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Senate reform – give the civil society the right and opportunity to object to any proposed Senate appointment on the  ground that the constitutional criteria for Senators had not been met


Media Statement (1)
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Wednesday): The appointment of two MCA politicians as Senators – “Dr. Ayam” and  MCA Bukit Bintang MCA division chief Lee Chong Meng and Sabah MCA deputy chairman, Chew Vun Ming - has again reminded Malaysians of the continuing scandal of the gross abuse of power and perversion of the Merdeka   Constitution of 1957 with regard to Senate appointments.

Our founding fathers established the  Dewan Negara as part of a  bi-cameral Parliament in the Merdeka Constitution  not to provide a rubbish dump for Barisan Nasional political rejects and also-rans, but to have the services of worthy citizens who have distinguished themselves in different professions and walks of life.  

At present, however, the most important qualification for appointment to Senators is to be a loyal Barisan Nasional follower and “apple-polisher” of the powers-that-be!

The time has come for the  Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to honour his pledge of a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government by ending the long history of abuses of the constitutional provision on the appointment of Senators in  farming it out among  Barisan Nasional parties to their respective political has-beens, rejects and also-rans.

Abdullah’s reform pledge must involve the major institutions in the country, whether Parliament, judiciary, police, election commission, anti-corruption agency, the public service, the universities  and as well as substantive changes involving the integrity of Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament.

The criteria in Article 45 (2) of the Constitution on the appointment of Senators from persons who “have rendered distinguished public service or have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service or are representative of racial minorities or are capable of representing the interests of aborigines” must henceforth  be fully complied with. 

If this constitutional criteria is strictly followed, the majority of the current batch of Senators appointed under this provision  would have to be removed.

Before a Senator is appointed, the civil society  should be given the right and opportunity to object on the ground that the constitutional criteria for Senators has not been met.

For this purpose,  an independent and impartial Senate Appointments Commission should be set up  to  vet and ensure that the criteria set out in Article 45(2)  of the Constitution for the appointment of Senators  are scrupulously adhered to in keeping with the Prime Minister’s  pledge of  a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy administration

I had over the decades made repeated calls for Senate reform. In January 1998, one such call elicited support from the late Federal Court Judge, Tan Sri  Harun Hashim who in his New Straits Times column on 1st January 1998 entitled "Changes in senate may be necessary" wrote:

"Perhaps in these days of democracy and transparency, every political party that contested the last general election obtaining not less than five per cent of the votes cast at Semenanjung, Sabah and Sarawak levels should be entitlted to a seat in the Senate. At least they will be representing something. Such senators should be elected at a party convention and serve for a three-year term.

"What seems to be politically unacceptable, however, is for a politician who was defeated at a general election, to be appointed a senator almost immediately afterwards, likened to a back-door entry.

"The argument is that if he has been rejected by his own constituency, how could he be made nationally acceptable by appointment to the Senate."

A national discussion and debate about the role and effectiveness of the Senate is long overdue.

Serious thought should also be given for  an elective system of appointment, which is in fact provided for in Article 45(4)(b)  of the Constitution.

Article 45(1) of the Malaysian Constitution provides that the Senate shall consist of elected and appointed members as follows:

"(a)two members for each State shall be elected in accordance with the Seventh Schedule; and

"(aa) two members for the Federal Territory or Kuala Lumpur and one member for the Federal Territory of Labuan shall be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong; and

(b) forty members shall be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong."

Article 45(4) stipulates:

" 45(4). Parliament may by law - (a) increase to three the number of members to be elected for each state; (b) provide that the members to be elected by each State shall be so elected by the direct vote of the electors of that State; (c) decrease the number of appointed members or abolish appointed members."

There is therefore no need for any constitutional amendment to introduce the elective system to choose Senators, as it is already provided for in the Constitution, and all that is needed is for Parliament to adopt such a system by way of ordinary legislation.

Is the Senate prepared to take the lead for reform  by introducing and passing a motion to provide for the direct election of Senators  by the voters?


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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