July 17, 2018 — A commentary
WHAT transpired in Parliament yesterday on opening day of the new session under a new government would have probably made the more erudite of Malaysians wondering if the political leanings of newly appointed Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md. Yusoff will come in the way of his impartiality, especially since so much has been mentioned about this when his name cropped up in the last week as a potential appointment.
While many acknowledged Ariff’s credibility and impartiality as a Court of Appeal judge, the blot that could cast doubts over his neutrality or non-partisanship stems from his membership with Parti Amanah Negara – a component of the Pakatan Harapan government.
Although he said he had relinquished his positions as head of Amanah’s disciplinary board and advisory council about more than a couple of weeks ago, an Amanah official stated yesterday that Ariff remained a party member.
According to Amanah secretary-general Anuar Tahir, the new Speaker tendered the resignation of the posts on July 1, adding that “Now he is only an ordinary party member of Amanah.”
Against such a backdrop, it was odd that Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had this to say: “I think the public would like to have somebody who isn’t related to any party.”
And a short press statement from the Prime Minister’s Office mentioned this: “Non-partisanship is crucial for someone who will be tasked to bring changes in Parliament.”
If, as the statement said, the choice for Speaker was discussed many times and eventually agreed to unanimously by all Pakatan component party leaders, it won’t be easy for the neutrals to agree that Ariff’s roles and membership in Amanah were something the discussions could risk ignoring.
As in some other countries, Malaysia’s parliamentary sittings weren’t always peaceful, full of decorum and civility and judging from what had transpired on opening today, subsequent sessions could be just as testy.
Yesterday’s ear-splitting shouting match between both sides of the House started less than an hour after the sitting convened.
The ruckus – initiated by some PAS MPs and joined by those from Umno mainly – which escalated into a walkout were prompted by doubts if the nomination and then appointment of Ariff had adhered to the rules, especially if the Parliament office had been informed of his nomination within the stipulated period of 14 days.
To his detractors, Ariff’s candidacy reeks of impunity and complete disregard of Dewan Rakyat’s Standing Orders, with the belief by the opposition that his name was submitted after the cutoff point of July 2, with statements from various Pakatan leaders last week adding fuel to fire up yesterday’s protestations, the statements indicating that Ariff was a later choice after the Pakatan leaders realised that nominating an MP from Kedah would have led to a by-election that could cause the Kedah Pakatan government to collapse.
New opposition leader Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stressed the point that the chronology of media reports concerning Pakatan’s choice or choices for the post was a sign of the coalition’s disregard for the SO.
He first referred to media reports which speculated that former Umno minister and now Pakatan politician Tan Sri Rais Yatim was willing to be considered, followed by a statement from Pakatan’s secretariat head Datuk Saifudin Abdullah that Pakatan had shortlisted a few names.
And on July 10 – eight days after the July 2 deadline – PKR president Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail announced that Pakatan had decided on the name and the speculation was on Sungai Petani MP Datuk Johari Abdul.
Ariff’s candidacy was only publicly known on Sunday after Mahathir confirmed it.
“We’re not objecting Ariff but we want his appointment to be done according to the rule of law. Pakatan used to make such a ruckus over Barisan Nasional’s alleged non-compliance and now here they are keeping mum about this,” said Zahid.
While Zahid did present a believable case, those from Pakatan who were in Parliament retorted otherwise, maintaining that Ariff’s nomination had been within the rules and that the statements made in succeeding days were out of jealousy, conveniently ignoring the fact that the statements were made none other than by the coalition’s officials or leaders.
“BN too had disregarded the SO. They emailed the Parliament secretary about their candidate dated July 2 but was actually sent last week, so their nomination got rejected,” commented one.
The walkout seemed hypocritical because when it was in power, BN used to berate the previous opposition for doing so on many occasions, just as it was hypocritical for the Pakatan MPs to ride on the moral high horse yesterday.
If yesterday’s attention grabbing opener could be used as a gauge and if no one in a leadership position within the opposition cracks the whip to ensure that civility prevails in the House, Malaysians could end up seeing a repeat of antics they were not amused with but with the initiatives coming from BN and its allies now that the coalition is in the opposition.
But whether the old habit continues or is finally put to a stop will depend very much on how Ariff and his two deputies handle the proceedings. That’s the critical factor.
Additional inputs by Aziz Hassan