A lively start to Parliament

24 Dec 2022 08:30pm
Anwar Ibrahim reacting to a statement during the Dewan Rakyat session on Dec 19. (Photo by BERNAMA)
Anwar Ibrahim reacting to a statement during the Dewan Rakyat session on Dec 19. (Photo by BERNAMA)

It is done.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s position as Prime Minister has now been resoundingly confirmed in the one place it matters the most: Parliament.

This is the final culmination of a relatively historic political alliance.

I say relatively because over the last few years, Malaysians have seen quite a few surprising political combinations. That said, PKR, Umno, and DAP being all on the same side certainly counts as a previously undiscovered country.

This Unity Government brings to mind the formation of Barisan Nasional (BN) in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots - an effort to bring together previous rivals under a political big tent.

On Day 1 of our new parliament, numerous Perikatan Nasional (PN) MPs stood up to argue loudly that the term ‘Kerajaan Perpaduan’ was inaccurate, and should be replaced by ‘Kerajaan Campuran’ (Mixed Government). They also seemed to take issue with the use of the term ‘Kerajaan YDPA’ which I translate as His Majesty’s Government.

Where political communications are concerned, there is always a lot to learn by observing your opponents closely. Watch carefully and see which issues they get most defensive or concerned about - those are the exact issues you should keep hitting on harder and harder.

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I won’t go on a boring tangent about technicalities, except firstly to say that neither ‘Kerajaan Perpaduan’ or ‘Kerajaan Campuran’ are terms that have any legal basis (legally speaking, there is only ‘Kerajaan’), placing both these terms in the category of political rhetoric; secondly, in constitutional monarchies, technically every government is His Majesty’s Government.

The more interesting thing to note is how worked up PN MPs seem to get over this issue - many felt the need to stand up and try to yell their points across, even when it wasn’t their turn to speak.

I take this to mean that PN politicians are really feeling the heat, and are on the backfoot.

This probably means that the terms ‘Kerajaan Perpaduan’ and ‘Kerajaan YDPA’ are popular among the rakyat, and that some Perikatan supporters and fence sitters are probably uncomfortable with the perception that Perikatan is against unity, or against royalty.

Thus, if I were in Pakatan Harapan (PH), my takeaway would be: Use the terms ‘Kerajaan Perpaduan’ and ‘Kerajaan YDPA’ as much as humanly possible.

The second thing to note is that those who might have hoped to see a completely new parliamentary culture may be slightly disappointed, noting of course that it would probably be unreasonable to expect a complete change overnight.

We definitely saw some ugly incidences of very unbecoming and (in the words of the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat himself) unparliamentarian yelling and shouting in the august house.

The most memorable perhaps was the honourable member from Hulu Langat screaming at the top of his lungs again and again that the honourable member from Pendang was an ape (I believe the verbatim quote was “Pendang beruk! Pendang beruk!” repeated ad nauseum), and then insisting that Pendang was the one who started it.

One hopes Hulu Langat will be advised by his good colleagues that they are not in primary school.

I personally would support a firmer hand by the Speaker to initiate swift action against those who do not immediately follow his instructions (assuming his instructions continue to be reasonable, of course), such as fines or removal from the hall.

This is only because it can pretty much be considered a waste of public resources if MPs fail to adhere to the Speaker’s instructions regarding who is able to speak at any given time. Every minute trying to make oneself heard over the cacophony of yelling parliamentarians is a minute entirely wasted.

Greater strictness will set the right tone, and ensure that MPs adhere instantly to the Speaker’s instructions, as they should. It is important to set the tone early to ensure good discipline, and in this regard, I concede, parliament is not so unlike primary school.

In this day and age, it should not be a surprise to find that people tend to focus on the political theatre aspect of parliament proceedings, rather than substantive issues.

Before going into some of the highlights of the two day proceedings, it is worth noting what some netizens have pointed out: before we get too excited at how the MPs we support performed, it is important to note that good editing can make the MPs we thought performed terribly look magnificent and majestic to their supporters.

Some of the biggest buzz from this parliamentary session was probably generated by Law and Institutional Reform Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Azalina has always been a firebrand in parliament. I think I will remember to the day I die her hilarious zinger on the Timah whiskey issue some years ago, where she said we have to think logically about names, lest we start preventing our kids from eating ‘anjing panas’ at A&W.

She was once again on form on Monday, demonstrating a thoroughly enjoyable ability to manage multiple men shouting at her, and putting them in their place with facts and logic.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister himself stood to speak, demonstrating his own brand of eloquence and dignified oratory.

Instead of reacting in anger to the many accusations levelled against him, he choose only to quote Hamlet’s quip about ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

On the question of whether a vote of confidence was necessary, Anwar simply referred the opposition to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s own demands that such a vote be held, and in response to personal attacks by the leader of the opposition Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin, Anwar merely suggested that Hamzah should read the writings of his colleague, Pas President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, ‘Qazaf Mangsa Fitnah’.

On top of that, Anwar also delivered quite the smackdown when he schooled Hamzah on the proper pronunciation of a quote from the Quran that Hamzah had cited previously.

Those of us who watch parliamentary proceedings should be in for quite a number of these rather entertaining exchanges.

Hopefully though, leaders will realise that the bigger battles are played out on the larger canvas of public perception, in which lengthy parliamentary exchanges are unlikely to be a big factor.

Some skillful editing and social media engineering however, can make the right quips go a very long way indeed.

NATHANIEL TAN is a strategic communications consultant. Twitter: @NatAsasi, Email: [email protected] #BangsaMalaysia #NextGenDemocracy.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.