Parliament Updates and Indo-Pacific

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By Wong Chen

In the last Parliament sitting which ended on 18th July, we managed to pass two constitutional amendments; the Undi 18 matter and the Sabah redelineation electoral map. What was most surprising was both bills were supported unanimously by Members of Parliament.

In my personal opinion, the Undi 18 amendment was polemical as there seem to be very little data research work done on its electoral impact for the next GE.  The real enigma was the introduction of automatic registration by the Opposition, the acceptance of it by the government, but without compulsory voting. In the halls of Parliament, the talk is UMNO and PAS fully supported the bill because they wanted to be in the good books of Dr. Mahathir. However, I think the support is simply because Undi 18 favours them electorally. I on the other hand, saw it as a matter of principle, that of promoting inclusive democracy.

The Sabah vote was even stranger, as during the debate the Opposition gave speeches against it, but their MPs ultimately voted for it. Could this Sabah vote signal the start of a new phase of political maneuverings? I hope not, as people and businesses are decidedly tired of politics.

In the context of the reforms needed for New Malaysia, I would rank Undi 18 as not very important at all. Passing laws to fight corruption (MACC Act amendments, a political finance bill, and Whistleblower Protection Act amendments) are much more important. Equally important are amendments to labour laws, competition laws, and eliminating monopolies to address the socio-economic issue of inequality. Parliamentary reforms are also urgently needed to set up checks and balances and ensure proper separation of powers.

Thus Undi 18 was not a priority. Not by a long shot. Yet somehow the Cabinet found the will to pass it with full Opposition support. My hope for New Malaysia, which is sadly diminishing with every Parliament sitting, is to see real systemic reforms and better governance. Therefore the coming October to December sitting, will be a watershed moment between real reforms or business as usual.

As I wait for reforms to materialise in Malaysia (the sad state of Parliament in Malaysia is such that only the Cabinet can propose laws), I am now better using my time to explore other policy issues, in particular international matters of geo-politics and climate change.

In early August, I will be going to Taiwan to attend an Indo-Pacific conference. I will be there to learn, listen and discuss. As it is now, I am not a supporter of the concept of Indo-Pacific, which is a thinly veiled strategic platform by US to contain China. This is a sort of Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement again, minus trade. From a personal perspective, the geo-political quarrels between US with China is seriously de-stabilising the region in terms of trade and economics. It is my view that supporting the concept of Indo-Pacific, by expanding a bigger geo-political playground, will only add fuel to fire. It will also diminish ASEAN’s neutrality role in the region.

The issue of choosing sides, has also become more problematic as both the US and China, are not being particularly inspiring in terms of global leadership. The US foreign policy under Trump is extremely hard to read. As Trump steers his nation more and more to the right, will the US continue to be a champion of human rights and democracy in the region? China also seems to be on a similar road of power consolidation by its leadership. As such, many are watching the events in Hong Kong as a sign of what is to come from China.

At the end of August, before my next article, I will be in Bangkok for the AIPA general assembly, where I will be bringing up the subject matter of climate change. I hope to make small impacts on both geo-politics and climate change, but at least I won’t be sorely disappointed by the lack of effort. I am however tired of suppressing my disappointment with the lack of progress we are making here, at home.