Saturday, August 30, 2008

Having trouble with legitimacy?

So the prime minister wants to pre-emptively discredit any potential Barisan National defections to the opposition by labelling any such moves as ‘illegitimate.

However, there is one very fundamental flaw with his characterisation of the opposition coming to power through such defections. If by illegitimate, Pak Lah means unlawful, there is nothing illegitimate about defecting from one’s party! Unless we are all mistaken, there is nothing unconstitutional about members of parliament deciding to switch political allegiance. There is no legally prescribed prohibition against any elected party member from electing to switch political parties. On the contrary, this is the prerogative and right of an individual. Further, there is also nothing in the traditions, practices, customs or procedures of a parliamentary system that prohibit parliamentarians from aligning themselves with various political factions, voting blocs or alliances. Parenthetically, beyond the aforementioned, it is actually a long-standing universal parliamentary procedure that allows a vote of no-confidence against a sitting prime minister. And if it weren’t for the Speaker’s own procedural manoeuvres to protect the prime minister, we would have seen a vote to such affect in parliament by now.

Of course the prime minster is entitled to pre-empt any such eventuality of members of his alliance switching to the opposition by other political manoeuvres, including urging the Agong to dissolve parliament and holding fresh general elections. And there would be nothing illegitimate about doing so; just as the prime minister did by calling the last general election for March 8, days before Anwar would have been eligible to contend. Yes, the PM might have been politically calculating in his strategy, but we can’t label his action illegitimate.

His action then was just as legitimate as an elected member of parliament selecting to switch allegiances. In either case, both are accountable – eventually and ultimately - to the people. If a member of parliament switches sides, s/he will eventually have to account for this with voters in his/her constituency. It is a matter between the parliamentarian and his/her constituents. There is nothing illegitimate about it.

Now there are somethings known in Malaysian politics which are illegitimate. For starters, having government employees such as teachers violating the public’s trust and abusing students with racist slurs is illegitimate. Having Umno party officials engage in fear-mongering by appealing to divide voters along racial lines is, if we are to apply your government’s standards of banning free speech based on the ‘insensitivity’ criteria, tantamount to being illegitimate. Having someone (who happen to be in the prime minister’s government) speak about soaking his kris in the blood of the Chinese is illegitimate. Having a mob of racist and bigots – at the very least - verbally abuse and intimidate participants at a lawful gathering at the Bar Council is illegitimate. Having an official from the ruling party make racially insensitive, provocative and hostile remarks about Chinese as “squatters” is arguably illegitimate.

Rather than making dubious claims, let’s see the government - for a change - truly do something about correcting genuinely illegitimate conduct that actually has been – and continues to be - destabilising and divisive.

Besides, I don’t think the Right-Honourable leader of the opposition would indulge in any illegitimate conduct and bring disrepute to the august House of the People.

G. Krishnan