Stop long nights in Parliament

READING Facebook feeds of lawmakers last Wednesday, I noticed that the Dewan Rakyat was still in session at midnight.

This was not the first time that sessions have gone past midnight. It is understood to be a technique to ramrod any law and show how "efficient they've been in doing their job".

It is akin to long cram sessions you had in university, or the final nights before a presentation to finish a project. Sadly, neither are effective, be it getting a good grade point average, or even ensuring the proper debate of laws.

Government should stop doing these last-minute acts primarily because it does not promote work life balance or even sanity to have enough MPs sit for more than 12 hours just passing laws to the point of falling asleep in the hall.

The last time this happened was in April, when eight legal bills were debated in a row until 5am. Among the laws passed was that on tourism tax – proof of how inefficient passing laws urgently without debate can be.

To this day, the tourism tax is still facing hurdles, with multiple flip-flops and changes, accompanied by mudslinging between the federal minister and state ministers.

The solution is simple – to have more parliamentary sittings lasting from 8am to 6pm, from Mondays to Fridays, divided into three meetings a year lasting 15 weeks for each meeting, with a two- or three-week gap in between.

Any further time off, will be for the MPs to decide.

Parliamentarians are called "lawmakers" because they are appointed to sit in Parliament and make laws – not attend weddings, forums, buka puasa events, don colourful songket sampin for Friday prayers, or even to attend ceramah to criticise the other side.

All of this is not in their job description and the public should stop encouraging it. They are duty-bound to stay in Parliament to debate laws which are to be passed and ensure the voices and questions posed by their constituents are heard.

That is all. It is not to go on talking bad about each other, nor is it to attend opening ceremonies and talk to reporters about reaction pieces, nor are they tasked to moan about their pet peeves.

Is the public ready for this? I only ask because the public insists on treating politicians like rock stars, with dinners and concerts; with crowd interaction similar to Orwell's sheep, merely pressing on the same points and joining the choir.

We seem to have political parties more insistent on keeping a record of how their elected lawmakers turn up at such events, rather than rate their attendance and have them state their votes in either the Parliament or state assemblies.

And most of this is due to public pressure of wanting their elected officials to turn up or be scorned for "not doing their jobs" of meeting the grassroots. Well, it isn't their job. An elected parliamentarian is supposed to be away from the constituency to be the voice of his area in Parliament, not back in his constituency or on a ceramah road trip.

The failure of the public to understand this, goes to show the immaturity of the electorate in understanding politics.

Thus, instead of having proper debates at civilised hours of the day, and having more legal bills in the docket to be presented and passed, what we have are sudden periods of long nights and early mornings to no one's benefit.

Yes, we do need to reform parliament and the debates, as well as keep it all proper and civil. But at the same time, the public must learn that lawmakers are not their rock stars and idols who must go on tour to please them.

Their first and only duty should be to remain rooted in Parliament and ensure our laws are up to date. Failure to understand this will limit our ability to progress as a nation, and keep laws outdated for decades to the point that even the amendments become ancient and irrelevant.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: