Persons with Disabilities Currently without a Voice in Parliament, Don’t Forget Inclusive Democracy’s Aspiration

Today marks the eleventh day, the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) community is without representation in the Dewan Negara after three years of Datuk Ras Adiba Mohd Radzi serving as the Senator representing the disabled community. Until today, there is no announcement from the Malaysia Madani Government either about the process of appointing a senator representing PwDs to fill the vacancy or whether the term of the third senator representing PwDs will be extended. The vacancy should not be allowed to continue as it had happened before.

After the demise of Prof. Datuk Dr. Ismail Md Salleh in 2009, we had to wait for 4 years before Ms. Bathmavathi Krishnan was appointed as the second senator representing PwDs in the Dewan Negara in November 2013. Additionally, after Ms. Bathmavathi completed her second term in November 2019, the appointment of the third senator representing PwDs took several months. Ideally, the nomination process, including re-nomination as well as the candidate evaluation process should have begun much earlier in order to ensure the disabled community is duly represented at all times in Parliament just as much as any other non-disabled citizen of Malaysia.

Apart from that, the process of nomination and evaluation of senatorial candidates representing PwDs seems to be a secret. This is against the principles of transparency and accountability. The election and appointment of the Senator representing the disabled community should not be done solely based on superficial identity politics. Just because a candidate is disabled, the candidate will not necessarily be able to represent us effectively. On the other hand, the selection and appointment of senators representing PwDs should be based on important qualities as our main voice in Parliament.

In our media statement in Bahasa Malaysia dated February 18, 2023 as well as it’s English language version dated 6 March 2023 which was released with SIUMAN and several PwDs organizations, we suggested that the Malaysia Madani Government improve the nomination, screening and appointment process to be open and transparent for the positions of the Senator representing PwDs, members of the National Council for the Disabled (MKBOKU) and members of the Technical Committees under the MKBOKU.

We reiterate our recommendation that the process of nomination, re-nomination and evaluation of senatorial candidates representing the PwDs should be in an open, transparent and responsible manner. The Malaysia Madani Government needs to be clear, committed and firm in this matter. The Malaysia Madani Government should consider this as part of issues critical to the institutional reform agenda. We urge the Malaysia Madani Government to take the following initial steps:

  1. The process and information regarding the nomination should be made transparently, in a clear and easy to understand language and in a format that is accessible by all Malaysians including the disabled community. We have a right to know when and how the process takes place. The call for nominations should be disseminated through various media channels, including social media.
  2. The profile of each candidate must be shared with the general public via a platform that is easily accessible by the public, especially by PwDs. The Government can emulate the Australian Electoral Commission in this matter, not only for the profile of senatorial candidates representing PwDs but also for the non-disabled candidates so that the nomination system for senators is more transparent.
  3. The process of selection and evaluation of senatorial candidates must be broadcast to the general public via a medium that is accessible by all, including the disabled community, similar to Parliament sessions and Special Meetings of the Dewan Negara. These mediums include publishing, television, digital and social media. Accessibility aspects, such as the provision of Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM) interpreters and closed captions, should be among the inherent features throughout the broadcast.
  4. The Government should also create an independent committee that will evaluate the senatorial candidates. At least 75% of the total members of the evaluation and the selection committee must be among PwDs with expertise and experience in PwD affairs. Committee members must also declare any form of conflict of interest, if any.
  5. We would like to remind the Government that only ONE person carries our voice in the whole Parliament. According to the 1% PwD Policy, there should be THREE Senators representing PwDs which allows up to three of the seven categories of PwDs in Malaysia to be represented at any one time in Parliament.

We want a representative who can truly speak for our community. We deserve and need to be more meaningfully involved in the process of choosing our representative(s). This is in line with Article 29(b) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). In the same spirit, the Government should also take into account the views that have been issued by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in General comment No. 7 (2018) on the participation of persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their through their representative organizations, in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention.

In line with the commitment given by the Government to the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, it is very important for the Government to create a fair, peaceful and inclusive Malaysian society (Goal 16). The Government should prove its commitment to make goals 16.6 and 16.7 become a reality.

With that, the Malaysia Madani Government is the beginning of the Malaysian Government that involves the disabled community in all decision processes that involve us, commensurate with Prime Minister’s speech which says “No one will be marginalized under my government” and is also in line with the principle 2030 Sustainable Development Goals that is making sure no one is left behind.

About Us

Boleh Space is a social enterprise as well as an advocacy and awareness movement for Disability Rights led 100% by persons with disabilities

SIUMAN is a collective of mental patients and allies fighting for socioeconomic & political equity & equality for the mentally ill.