Name: Er Teck Hwa
Party: DAP (Opposition)
Years as MP: Since 2008
Government position: None
Johor committee member (political education director)
Muar branch chairperson
Muar Socialist Youth chairperson
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucuses: None
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?
For [starters], I will simply say yes. This long outdated Act can be described as draconian, inhuman or barbaric. I do not see any reason to amend or review the ISA at this point. There should be no compromise or replacement of particular provisions; the entire Act has to be abolished.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
To answer this controversial question, firstly, I cannot simply “think” if Malaysia should be an Islamic state or not. To “think” can mean to “assume”, and we cannot assume without referring to the terms and conditions stated clearly in the Federal Constitution.
I would like to refer to Articles 3, 11 and 152. These articles share certain similarities. For instance, Bahasa Malaysia is our national language, provided no one is prohibited from [using, learning or teaching] other languages. Islam is our national religion, but other religions may be practised in peace. We must read these clauses as a whole.
We cannot recognise Islam as our national religion, yet at the same time ignore the rights of other religions. We cannot recognise Bahasa Malaysia as our national language and at the same time ignore the rights of others to learn their own languages.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfil your role?
Some say we are lawmakers; I would rather define myself as the “people’s representative”. I think my role should be separated equally: 50% for my constituency, and 50% for Parliament.
By spending enough time in my constituency, I can listen to their problems and understand the issues they face. When these issues are compiled into a series of questions, I can raise them with the government and follow up on the progress. At the same time, looking at issues regarding the government’s new policies and laws also forms part of my work.
Parliament definitely does not provide us, as opposition MPs, sufficient and necessary infrastructure. In fact, to run an MP’s office, we need at least three staff, excluding the MP. We need an office clerk, a case worker and a parliamentary data analyser. In the British Parliament, [staff] are allocated for all MPs. In Malaysia, the only official post allocated for MPs in their allowance is for a driver.
Parliament pays RM1,200 to employ a driver. Do we need a driver to do our constituency work? Not really. An imported luxury car plus a driver will not improve our service efficiency. To improve, we need capable people from all around the country to help us to analyse the issues. As we always say, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
It is relatively easier to get an office clerk to handle daily paperwork, reports, complaints and so on. But when it comes to hiring efficient case workers and data analysers, qualified university graduates are preferred. What kind of salary would a good data analyser expect? Probably RM3,000 and above. Furthermore, this is considered an “insecure” job, where you do not expect a yearly bonus or salary increment.
Another issue I wish to highlight is about Parliament facilities. Apart from those with ministry positions, an MP’s only working space is their own seats in the Dewan. We also have a private locker. If we need to have discussions, we go to our party office, the cafeteria, or the Dewan corridors. There is no private workstation for MPs to do paperwork or research. These issues have been raised during the last budget debate, and both ruling and opposition parties agree this issue should be resolved as soon as possible.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
Yes, I would. What made the “political tsunami” happen in 2008? Part of the answer is the cyber [strategies] that the Pakatan Rakyat widely employed.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
This is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many things that need to be strengthened. I would rather say “save our parliamentary democracy” than “strengthen our parliamentary democracy”.
Improvements have to be done simultaneously and not in [order of] priority. If I really have to choose, I would say amend the Parliament Act and Standing Orders to allow the establishment of a shadow cabinet.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
Yes, I do. Separation of powers is fundamental in a democracy. Belief is one thing from the ideological aspect.
In reality, is separation of powers really workable? Some say, “Yes, it definitely works, look at all the advanced countries in the world. Their success is because of the implementation of separation of powers.” The Rembau MP said, “It is by nature not possible to have complete separation of powers between government and Parliament.” Some even gave a short sociopolitical lecture on what is separation of powers [in their MP Watch answers].
Regardless of whether our model of governance is constructed of three or five branches, we have to look at the basics. Is it humans who rule the constitution, or the other way round? Take the Weimar Constitution, or the constitution of the German Reich, for example. When a democracy falls into a dictator’s hands, separation of powers becomes concentration of power. When we talk about the government, it is constituted of a group of politicians elected by the people. The people’s mindset determines the outcome of the governance. Do not forget that Adolf Hitler was elected [democratically] by the people’s votes.
Hence, I would say I believe in the separation of powers, but it will only work when a majority of our people believe in it.
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