Malaysiakini Letter

Total revamp of Dewan Negara needed

Ivan Oh  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Frankly, I have never believed in human politics simply because human behaviours are generally the same. Give anyone absolute power and even the noblest of men will be corrupted. That’s why I always believe in setting the system right.

Although I’m not so naïve as to believe that a perfect system does exist, we should at least ensure a reasonably good system is in place. And a reasonably good system should incorporate a proper check-and-balance mechanism.

Our Dewan Negara was supposed to be the Dewan Rakyat’s check-and-balance mechanism. Sadly, it is now practically only a ceremonial house to rubber-stamp any legislation passed by Dewan Rakyat. So how could we amend this?

The solution is simple, yet difficult to implement since those in power might never agree to relinquish their “freedom” of authority. Anyway, let’s give it a try. If a dominant ruling party can lose its power after 61 years in command, anything is possible.

First and foremost, the Dewan Negara should be empowered to reject bills rather than just delaying their passage. How could check-and-balance be effective if the Dewan Negara has no real authority to stop the Dewan Rakyat? I believe this is relatively obvious, so I’m not going to elaborate further on this point.

Secondly, all senators should be neutral individuals, preferably intellectuals from professional groups, with no allegiance to any political party in order to allow them to have a more neutral view when reviewing legislation passed by the Dewan Rakyat. Having a Dewan Negara filled with ruling party members will only create a house of yes-men for the Dewan Rakyat.

On the other hand, if the Dewan Negara is populated by a majority of opposition party members, any legislation passed by Dewan Rakyat might be objected just for the sake of opposing due to party instructions, regardless whether the legislative proposal is good or bad. So here’s my recommendation - senators should be independent candidates.

However, in order for senators to be independent candidates, we cannot depend on our state legislative assemblies to elect their senators as they would obviously elect their own party members to be in the Dewan Negara. Neither can we rely on the list of nominations provided by the Prime Minister (for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to appoint) to be neutral as well.

As a solution, we could either empower our Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Majlis Raja-Raja to independently (without government influence) appoint independent candidates to be our senators or alternatively, conduct a direct election for our senators (as opposed to the current indirect election for state-elected senators) and allow only independent candidates to stand for such an election.

However, it has been known that most professionals are neither eager to be involved in politics nor to go through the hassle of an electoral process. If we want the best intellectuals to be in our Dewan Negara, we would have to appoint them. So here’s another recommendation:

Te Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Majlis Raja-Raja should be empowered to independently (without government influence) appoint independent candidates to be our senators. Senators representing the states would be appointed by their respective state sultans or the Yang di-Pertua Negeri while federally appointed senators would continue to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

In addition, senators should only be allowed to serve for one term without the option for renewal in order to ensure that they do not fall into a compromised position of becoming bias in return for a favourable proposition of being renewed another term. Senators should also not be allowed to hold any ministerial posts in order to avoid any conflict of interest in favour of the ruling party.

Besides choosing the right people for the Dewan Negara, I would also like to highlight that the role of the Dewan Negara should be clarified as well.

One of the original objectives of the Dewan Negara's establishment was to protect state interests against federal encroachments in the federal Parliament. However, out of the 70 senators currently in the Dewan Negara, only 26 senators represent the states while the other 44 senators are federally appointed. This is completely contrary to the goals of the original constitution.

We should maintain the current number of 26 senators representing the states (two senators for each state) but retain only four federal-appointed senators that currently represent the federal territories (two for Kuala Lumpur and one each for Putrajaya and Labuan).

The balance 40 senators that currently do not represent any territories should be removed as they are redundant, politically driven and a waste of taxpayers' money. I personally believe that having 30 senators in Dewan Negara is just the right figure.

With all these recommendations in place, I believe that the Dewan Negara can truly operate in accordance to the spirit of the original constitution, which is to act as a check on the Dewan Rakyat and to represent the interest of the various states in keeping with the “Keluhuran Perlembagaan”.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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