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Monday, February 22, 2010

The party or the man?

by Mohsin Abdullah was until July 2009 Editor in Chief News and Current Affairs ntv7 & 8TV. He is now a freelance writer.

FEB 22 — Most folks know this but I say it anyway. Article 48 (6) of the Federal Constitution states : “A person who resign his membership of the House of Representatives, shall, for a period of five years, beginning with the date of his resignation take effect, be disqualified from being a member of the House of Representatives.”
There is similar provision in every state in respect of state legislative assembly representatives.
Meaning a Member of Parliament or state assemblyman who resign (vacate their seat) will have to sit it out for five years before trying to get reelected ie contest election.
The MPs we have now in our midst , who quit their party but remain in Parliament or state assembly as “independents,” have no intention of quitting as YBs . They should have “used” the provision in the Constitution to “justify” their stay when responding to calls from their former parties that they resign. Instead the independents come up with all kinds of rhetorics.
Still the reality is the independents are here to stay. At least for now until the next election. The question is until then, will they be effective “wakil rakyats”? Can they serve their constituents? But before that, another question: What do we want our MPs to be?
Some “demand’ that MPs and state assemblymen are “wakil rakyats” right to the latter . Rather “servants of the people? ie they must take care of the problems of the people who voted them in. These problems include no electricity and water supply in the respective constituencies, uncollected garbage, bad roads, no bridge, scholarships for children of their voters, help out in wedding or funeral expenses : a people’s champion all the way .
But there are others who would argue that was the “criteria” of the “wakil rakyat” of old, which is that of a “welfare officer’. Now the responsibilities listed above should be shouldered by full-time welfare officers. In other words, the responsibilities should be borne by the civil servants. That is the opinion of some people who would argue that the present day YBs have different roles to play. They see our MPs (government and the opposition) as law makers, legislators, people who can shape the policies of the nation which will benefit the rakyat, similar to that of the US congressmen.
Perhaps we need our MPs to be both; the “welfare officer” type with a “congressman” responsibility. But to do that wouldn’t they need the backing of a party? More so if they are to deliver “humanitarian” help?
Based on that will Independent MPs be effective?
In the old days, there independent wakil rakyats were very efficient. Highly popular, the independents then, had no problem getting voted in without the support of established parties. A shining example is Haji Abdul Jabar Yusof or Cikgu Jabar who stood as an independent candidate in not one, not two, but three general elections and was voted in as the state assemblyman for Selangor.
Then there was Datuk Shahrir Samad, who in 1988 resigned his parliamentary seat in Johor Bharu (following the big Umno “war” a year earlier). He was Welfare minister in the Mahathir administration. Shahrir quit, forced a by election, stood as an independent and defeated the BN/Umno candidate. It’s true he got help from Umno’s Team B, led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (who was anti Mahathir).But the fact remains that Shahrir stood as an independent and won. (Incidentally the Federal Constitution was amended after that. Hence article 48(6). No more quit “suka suka”).
The above is a classic example of ‘it’s the man not the party’. They didn’t need political parties to help them carry out their responsibilities towards their constituents.
But in recent times, candidates who contested as independents never won. Most of the time they were accused of “trying to split the votes “ and associated with “negative elements”. They lost because voters were not convinced they can be of any good without the backing of a political party. So this is the case of ‘it’s the party and not the man’.
The independent MPs we have now are not independent in the true sense. They contested in the general election under the ticket of DAP, or PKR and won. They then quit their parties but not their seats and remain MPs and state assemblymen as an Independent.
The DAP and PKR say these Independent MPs are in the “Dewan’ because the “rakyat voted for us and not them in their personal capacities”. So to the DAP and PKR it’s also a matter of party over candidate.
Incidently this “it’s the party and not the man,” line has always been the BN’s campaign strategy. We’ve heard many times before how the BN has urged the ‘rakyat” to look at “our track record’ and “ it’s the party that matters not the candidates”. It had worked. Strong was the BN brand, and Umno used to boast that, “even if we put a songkok to stand for election under the BN/Umno symbol , it will win”. Another example of it’s the party not the man. But of late, the Chairman of BN Datuk Seri Najib Razak, admitted “ the days of even the songkok can win for us” are gone. Emphasis would be on quality candidates he says. Man over party ?
There are many who feel the days when Independent MPs were effective and good for the rakyat ( like the days of Cikgu Jabar ) are no more. To them MPs must be members of political parties to be effective. In short MPs must have the backing of a good strong party or coalition.
But the present day Independent MPs have declared themselves “BN friendly”, thus they can expect the assistance and backing of the coalition, at least in taking care of their constituencies. That would make them effective? Or would it?
Who, or rather what did you vote for in March 2008? The candidate himself or the party the candidate represented? Hang on. I shouldn’t have asked that. Your ‘undi’ is ‘rahsia’.

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