Green Paper on FTPA is needed to pre-empt misinformation

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau, Member of Parliament for Tuaran
Honorary President of United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO)


KOTA KINABALU: I call upon the Cabinet to instruct the Legal Affairs Division (BHEUU) to prepare a green paper on the debated Fixed Term Parliament Act (FPTA).
Unlike a white paper which indicates government’s commitment and detailed plan for a certain policy or reform, a green paper facilitates public discussion by providing correct information on various proposals to solicit public feedback without committing the government on any proposal.
Green Paper can check misinformation
Hence, green paper has two important advantages as compared to a comprehensive study that leads to a government’s position: first, it is an open-ended invitation for all segments of society can contribute to the debate in an informed and factual manner; second, it can avoid a long delay which allows building up of misinformation.
The green paper on FTPA should cover the following aspects to facilitate informed deliberation and dispel misinformation:
(a) What are the variants of FTP laws applied in the world? What are the key features that differentiate these variants? What considerations led to these laws? how are their implementation to date?
(b) What are the feasible alternative models that may be adopted for Malaysia? What parameters from the global variants should be considered? Any innovation is necessary to suit our national conditions?
(c) For the alternative model that Malaysia may consider, how would each of them affect the powers and functions of His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA), Prime Minister (PM), political parties in government, and parliamentarians?  
Variants of FTPA have been implemented in decades in democracies from Norway, Sweden, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Northen Ireland, the Australian states, to Germany, and not limited to the United Kingdom as many misperceive, with abundance of research literature, a green paper is possible to be tabled at Dewan Rakyat before the first session in 2024 ends on 27 March.
I am particularly concerned that two types of misinformation, which may be driven by limited understanding or ideological predisposition, may dominate the debate so much so that FTPA may be politically unfeasible even if the Government wants it later.  
The first type of misinformation asserts that the FTPA would definitely affect the YDPA’s discretionary power to withhold PM’s request for early dissolution of Parliament under Article 40(2)(b), as the UK’s FTPA did. Such assertion ignores proposals by Bersih and Projek SAMA which completely avoids constitutional amendment and leaves the King’s power untouched.
This misinformation can clearly alarm many Malay-Muslim voters, who had staunchly opposed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 2018 and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2019.
FTPA benefits Borneo regions and parties
The second type of misinformation targets the political elites and the public of Sabah and Sarawak. Some opinion leaders try to create an impression that the FTPA would revive a BN-like new hegemonic coalition, such that Sabah and Sarawak will lose their stronger bargaining power they enjoy since 2018.
For these opinion leaders, the stability of national politics and regional interests of the Borneo regions is inevitably a zero-sum game. They fear the Madani Government would become too strong and hence the FTPA must be stopped.
As a fifth-term parliamentarian from Sabah, who witnessed and experienced the political turbulence since Sheraton Move from the inside first hand, allow me to list three benefits that a well-drafted FTPA may bring to Borneo-based parties and by extension, Sabah and Sarawak.
First, the FTPA must, in a package, entail amendments to the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders to prioritise motions of no-confidence and confidence. If any federal government in future hurts the interest of Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo-based parties can easily move to unseat the government in the floor of Dewan Rakyat.
As we witnessed under the speakership of Tan Sri Azhar Harun , currently government business takes precedence and motions of no-confidence never get to be debated.
Second, the FTPA would permanently close the door on the collection and counting of statutory declarations (SDs) by parliamentarians, reviving the pre-2009 (Perak) status quo. The shadowy game of SDs hurts not just national political stability, but also individual parties in negotiation of government formation.
Because of SDs, UMNO almost lost 10 votes in the post-GE15 inter-party negotiation. How could GPS and other Borneo-based parties benefit from keeping the door of SDs open?
Third, the FTPA will prevent PM to seek royal consent for early dissolution at whim. He would need two-third support from Dewan Rakyat. This practically means PM cannot call for an early election at a time disadvantageous for GPS, GRS and other Borneo parties.
Time to consider state-level FTPA
If we can have a well-drafted FTPA that suits Malaysia’s needs, why should it be limited to the Federal Parliament, and not extended to all 13 state legislatures (DUNs)? The latter must of course be a decision made by each state, not imposed as in the case of anti-hopping law.
If we have an FTP law for Sabah, unless the GRS-led state government loses majority (almost impossible) or two-third of state assemblypersons support an early dissolution, the 16th DUN of Sabah would serve till the midnight of 25 October 2025. What wrong with such certainty? What benefits do we Sabahans enjoy with on-and-off rumours of early election?
With a green paper, every state can have informed discussion on the matter both for the Parliament and their own DUN. 

Putrajaya should realise the top-down decision-making – basic decision made first, state-level engagements later – can be off-putting, especially for Sabah and Sarawak people.
We are tired of just being asked to take side. We want an active role in the discussion. With a green paper, we Sabahans and Sarawakians can organise our informed debates and set our own agenda.
Wait-and-see is dangerous
Given the deeply divided nature of our society, green paper should be made a standard practice to introduce public debate on any reform that may be potentially divisive.
Government is wise to not push FTPA before a cross-party consensus emerges. It is however dangerous to adopt a wait-and-see approach on public discourse with no government inputs. We must learn from the lesson in ICERD and the Rome Statute.
If the Government does not lay down the parameters for rational discussion, the informational void for lay persons would be exploited by political entrepreneurs and political operatives who may not even own up for their misguidance.
Four years after Malaysia’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the Gaza broke out, and Malaysia could not refer Israel to the ICC over its war crime in Gaza, as South Africa is doing. Where are the four professors who so successfully campaigned against the Rome Stature?
If we choose eventually not to have an FTPA, that should be a conscious choice based on values: majoritarianism and autonomy of individual parliamentarians on government formation, not because of unfounded fears that this would weaken constitutional monarchy or the bargaining power of Borneo regions and parties.

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