A new dawn for Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy

Given all that happened in the last 3 months, the 1st Dewan Rakyat session today is expected to be anything but ordinary

By P PREM KUMAR & ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

In what would be his final speech as Dewan Rakyat speaker in April, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia had said he was ready to face any disappointment should he be forced to relinquish his position as he calmly remarked, “those on the left (Opposition block) may win and sit on the right”.

As we know now, his “prophecy” had come to pass via the May 9 election — which was not only a water-shed moment for Malaysian politics, but a game changer in the mind and heart of all Malaysians.

Not only was there a historic shift at the federal government level, but the once formidable Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has also been reduced to a tripartite group — the original composition of the alliance formed before the country’s independence.

As dispirited component parties headed for the exit from BN, the 14th Parliament sitting will see more factions than before. Given all that have happened in the last three months, the first session beginning today is expected to be anything but ordinary. This promises to be a very different Dewan Rakyat.

Highlight of the proceeding today would be the return of Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a lawmaker in the Dewan Rakyat after leaving the august house in 2003 as the country’s PM too. He had then represented his hometown Kubang Pasu.

The swearing in of the new Dewan Rakyat speaker, as well as two deputies, would also be closely watched to determine Pakatan Harapan’s choice for the coveted position in the parliamentary system.

New Speaker Mohamad Ari will have the chance to uplift the status of Parliament, which experts said has fallen to its lowest ebb (www.ccalaw.com)

When Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof assumes the mantle of the Dewan Rakyat Speaker today — as he is expected to — he will be given the chance to uplift the status of Parliament which has fallen to its lowest ebb, said experts.

Dr Mahathir had confirmed that Mohamad Ariff would be nominated as the speaker of the Dewan Rakyat when the first meeting of the first session of the 14th Parliament convenes today.

Apart from that, the latest Dewan Rakyat session marks a new beginning for some agencies such as the Election Commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Public Service Commission, Education Service Commission and Judicial Appointments Commission. These agencies, which were previously under the Prime Minister’s Department, will now report directly to Parliament.

All remaining 199 MPs are required to take oath witnessed by the new speaker after the speaker’s installation. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V is expected to open the 14th Parliament’s first meeting tomorrow.

Former Deputy Prime Minister and current Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is expected to be Opposition leader, occupying the first seat on the speaker’s left.

On the 222-seat composition in Parliament alone, changes are aplenty. Pakatan Harapan has 114 MPs, but with eight MPs from Parti Warisan Sabah, it stands tall at 122 MPs — which gives the coalition a comfortable simple majority in the house for the ruling government.

For BN, the coalition has gone from losing a two-thirds majority in 2008 to winning a low of 79 seats in the recent election. However, the departure of several component par- ties and the resignation of three Umno MPs from the political outfit have left the Opposition coalition with only 54 seats.

Some 19 MPs from Sarawak who stood under BN’s ticket in the last election will also be representing a now neutral pact of Sarawak-based parties known as Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

PAS, who vied to become the kingmaker by securing 40 seats in the recent general election, had to settle with just 18 seats — 14% of the 130 Parliament seats it contested.

United Sabah Alliance and two other independents make up the remaining seats.

The Parliament meeting, which convenes today for 20 days until Aug 16, will also witness 90 MPs making their debut in the Dewan Rakyat — the highest ever recorded in the country. P Prabakaran, Pakatan Harapan’s Batu MP, is the youngest of the lot at 22.

The session will see the comeback of 11 ex-parliamentarians and 121 MPs from the 13th Parliament who were successfully re-elected.

Expectations are high that these changes will indeed reflect a new Parliament that is committed to reforms and engage in high-quality debate. The proposed extension of question time to at least 30 minutes a week is aimed at serving this intent.

The majority of Malaysians who have opted to end BN’s 61-year reign will not want to see old practices of rushing through bills and jeering others from across the room.

MPs, therefore, should act with respect and display a degree of gallantry, with those more experienced expected to lead the way. Members of the Opposition are expected to criticise the government without fear of disciplinary action.

Pakatan Harapan MPs will be forced to remember their days as Opposition and give due attention to comments made by the other side of the house.

Having said all this, the people will also expect Pakatan Harapan to fulfil its pledge to abolish or amend certain laws. The Anti-Fake News Act 2018 and Sedition Act 1948 are seen as among the top priorities, with other “draconian” laws also promised to be repealed.

But with a diverse composition of MPs this time around, it will be interesting to see how this new Parliament will arrive at amicable decisions. One thing for sure is that the people will be watching.