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Stormy day in Parliament; rocky start for Art

Art Harun - Graphic: syariman/Malaysiakini

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Anil Netto looks back at a chaotic day in the Dewan Rakyat as a sitting Speaker is removed amid an uproar by opposition MPs.

I was bewildered by what I saw in Parliament this afternoon.

The Perikatan Nasional government did get its majority to remove the Speaker by the slimmest of margins – 111-109. So it is likely the government has a 113-109 majority given that one deputy speaker couldn’t vote and one PN MP was away on medical leave – though this has not yet been actually tested in a motion of no-confidence.

But what was the reason for removing the Speaker – the best we have had in memory?

The outgoing speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusoff told the press that in the UK, a speaker has never been removed in its parliament’s 800-year history. The only other case in the Commonwealth that he could think of was the 1995 speaker crisis in Trinidad and Tobago when a speaker was forcibly removed – but do we really want to emulate that?

Ariff made a dignified exit, saying he hoped parliamentary reforms would continue under his successor. He also stressed the importance of freedom of the media, especially in Parliament.

And then in came the new Speaker, Art Harun. Let’s just say I expected a lot more from him. But it looked as if he had been thrown into the deep end, with parliamentary assistants having to advise him what to do. Or was he out of his depth? I just could not understand why he had to accept the Speaker’s post.

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In any case, Art was quickly put to the test by Pakatan MPs citing all sorts of Standing Orders and heckling his opening address, demanding to know who voted the new speaker in. “When did we vote for this Speaker, can somebody tell me?”

Amid the din, someone shouted, “Backdoor government, backdoor speaker!” And already it looks as if that moniker will stick, rightly or wrongly, going by online comments.

It was not the most auspicious start for the new Speaker to suspend an MP during his opening speech – another unwanted record, perhaps?

Art’s failure to make a ruling after an MP’s offensive remarks targeting Kasthuri Patto was appalling. It has not set the right tone. Art, Art, how did it come to this? So many people were watching this unfolding fiasco live on TV.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad tried to speak out gallantly against the unprecedented removal of a sitting Speaker for no solid reason. But it was a sorry sight to see him taken to task – with little respect – by some of those very same Umno MPs who once fawned over him. Why did he resign as PM, they wanted to know – and they had a point. But what a sad sight.

Anwar Ibrahim tried to calm down the chaos, but didn’t seem to get anywhere.

All said, I think it is the boorish MPs who have a lot to learn from the youthful delegates at the recent Parlimen Digital, who debated real issues with aplomb and dignity. Maybe it is these MPs who should learn from these youths how to conduct themselves and not vice versa.

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