Lawmakers: Limiting number of MPs in Dewan unnecessary

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Putting a limit on the number of MPs who are allowed to enter the Dewan Rakyat is unnecessary and an affront to parliamentary democracy, said lawmakers.

“It is disappointing as Parliament has not met for more than seven months and all the 222 MPs deserve their chance to speak up and attend Parliament sittings unrestricted,” Batu Kawan MP P Kasthuri told The Malaysian Insight.

The Penang lawmaker said there is no reason why all the MPs are not allowed to enter Dewan Rakyat after all the safety protocols that have been put in.

“As it is, we have been told to do swab tests on Friday. After that, we have to self-quarantine until Parliament starts next Monday.

“With all these steps in place, there’s no reason why there should be a 80-MP limit in the Dewan Rakyat,” said Kasthuri.

She was responding to Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Mohd Rashid Hasnon who had announced that Parliament plans to bring back the 80-MP restriction, starting with the July meeting.

“Like last year, only 80 will be allowed to enter (Dewan Rakyat main hall),” said the Batu Pahat MP, who defected from PKR to Bersatu during the Sheraton coup in 2020.

Rashid, however, did not explain why the 80-MP ruling had to be brought back although all the lawmakers and Parliament staff have already been fully vaccinated.

After securing the agreement of party whips, Parliament had introduced the 80-MP limit during last year’s November sitting in a bid to curb the number of Covid-19 infections.

In the 80-MP ruling, the government was allowed to have 41 MPs to the opposition’s 39 at any time in the Dewan Rakyat, although all will be allowed in if there was voting.

The other changes introduced were restricting the question-and-answer sessions with the government and ministers, cutting the meeting time from five and a half hours to four, and reducing the total number of hours for Dewan Rakyat from 89 to 66 during the third meeting of 2020.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said it was the wrong message to send to Malaysians.

“What are we telling the country when all MPs, senators, Parliament staff, and accompanying staffers are vaccinated but still not allowed to meet in full to debate issues of national importance?” said the medical doctor.

“On top of that, all of us have to do a RT-PCR test at least three days before going to Parliament,” said Yii.

He said the 80-MP limit is not being done for health reasons, but for political reasons.

“They just don’t want to see their questionable support reflected on the floor,” said the Sarawakian.

“Back in November, Malaysia had not yet started its vaccination programme but 10 months later, all the MPs, senators, and Parliament staff have been vaccinated.

“As such, there’s no reason to restrict the number of MPs allowed to attend Parliament meetings.”

Yii said the severity of Covid-19 and the government’s handling of the pandemic were also very different between last year and this year.

“On November 6, the total number of active cases was only 11,530 and the total number of deaths around 280. But today, the total number of active cases is more than 10 times higher (128,997 yesterday) while the number of deaths is 7,019.

“Given the seriousness of the pandemic, all MPs should be allowed to attend Dewan Rakyat as long as they have tested negative and have been vaccinated,” he added.

“I disagree with the limit. If Parliament wants to do this, it should table a motion in Dewan Rakyat for it to be debated and voted on.

“This should be decided by the MPs. All the MPs are fully vaccinated and there are sufficient safeguards in the Parliament such as plastic partitions, separate lounges.

“The speaker is not an emperor of the Parliament. He has no authority to impose any limitations.”

But it will not be easy for Perikatan Nasional to bring the issue to Dewan Rakyat, said an MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“When they did it last year, PN had about 115 MPs and they managed to limit the number of MPs by talking to the party whips directly.

“Since Umno withdrew its support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the government is now under siege.

“We don’t know for sure how many of the 38 Umno MPs still support him. But if just 10 don’t, any bill or motion that is raised by PN will come under threat.”

After holding off Parliament for eight months, Muhyiddin’s majority will be severely tested again when Dewan Rakyat properly meets from September 6 to 30.

The first Parliament meeting of the year will kick off with the royal address on September 6, followed by a debate on the address.

If the government holds off tabling the Emergency Ordinance during the first meeting, it will not have to face any vote until the budget is tabled in the last meeting of the year (October 25 till December 16). – TMI