OFFICIALLY, it is called the First Meeting of the First Session of the Fourteenth Parliament 2018 — the House of Representatives.
Quite a mouthful. It can also be called the 14th Parliament session, that is the first parliamentary session after the historic 14th general election. To many of us, it is the “new parliament”. It is, after all, the first time the nation has a new government in the august house. Hence, the nationwide interest in its opening this week. It is scheduled to sit from July 16 to Aug 18.
Eminent former civil servants’ group G25, has this to say about the new parliament, stressing the immediate need for parliamentary reforms: ”We do not wish for a weak parliament anymore, which merely rubber stamps the wishes of the Executive”, insisting that “Malaysians deserve a vibrant and effective check against the Executive”.
Obviously G25 views the parliament under Barisan Nasional rule as a weak rubber stamping outfit “subservient” to the ruling coalition. Many would agree. Thus, the group wants Pakatan Harapan, being the new government, to “ show it is serious in reforming parliament”.
And playing a crucial role in restoring the dignity of parliament, says G25, is the Speaker of the House, whom the group sees as the epicentre of it all.
But at the time of writing, the Speaker has not been announced. The delay is open to all kinds of interpretations, which all can read and see, especially on social media, which I have no intention of repeating here.
But suffice to say, it is a given that the role of the Speaker is crucial to the proper functioning of parliament, as mentioned by G25.
Media commentator Bob Teoh, in his column in Malaysiakini, writes that the Speaker has extensive and “even excessive” powers and “this includes imposing limits on the posing of supplementary questions during Question Time, the power to restrict the tabling of questions for Question Time and the power to amend written copies of speeches made by members of the House before they are given verbally”.
And Teoh went on to write, “As witnessed when [Tan Sri] Pandikar Amin Mulia was Speaker, he could even disallow emergency motions for debate, like the ones relating to the alleged 1MDB corruption and money laundering, the Altantuya Shaaribuu murder or the purchase of overpriced French Scorpene submarines.”
Pandikar Amin was from BN and was frequently accused of shifting the goalposts to favour the then BN government.
With parliamentary reforms being one of the promises of the PH administration, it is no wonder that the appointment of the new Speaker is being closely watched by civil society groups and Malaysians in general.
Perhaps to ensure that the aspirations of Malaysians are met, PH is extra diligent in choosing the Speaker, thus the delay in naming its choice. The delay is not because of some political manoeuvring of sorts.
According to parliamentary standing orders, the nomination for Speaker must be submitted 14 days before the sitting and it is said PH could have missed the deadline. The first order of business, according to the house rules, is the motion on the appointment of the Speaker.
The Dewan Rakyat cannot sit without a Speaker and the 222 newly elected MPs cannot be sworn in. And, as Teoh pointed out, further confounding the situation is the fact that if the deadlock is not resolved within 24 hours the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may not be able to deliver his royal address and there might not be any business in parliament to conduct.
All this is unprecedented, of course. Hopefully, by the time this is published, the royal address has been delivered and parliament is in session with a Speaker who is respected by all and has integrity, who presides fairly and who can help parliament achieve all that Malaysians want.
But just what do Malaysians want?
Well, for one, that parliament should repeal the laws that are said to be draconian — one of the issues PH has put at the top of its agenda. We all know what these laws are.
Another is for the Executive to be kept in check. I can safely say that the meetings will be vibrant. PH backbenchers, I believe, will provide checks and balances against the government. And both can agree to disagree.
Already the Parti Keadilan Rakyat MP for Setiawangsa Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad has said he will be vocal in parliament in ensuring reforms are carried out and promises fulfilled, especially those involving the youth.
Other PH backbenchers, I feel, will do the same. Of course, they will be accused of having an axe to grind or PH itself will be accused of being not united.
But bear in mindthat people expect, or rather, demand that PH MPs act independently. And in the event they do not agree with certain government initiatives, they should express their displeasure and not just toe the party line as the BN backbenchers did back in the day. This despite the presence of the party whip.
As for the opposition, led by Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, it is the rakyat’s wish that they play their role effectively and fairly. Playing up racial and religious issues simply does not cut it. If anything, it will only lead to more divisive politics. Can they do that?
In a nutshell, parliament must live up to its status as the august house.
Mohsin Abdullah is contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for over four decades.