Anecdotes of the last Dewan Rakyat sitting

The Felda White Paper and historic bill to amend the Federal Constitution for Sabah and Sarawak’s equal status take the limelight

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by TMR FILE PIX

The Dewan Rakyat adjourned last Thursday after a hectic 20-day sitting which witnessed a failed constitutional amendment, several contentious bills being tabled, more financial scandals unraveled and new allegiances formed.

The much-awaited white paper on the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) proved to be the highlight of this session, with a total of seven bills — including the supplementary supply and departure levy — approved in the lower house.

A historic bill to amend the Federal Constitution to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s equal status, however, failed to get the needed two-thirds support as the Opposition and Sarawak lawmakers decided to abstain from voting.

While much of the attention was focused on serious business taking place in the Dewan Rakyat, it was the unscripted and often off-record moments that truly made it as an eventful sitting session. Here are some things you may have missed during this session:

‘DYMM’ Mahathir Mohamad

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is known for his trademark wit. One would expect nothing less from the 93-year-old when he was asked to describe the process involved in the recent resignation of Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian during a news conference at the Parliament lobby.

Dr Mahathir, who is one never avoiding probing questions from the media, had everyone in stitches when he replied that Osman had tendered his resignation to “Duli Yang Maha Mulia (DYMM) Mahathir Mohamad”. The Malay title “DYMM”, equivalent to Royal Highness, is used to address the Malay Sultans.

Typically cool with his killer one-liners, Dr Mahathir couldn’t help but laughed at his own gag this time.

The comment was, of course, in reference to the Johor royal household, as questions were raised on to whom Osman submitted his resignation letter.

The PM’s Unusual Interjection

While interjections made during a debate is common, one by the sitting PM is not. It was also unusual for the PM to sit in the august house to listen to ongoing debates on a particular issue or proposed law.

However, this was not the case with Dr Mahathir. During the debate on the Felda White Paper tabled on April 10, the Langkawi MP stood to interject Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan (Pontian-Barisan Nasional [BN]), when the latter was aggressively arguing that Felda, through its

listed arm FGV Holdings Bhd, had remained profitable and suffered losses only when the Pakatan Harapan government took over.

Ahmad, shocked with Dr Mahathir’s request to interject, said he was willing to give his entire debate time if its Dr Mahathir who is interjecting.

“As the representative for Langkawi, I am amazed by the ‘fairy tales’ being presented.

“What I am puzzled about is why didn’t he (Ahmad) tell this to his ‘bossku’ (former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak) as that would spare us the problems and there would not be any Felda White Paper. However, some crooks have left their marks, and this is what we are left with to clean up,” said Dr Mahathir, drawing table thumping from the backbenchers and ministers.

To claim that FGV had indeed made profits, Dr Mahathir simply replied: “Where did the billions go? Please show us where the money is.”

MP for ‘Facebook’ Constituency

Moving from the sitting PM to a former, Najib still pulls strings on various issues being debated in the august house. He, however, does not do it in person.

His Facebook page is kept active, more than when he was serving as PM between 20092018 and Najib was absent from the Dewan Rakyat in the last session, partly due to the dozens of cases pending in court.

Najib’s rebuttals and “revelations”, however, irked some, particularly Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali — in the case of the Felda White Paper.

Azmin questioned Najib’s absence during the tabling and debate of the white paper, in contrast to the Pekan MP enthusiasm on Facebook.

“Let him come and debate, and I will respond to him. Don’t use Facebook. He is an MP (for Pekan), he needs to be in Parliament. He is not an MP for Facebook or Twitter,” said an irritated Azmin.

Since his historic defeat in the 14th General Election, Najib has somehow used social networking platforms to influence debates of the Opposition MPs in the Dewan Rakyat.

Absentees

Similar to Najib, some notable MPs from the Opposition had been absent from a significant part of the session. This includes former Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (Bagan DatukBN), former ministers Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz (Padang Rengas-BN) and Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor (Putrajaya-BN).

Besides them, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (Marang-PAS) was also absent most of the days.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law) Datuk Liew Vui Keong had recently raised the issue of absent MPs after four Pakatan Harapan lawmakers were found absent during the vote to pass the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Dewan Rakyat.

Among those missing during the crucial moment for the government were Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik (Simpang Renggam-Pakatan Harapan), Deputy Primary Industries Minister Datuk Seri Shamsul Iskandar (Hang Tuah Jaya-Pakatan Harapan), Noor Amin Ahmad (Kangar-Pakatan Harapan) and Muslimin Yahya (Sungai Besar-Pakatan Harapan).

Those absent from the Opposition side during the voting were Najib, Ahmad Zahid, Mohamed Nazri, former Law Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (Pengerang-BN) and Abdul Hadi.

The Dewan Rakyat is now on a three-month hiatus. The next sitting is expected to commence on July 1, 2019.