Press Release from Bersih 2.0 (6 May 2020): Parliament Sitting Is Not Only Possible But Imperative To Uphold Parliamentary Democracy

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) is deeply concerned with the decision of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government to convene the next sitting of Dewan Rakyat for just one day on May 18. Presumably, the justification for such an unprecedented move is the need to maintain social distancing amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic. But it is our assertion that the primacy of Parliament as a check and balance to the Executive must not be sidelined, especially during this period to ensure that the important agenda of debating and approving key legislation and budgets related to the impact of the COVID-19 can be carried out.

With the easing of the Movement Control Order (MCO) by the PN government to allow most businesses in the country to begin operation from 4th May, albeit with strict conditions, it is untenable and illogical for the PN government to avoid holding Parliament sittings as normal or at the very least for two weeks, especially when there are options available to maintain social distancing.

One such option is to hold virtual sittings where Member of Parliaments (MPs) can connect remotely from their home or in another room within Parliament itself. The UK Parliament has already allowed MPs to participate in questions (including PMQs), urgent questions and ministerial statements via video link. A maximum of 50 MPs is allowed into their Chamber at any one time to comply with social distancing guidelines. It should be noted that compared to the UK’s House of Commons Chamber, our Dewan Rakyat is extremely spacious. The fact that all 222 MPs could be seated in the hall in compliance with social distancing guidelines on 18th May testify to this.

Since the Parliament last met on December 2019, we have witnessed a change in government with the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and the formation of the PN government under Muhyiddin Yassin as the 8th Prime Minister. Under Article 55(1)(2) of the Federal Constitution, unless the Parliament sits within six months from its last session, the Yang Di Pertuan Agong has to dissolve Parliament. It is clear that the intention of the PN government is to avoid the automatic dissolution of Parliament by holding a perfunctory sitting just two weeks before the deadline.

Bersih 2.0 calls on the PN government under PM Muhyiddin to uphold the primacy of Parliament by holding a more substantive parliamentary session to debate urgent measures to handle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This session could utilise online video-conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Web Meetings and Google Meet to ensure that MPs can participate remotely and safely from their home or even from another part of Parliament House.

Without doubt, when it comes to holding to virtual parliament sittings, there are issues of the legal basis for remote participation, the security of the application used and authentication when it comes to voting. But we believe that these challenges are not beyond the capability of our technical and legal experts to overcome if there is a political will to uphold parliamentary democracy. This beckons the question, is there a political will for the Muhyiddin government to face his parliamentary colleagues or will he hide behind the increasingly lame excuse of the COVID-19 virus?

Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of Bersih 2.0