LETTERS: EVEN those who are not avid followers of Malaysian politics would have come across news articles criticising Members of Parliament for skipping parliamentary sittings.
Mainstream news outlets have used sensational headlines such as “MPs too cold and too tired” or “MPs need to say hi to wife” to gain a widespread public reaction.
It gives the public the impression that MPs are giving half-baked excuses to cover their absence in parliament, which reflects badly on them.
MPs should be held solely accountable for the overall low parliamentary attendance.
The parliament functions as a legislative body.
A parliamentary sitting is where democratically elected officials meet in a formal setting to debate important issues pertaining to the nation that can potentially be turned into legislation.
The proceedings of Parliament can only be carried out if a minimum of 26 MPs are present in the 222-seat parliament as stated under Standing Order No 13 (1) of the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat.
Out of 222 MPs in Malaysia, how is it that only 26 MPs turn out in the hall at any point in time?
That is less than 12 per cent of the total number of MPs.
Why the low attendance?
While public perception points towards the general lack of accountability of the MPs, this is only true to some extent.
In reality, wider social forces may be at play, including the nature of the Parliament in Malaysia.
Just like the media, parliament sessions have the tendency to focus on sensational aspects of the country’s affairs.
Let us first consider the accountability of MPs.
As an elected council member, MPs hold the responsibility to represent their region to the best of their capabilities, be it in Dewan Rakyat sittings or in official ceremonies.
During the election process, the people are aware that their constituent MPs are going to represent them in Parliament.
By not attending parliamentary sittings, MPs are consciously neglecting one part of their duties.
However, recent news reports suggested that MPs still refuse to acknowledge the neglect of their duties in Parliament although they have been called out by their colleagues and media outlets time and time again.
MPs should be mindful that their seats may not be secure in the coming elections if this poor attendance continues.
It can be argued that a lot of the discussion in Parliament is not of constructive nature but rather, issues are brought up to provoke the opposing party to react.
As a result of this, it has been observed that a significant chunk of debate in Parliament is focused on asking ministers to “apologise” for remarks made.
Hence, there is a chance that ministers may opt out of parliamentary sittings so as to avoid being a target of other ministers’ backhanded insults.
Some backbencher MPs may also decide not to attend as they believe that the rest of the House may care less about what they have to say.
Where do we go from here?
Although there are flaws in the parliamentary procedure, this does not negate the MPs’ responsibility to attend Parliament, especially when important issues such as the national Budget is tabled in October.
Parliament is divided into three meetings in a session, which total up to only 68 days a year.
It should not be impossible for each party to send more than a handful of representatives per sitting.
Malaysians want MPs to be more active in Parliament.
Attendance records should be made publicly available.
MPs should engage in more constructive debates in Parliament by focusing on subject matters relevant to the Dewan Rakyat.
Avoid insults aimed to hit below the belt once and for all.
Let’s talk policies, not personal ideologies.