The word august is often used as an adjective to describe houses of parliaments around the world, including our Dewan Rakyat. The word means majestic dignity or grandeur, and to an extent is supposed to be used in reference to Parliament as the temple of democracy.
So, this adjective is used to constantly remind our elected representatives of where they are, what they ought to do and how they should behave. Unfortunately, the Dewan Rakyat has suffered a massive decline in its image over the past few decades.
Malaysians have often mocked the opening of Parliament as “the circus coming back to town”, with some using unsavoury words that can’t be stated here. Some of the misbehaving MPs do not deserve the honorific salutation of “Yang Berhormat” before their names.
The quality of debates in the past has often been pathetic, reduced to shouting matches, name-calling and blatant sexist comments. The usual suspects come from both sides of the aisle.
Malaysians are hoping that expletives, swear words and gender insults will be a thing of the past. The MPs must remember that new Undi18 voters will be closely watching their demeanour and misbehaviour too.
So, the next Speaker and the newly-elected MPs have to prove to Malaysians that they deserve to be in the august temple of democracy, bringing reforms as promised in their election campaigns.
Speaking about reforms, some of the new government’s actions have sacrificed reforms in order to stay in power, keep Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister and stop the conservative Perikatan Nasional (PN) from forming the government.
For a start, the government led by Pakatan Harapan could have shown it is serious about wanting reforms by appointing a Speaker with no active political links now or in the past, thus providing a semblance of neutrality.
Although this is a great opportunity to show the government’s commitment to reform, PH did not capitalise on it. News reports have it that PH has nominated Johari Abdul, a former three-term Sungai Petani MP and a hardcore PKR man. The nomination, if true, is nothing but a reward for his being an unflinching party man.
To make it completely partisan, MPs from Barisan Nasional and DAP have been nominated for the posts of deputy speaker. PN did not do better as it is said to have submitted the name of Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, a former Umno minister now with Bersatu.
I guess PN may not be taking this too seriously: going by the current parliamentary strength, its candidate will surely lose to those from the PH-led unity government, unless some MPs break ranks during the vote on Dec 19.
So, despite PH’s promises of a Malaysian Utopia, we are seeing politics of patronage creeping into the current government’s appointments once again. Candidates who lost will be coming to the Dewan Rakyat through the back door as ministers and deputy ministers, after being appointed senators.
However, I believe Malaysians are willing to close an eye here owing to how they view the alternative – a PAS-Bersatu combination – as being the worse of two evils. The people may give the new government a year or so to assess its performance.
In the meantime, Malaysians expect the new Speaker to uphold the integrity of his office by being impartial, putting aside party and sectarian interests. He or she must not only be seen to be non-partisan if they want the insults on our lawmakers stopped.
So, motions that are urgent and of public interest must be allowed.
Let the Speaker and his or her deputies be forewarned that the new Dewan Rakyat is in uncharted territory, with an opposition bloc comprising 100% Malay-Muslim MPs from PAS and Bersatu. This has never happened in our parliamentary history.
Based on the parties’ ideologies, you can expect debates to be focussed on unprecedented exchanges on race and religion instead of healthy discussions on how to take the nation forward through political and economic stability.
Tempers will obviously flare and if it results in blatant racial or religious attacks using parliamentary privilege, the inflammatory clips will surely be shared on social media in real time. The impact of this undesirable behaviour of MPs could lead to social unrest.
So, Mr Speaker, you and your deputies have an onerous task to keep the MPs of both sides in check with firmness and impartiality, and most importantly, without selective treatment please.
This could be a start to bringing back decorum and dignity to the august house. Prove that your appointments go beyond politics of patronage.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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