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Charles Santiago (Klang)

KLANG Member of Parliament (MP) Charles Santiago’s response to the MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project, which asks all 222 MPs six questions.

Name: Charles Anthony Santiago 
Constituency: Klang 
Party: DAP (Opposition) 
Years as MP:
Since 2008 
Government position: None

Party position:
Selangor vice-chairperson

Membership in parliamentary caucus or committee:
Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus



 Would you support the abolition/review of the Internal Security Act (ISA), in particular the provision that allows for detention without trial? Why or why not?

The ISA must be abolished because it allows detention without trial. It violates international human rights standards and the criminal justice system which states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The ISA deprives individuals the right to defend themselves in an open court.

The ISA was instituted as a response to the “insurrection” of the Communist Party of Malaya. However, it has been abused by both the Alliance and Barisan Nasional (BN) to suppress opposition to their rule since independence.

The ISA’s strategic role is to instil fear among the masses and to ensure the Umno/BN hegemony of the country.  

2 Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?

Malaysia is a secular state. A year after independence, the country’s first prime minister indicated the following:

“I would like to make it clear that this country is not an Islamic state as it is generally understood, we merely provide that Islam shall be the official religion of the state.”

Academician Joseph M Fernando, citing an Alliance memorandum submitted to the Reid Commission notes that:

“The Umno leaders contended that provision for an official religion would have an important psychological impact on the Malays. But in deference to the objections of the Rulers and the concerns of non-Muslims, the Alliance agreed that the new article should include two provisos: first, that it would not affect the position of the Rulers as head of religion in their respective States; and second, that the practice and propagation of other religions in the Federation would be assured under the Constitution.

“The MCA and MIC representatives did not raise any objections to the new article, despite protests by many non-Muslim organizations, as they were given to understand by their Umno colleagues that it was intended to have symbolic significance rather than practical effect, and that the civil rights of the non-Muslims would not be affected. MacGillivray personally felt that such a provision would be advantageous because the Yang di-Pertuan Agong could at the same time become the head of the faith in the Settlements of Penang and Malacca.

“The Colonial Office, while apprehensive at first, did not object after being assured by the Alliance leaders during the London Conference in May 1957 that they ‘had no intention of creating a Muslim theocracy and that Malaya would be a secular State’.”

The constitutional document clearly states that Malaysia was meant to be a secular state.

3 How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?

The role of an MP is to ensure that their constituents’ interests and the interests of the nation are protected and promoted. Also, there is a need to find a working balance between legislative and constituency work.

At the constituency level, I focus on day-to-day problems faced by constituents. These include problems related to low-cost housing, overflowing drains, land grabs, or helping to establish joint management boards, and getting government departments to effectively respond to problems faced by the people.

Also, my center organises training and capacity building programs throughout the year. These events include seminars on entrepreneurship, career development, inter-faith dialogue, business training for single mothers, human rights, and video-editing.

This year we are organising a campaign entitled “responsible citizenship”. This would involve events on climate change, voter registration, and keeping Klang safe and clean.

I am a member of the Pakatan Rakyat’s shadow committee of the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry.

Also, I focus on socio-economic, international trade, and wealth distribution issues, including poverty, in Parliament.

Fundamental changes are required to help parliamentarians undertake their responsibilities efficiently. This requires that Parliament provides each MP an office to facilitate their work, including staff members to help in research work and constituency liaison. Such practices are accepted norms in other parliamentary democracies.   

4 Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?

Freedom of information (FOI) is a right. FOI is central to the practice of accountability, governance, and transparency. The Act has the propensity to reduce corruption and people are given direct say on the kind of development they want and aspire for.

I have fought for the declassification of the Klang Sentral bus station concession agreement and water audit and concession agreements. The Selangor government has declassified the former but the Syabas water concession and audits are still being mitigated in the courts.  

The right to information must be institutionalised and a Freedom of Information Act should eventually be institutionalised in the country.  

5 If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?

Malaysia’s parliamentary system needs to mature in order to serve the cause of parliamentary democracy. There is an urgent need to establish standing committees and select committees to monitor and evaluate government policies and ministries with the view of improving performance.

6 Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?

The notion of separation of powers is critical for the country. The executive branch is extremely powerful to the detriment of Parliament and the judiciary. In fact, it is safe to say that the executive branch has become all powerful thus rendering Parliament a rubber stamp. favicon

For other MP responses, see Full MP list

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