Opposition front on receiving end of brickbats from irate supporters for absence of 26 of its MPs during debate on Terrorism Act
KUCHING: Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is scrambling to limit the damage caused by the absence of 26 of its MPs during the voting of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) at 2.25am yesterday despite its vociferous opposition to the bill.
Although the full attendance of PR MPs would not have prevented the passing of Pota as Barisan Nasional (BN) holds the majority at the lower house, their absence riled its supporters and those who were against the passing of the bill, which was passed with 79 BN lawmakers voting in favour and 60 PR MPs voting against.
Many PR supporters who felt let down by their MPs vented their anger through the social media and news portals questioning their commitment in standing walking the talk against what they claimed to be an oppressive law.
The new bill allow authorities to detain suspected terrorists without trial for up to two years, with a Prevention of Terrorism Board empowered to renew the detention order for an indeterminate amount of time.
The opposition lawmakers have opposed to the bill claiming the provisions could be abused to use to silence political opposition, which is similar to the repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 and that the government has other existing laws to deal with terrorism which allows for long detention for investigation.
Left red-faced by their slip PR lawmakers made some attempts to rationalise their absence. The Malay Mail reported the opposition MPs, who were present during the debate of the bill, said their 26 colleagues who were missing had ‘legitimate’ reasons for skipping out, adding that there was no prior instruction for all opposition lawmakers to be present.
“When tabling laws like this, they should give more time as the Act is not a small issue,” PAS Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad told Malay Mail Online, referring to the Home Affairs Ministry.
“Don’t make it normal practice to drag proceedings until 2am,” he added when met at the Parliament lobby.
PAS chief whip Datuk Mahfuz Omar, who was himself absent during the debate, claimed that he had no idea there would be block voting on the anti-terror law.
“I had a planned engagement in Kedah. There was no instruction for us to be present.
“I did not know there would be block voting,” he told Malay Mail Online.
PKR chief whip Datuk Johari Abdul played down the absence of PR MPs, saying that “most” of them were present.
“Most of them were, only a few were not here and we had concrete reasons,” Johari, who was also absent said.
However, their rationalisation cut no ice with their disgruntled supporters as a commentary entitled ‘Pakatan let rakyat down over Pota’ in Malaysiakini drew a slew of condemnation.
A reader who called himself Patriot Dev Anand Pillai said it did not matter if BN has the numbers over PR but what mattered was that at least all the PR MPs should have been present and made a cohesive stand that they were against it.
“This is one good example why Pakatan is not ready to take a bigger responsibility, i.e. to govern the country. Can we know who the 26 were?
Commenting on the absence of the PR MPs, Unimas senior lecturer Dr Jeniri Amir said it just confirmed how split the Pakatan Rakyat really is now.
“Their absence is very irresponsible indeed. As lawmakers, the issue of national security should be debated by both the political divide as it concerns our national security.”
He also said Pakatan as an alternative front would not be seen as a credible opposition pact after this, as they had let down their voters in the most critical hour.
Meanwhile, when contacted, State DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen said all five of its elected members were present during the voting. However, Miri MP Dr Michael Teo of PKR was absent.
As of press time, all efforts to get Teo’s comments to explain his absence were in vain and state PKR chief Baru Bian was also unreachable. However, according to reliable sources, Dr Teo, a gynaecologist , rushed back to Miri to perform a major operation.