the updates from the Government or in most cases, totally missing from the Parliament when the question & answer session is in place. How then do we expect the Opposition to perform their role of check & balance on what the Government is doing?

Final Say

The problem with Malaysia as mentioned many times is that we do not have politicians who are wise enough to focus on their core function in the Parliament i.e. to propose laws that encourage good governance, stability & economic prosperity and in the same process, to ensure minimal wastage to the taxpayers & corruption and the Opposition to do its part to ensure proper check & balance.

There is some sense of performance with the unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim but there is none from the Perikatan Nasional who now leads the Opposition in the Parliament.

That is what the Members of the Parliament should be focusing on until the next general elections. The beneficiary at the end of the day should be the rakyat and not politicians eyeing power & positions. Further to attract foreign investment into the country, the key factor that investors would look at is the stability of the government. A stable government means consistencies of policies for investment & businesses so things are more predictable.

And if the Opposition feels that they can govern the country better than the current government then they should highlight the shortcomings of the current government and then can for an early election or for a vote of no confidence in Parliament.  In the case of the current unity government, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has already called for a vote of confidence for himself & has managed to get the support of the majority.

So the Opposition calling for a change of government despite the outcome of the elections and a recent vote of confidence is irresponsible and uncalled for.

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