The View From Asia

Parliamentary systems need scrutiny too

Commentators call for a review of existing parliamentary procedures to allow legislative systems to deliver better. Here are excerpts.

KL needs closer audit of Bills

Shad Saleem Faruqi
The Star, Malaysia

Some substantive and procedural reforms of Parliament are on the anvil and the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, must be congratulated for initiating them.

The Cabinet has consented to the following four areas of reform:

The Parliamentary Service Act, repealed in the 1980s, will be revived. The Act will separate parliamentary employees from employees of the general public services and strengthen the institutional separation between the executive and the legislature.

There will be an hour of "Ministers' Question Time" once a week when ministers will have to face questions from MPs in person. At the moment, many delegate the job of facing the parliamentary inquisition to their deputies.

More parliamentary select committees will be set up.

The Dewan Rakyat will at times sit in parallel sessions. This will expand parliamentary time and allow the taking up of matters and motions that do not require the decision of the full House.


A television camera filming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivering his policy speech during a plenary session of the House of Representatives at the Diet in Tokyo in January this year. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It is deeply regrettable, however, that the Cabinet has rejected the Speaker's proposal for Committees on Public Bills on the grounds that legislation committees slow down the law-making process and incur heavy cost. Efficiency (speed) has been chosen over effectiveness.

In constitutional theory, the most significant function of Parliament is to enact, amend and repeal legislation or to delegate law-making authority to others. Whether it is an ordinary Act of Parliament or an Emergency Act of Parliament, no legislative proposal can, in theory, become law without going through the fires of scrutiny in both houses of Parliament.

Regrettably, the houses are at their weakest in the matter of parliamentary scrutiny of Bills. Parliament's role in the legislative process is undermined by the Cabinet's pervasive dominance. The executive draws up the legislative agenda, drafts the legislation, determines the schedule and uses its parliamentary majority to push a Bill through without much scrutiny.

The reality of political loyalties prevents a principled and thorough examination. A study undertaken a few years ago revealed that 80 per cent of Bills introduced by the executive are passed without any amendment whatsoever. Fifteen per cent undergo some changes. Five per cent are withdrawn or postponed by the executive. It is clear, therefore, that Parliament legitimises; it does not legislate.

In sum, Parliament should develop a culture of scrutiny.

Does Korea need an Upper House?

Robert Fouser
The Korea Herald, South Korea

Koreans have gone to the polls for the 20th time now to vote for members of the National Assembly.

Since the founding of the Republic of Korea in 1948, elections for the National Assembly have been the most regular of all elections. From 1971 to 1987, presidential elections were suspended and elections for local government offices were held for the first time in 1995. National Assembly elections, by contrast, have been held regularly every three to five years. The regularity of elections has made them the main outlet for citizens to choose their representatives.

Except for the brief experimentation with a parliamentary system in 1960-1961, Korea has a strong presidency and a weak legislature compared with other advanced democracies.

But though it may be relatively weak, the National Assembly remains the most important systemic check on presidential power.

The other important check is massive public demonstrations.

The consistency of  National Assembly elections has also helped to foster future leaders.

Korea has had six presidents since democratisation in 1987, and four of them gained political prominence as leaders in the National Assembly: Mr Kim Young Sam, Mr Kim Dae Jung, Mr Roh Moo Hyun and Ms Park Geun Hye.

Among major democracies, the National Assembly in Korea has a few peculiarities. Korea is the only populous democracy with a unicameral legislature. In most democracies, bicameral legislatures are the norm, though the balance of power often favours the Lower House.

The idea of an Upper House and a Lower House is rooted in the British Parliament, with the elected House of Commons as the Lower House and the appointed House of Lords as the Upper House.

The bicameral legislature in Britain developed over time but, in most nations, a bicameral legislature was a choice. One of the most often cited reasons is that a bicameral legislature allows for a better distribution of power.

In most cases, the Upper House is smaller and elected from larger constituencies than the Lower House.

The Lower House has greater power because it represents smaller constituencies, making it closer to the people.

Another reason for a bicameral legislature is regional balance. The idea came from the need to protect the interests of less-populous states.

The idea of adopting a bicameral system in Korea may seem odd, particularly at a time when public trust in politicians is low. Still, more discussion is needed on the structure of the National Assembly.

LDP, DP must find common ground

Editorial
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The legislature has a duty to correct the vote-value disparity in House of Representatives elections.

Both the ruling and opposition parties should realise without fail the reform of the electoral system during the current Diet session.

Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima held talks with representatives of each party and asked the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Democratic Party (DP) to quickly submit their Bills to revise the Public Offices Election Law and other relevant laws, and to form a conclusion on electoral reform by the end of the current Diet session.

In other words, Mr Oshima has for now relinquished his attempt to combine the ideas of all the parties to reform the Lower House election system.

The election system is the foundation of democracy. Because of its nature, the system should be reviewed based on a broad consensus.

It is regrettable that the ruling party and main opposition party are taking different approaches to the reform.

Since transition to the new electoral system is likely to require more than a year due to the need to review the demarcation of electoral districts and publicise the relevant Bills to voters after they are enacted, the ruling and opposition parties must hasten deliberations.

  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.network
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Parliamentary systems need scrutiny too'. Print Edition | Subscribe