Unparliamentary behaviour of the worst kind
By : Tunku Abdul Aziz
A DISORDERLY house perhaps best describes Parliament on its first sitting on Wednesday. What an unedifying spectacle.
It was nothing if not absolute mayhem as some members tried to outpoint their colleagues in outrageous behaviour before the television cameras. Given the propensity of some members on the opposition benches to disrupt proceedings as a matter of principle, the decision by the Cabinet to televise "question time" was, in the event, ill-advised. It was clear from the outset that two of their leading lights, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh, were feverish with excitement at the almost heaven-sent opportunity to do something they were particularly good at -- attracting attention to themselves. The Treasury-financed nationwide live telecast of the parliamentary proceedings was the answer to their prayers.
It would have been totally unrealistic to expect them not to put to maximum effect their well-known and well-rehearsed confrontational politics. On this occasion, they outshone even their normally obstreperous behaviour and outdid themselves by the havoc they succeeded in creating.What principles, I wonder, were they defending that could justify turning what should have been a celebration of a changed political landscape and climate into a boisterous Petaling Street Peking opera?
I hope those viewers who voted for them in the recent general election were impressed by the performance of these two politicians. Their antics were more suited to pre-election hustings than the debating chamber of democracy. Such behaviour is getting a little tiresome when all we wanted was to watch the prime minister take questions and to assess the answers. The DAP, in its present state of political rebirth, must leave its shrill ideological class war cries and its accompanying doctrinal backpack outside the main entrance. Instead, they should try to integrate with the social and cultural norms of Malaysian society where good manners still command a premium. There was no need to play to the gallery because they are both respected politicians who are well known for taking up causes in the public interest. It was a great disappointment to see these role models, who should know better, trivialise what was intended to be a solemn occasion. The lack of respect for the most sacred of our national institutions is appalling, to say the least. I fervently hope that this lapse will not rub off on the members, many still wet behind the ears, now in the House for the first time. The parliamentary culture of decorum, respect for fellow MPs, and above all else your own sense of self-respect must be preserved at all costs. The Speaker of the House must use his considerable powers to discipline, to the fullest extent possible, wayward, recalcitrant members who bring the system of parliamentary democracy into disrepute. He would otherwise be failing in his duty.
I have long been their great admirer, but I have to say this: if they had expected rapturous public adulation for that stroppy behaviour of a most unparliamentary kind, I urge them to think again. What, may I ask, were these two battle-scarred and slightly long-in-the-tooth honourable gentlemen hoping to achieve? Had it not occurred to them that by their action, they were denying their fellow-citizens a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of Parliament at work? Such boorish and loutish behaviour is out of place in Malaysia where we still believe that good manners count a great deal in and out of Parliament. Even Taiwan and India, known for their "scuffling lawmakers" and used to such behaviour, would baulk at the idea of their MPs replicating the ploy used by our two senior opposition members to gain notoriety, the only word I can think of. Lest I be accused of bias, let me remind my readers that the same disapproving label was used by me to describe the behaviour of the two Barisan Nasional parliamentarians, Datuk Mohd Said Yusof (Jasin) and Datuk Bung Mokhtar (Kinabatangan) who savaged the honour and dignity of womanhood in the infamous "leakage" affair involving the member for Batu Gajah, Fong Poh Kuan. They have since apologised for their action and I trust are duly repentant. In that article in May last year, I had used the word "behaviour" pejoratively when I said, "A person's behaviour in and out of public life says a great deal more about his personal values and standards than all the external trappings of office he surrounds himself with". For now, all that remains for me to say to MPs on both sides of the House is shape up or ship out. Grow up, do your duty in a way that adds personal commitment and meaning to your sacred oath of office, thus bringing respect to yourself and honour to an institution which is a proud national symbol of our evolving democratic values. Two other matters deserve comment. The first was a written reply by the prime minister to Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (Pas-Marang) who wanted to know how much was incurred by the government for the use of the executive jets by the prime minister and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, between Feb 24 and March 8. The government spent RM792,325.20.
The dates are significant, and I can guess what the good Pas leader had in mind when he requested the information. This is really the purpose of question time in Parliament. Let us be charitable and regard the DAP-aided fiasco as an aberration. In future, if it is decided to continue the live telecast, which I hope will be the case, allow viewers to listen to the questions asked and answers given without interruption. To return to the use of the government executive jets for other than strictly official and not party business: in order to avoid any allegation of impropriety, government ministers should desist from using government property once Parliament is dissolved. Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting is concerned that because of the preponderance of Malays, and those who claim they are Malays, in the judicial service, there is the perception according to him that "our judges will not be able to adjudicate fairly and impartially on sensitive issues, particularly relating to religion if a person's faith becomes an issue before a panel of judges whose religious faith and belief may differ from his or hers". Based on these sentiments, does it not worry the good datuk seri that it is the Malay-dominated police and the armed forces that are providing the security and protecting Chinese lives and property? Perhaps to overcome the problem, we should introduce national service, not the Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye fun-and-games summer camp variety, to redress the situation. I cannot tell you how much I really detest anyone playing the race card to justify an argument. The writer is a former special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Ethics. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org