Monday, February 15, 2010

BN backbenchers study abolishing quorum, voting by division - ANOTHER GIMMICK TO REMAIN IN POWER

The unprecedented near defeat of the Barisan Nasional’s Budget 2010 last December has prompted the BN Back Benchers Club (BNBBC) to study a recommendation to abolish the quorum and voting by division requirements in Parliament.

The back benchers feel both requirements are being used by the unusually strong Opposition bench of 81 Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers to delay the approval of legislation such as the DNA 2008 Bill, or rejecting the federal budget last Dec 14.

“The BNBBC has formed a committee to study the issues... and a few legal experts are also helping us. Once the study is ready, we will forward it to the Dewan Rakyat Speaker for his consideration,” BNBBC deputy chairman Datuk Bung Moktar Radin told The Malaysian Insider in an interview.

If found practical, the Speaker can submit it to the Cabinet and then debate it in the Dewan Rakyat for approval, he added.

Asked if the proposed abolition of quorum was practical, Bung Moktar said the backbencher felt it can be implemented easily although the Dewan Rakyat had inherited the practice from the United Kingdom. The Dewan Rakyat quorum has not changed from the time of Merdeka, maintained at 26 or half of the original 52 seats in the 1955 legislative election.

The Dewan Rakyat has expanded over the years and now has 222 seats, with the BN controlling 137 which is short of a two-thirds majority following major defeats in Election 2008. The Pakatan Rakyat pact of PKR, DAP and PAS, which includes a PSM member, also lost their former Bayan Baru MP Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohd Hashim last Friday when he quit PKR to be an Independent.

Zahrain will join the other Independent, Pasir Mas MP Datuk Ibrahim Ali who stood on a PAS ticket in Election 2008. Another two MPs are from SAPP, which quit the BN coalition last September.

“In the United States and several European countries, the parliament operates without a quorum... even a solitary member can debate as long as the Speaker chairs it.

“So, we feel there is no need for a quorum as we can do it our own way. This is the same as division voting which is sometimes abused by the Opposition to delay approving legislation,” said the outspoken Kinabatangan MP.

Apart from the quorum of 26 MPs, the Dewan Rakyat meeting rules require 15 MPs to hold voting by division where votes are by a show of hands that are counted rather than voice.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had previously told The Malaysian Insider that parliament was studying proposals for select committees to discuss Bills earlier to avoid issues of a lack of quorum or absent MPs.

This was among several ideas proposed to reform the parliament when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became prime minister in October 2003.The ideas became crucial when the Budget 2010 was nearly defeated at its third reading on Dec 14.

Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who succeeded Abdullah last April, had to rush in to ensure the Budget was approved in the late night of voting where it went 66-63 in BN’s favour. Nearly 100 MPs, including 70 from BN, were absent when the vote was called.

Bung Moktar said the episode showed that the Opposition must play their role to ensure there was quorum during parliamentary meetings.

“If the quorum is not enough, the Dewan Rakyat cannot sit. As they now have more representatives in the Dewan Rakyat, they must play an equal role and not leave it to the BN only,” he said, calling on his political foes to be present in Parliament.

He also said the BNBBC was also looking into the issue of motions tabled in the Dewan Rakyat.

“The current practice is that the Speaker has the power to refuse any motions if there is an earlier motion submitted to his office earlier.

“We want to ask for a new provision where the Speaker can choose the motion that is important, not based on who had submitted it first,” Bung Mokhtar said.

news courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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