Are Parliament walkouts effective?...or just a bunch of politicians being 'dramatic'

08 Nov 2023 07:00am
PIX SOURCE: Selangor Royal Office
PIX SOURCE: Selangor Royal Office

SHAH ALAM - When Members of Parliament stage a walkout, is it a legit tool in the legislative strategy of political parties, or is it a petulant and dramatic act of self-importance?

Or do these politicians feel the need to be a rebel without a cause?

Walkouts are generally used as a medium of protest where members of a party, typically the Opposition, walk out of Parliament or a state legislature boycotting a proposed motion or agenda.

The term walkout has not been defined in Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette and therefore, there are no laws governing or prohibiting it.

It is frequently witnessed during disruptions in the Dewan Rakyat, where the Opposition tries to stall the proceedings of the day.

However, walkouts doesn’t stop the proceedings or affect the voting on a motion.

Instead, it hurts the Opposition numbers as the quorum of the House is reduced and the votes required for a simple or absolute majority is decreased.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Political Science Professor Datuk Dr Jayum Anak Jawan said that Parliamentary walkouts are a political tactic used in many parliamentary sittings in similar political systems.

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"In a two-party system, the walkout is ineffective to stop or disrupt the ruling party from pursuing what they want.

"This is because, in a two-party system, the ruling party would typically already have enough parliamentary majority to pass simple legislation and, in Malaysia’s case, enough two-thirds even to legislate a major legislation that mandates a minimum two-third vote.

"So in Malaysia, the walkout is simply a protest, dramatised to draw attention to what opposition and their blocks are not happy for whatever reasons," he said.

Jayum added in Malaysia, opposing for the sake of opposing is not uncommon as opposed to some political systems such as in the US, where cross-party solidarity can emerge when the issues debated and voted upon are considered of national significance.

He said that In Malaysia, there is little difference between various political parties such as GRS, GPS, Pakatan Harapan (PH), and Perikatan Nasional (PN) that espoused similar goals, which is development for the country and their respective constituents.

Let's examine if walkouts actually serve a purpose beyond making viral news articles, or is a common move as many political pundits will agree.

There is always something to disagree with, especially since opposition parties are there to provide a voice of dissent so that policies can be improved.

One crucial way the Opposition can do this is by questioning the motions and suggesting alternative solutions through discussions and debates, which is what the Parliament should be about.

According to Political Analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun, political friction and disagreement are at the heart of democracy, and that anything that is non-violent should be the order of the day in politics.

"Politics is mostly mostly drama anyway, so why not put up a good show, including staging walkouts.

"I would consider our August House mild and still at the kindergarten stage as compared with parliaments in some other developing countries,where mutual throwing of chairs and other accessories are the order of the day," he told Sinar Daily

Oh said walkouts are mostly the results of frustration stemming from realistic politics.

"Since it is hard to make a difference, it might as well be dramatic, but the dramatic effect can only last so long; if it is performed too often, people get inane with it and will no longer be impressed," he said

But sometimes, as in many loud and dramatic parliamentary sittings, debates are often difficult to control, so if the MPs aren’t given the chance to make their statements heard, they wouldn’t see any point in trying to debate it out.

And this often leads to walkouts.

Some have branded MPs who protest as “disruptors” who create a sorry spectacle and waste public money.

While some have said that no self-respecting Parliamentarian really believes in disrupting proceedings; they just want their individual speeches and interjections to be seen and heard, not lost in the din of protest when the cameras cut them out and switched-off mics silence their voices.

But protests and disruptions are legitimate weapons that are invoked only as a last resort.

The most recent walkout staged happened earlier this week, where Opposition lawmakers briefly walked out of the Dewan Rakyat today in solidarity with two of their MPs who were ejected from the August house earlier.

Pas Pengkalan Chepa MP Datuk Ahmad Marzuk Shaary was ejected from the Dewan Rakyat after he refused to adhere to Deputy Speaker Alice Lau’s ruling.

Lau had ordered for Ahmad Marzuk to leave the lower House after his remark towards Local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming raised questions of malicious intent.

Marzuk had raised questions on Nga's stand on the Palestine-Israel genocide, where he had called out Cabinet member Nga Kor Ming, over a post on the latter's X account with a picture of two pupils wearing a face-covering mafla (scarf) while holding replicas of firearms saying: “Schools are not the place for conflict, extremism and terrorism.”

Meanwhile just last month, Perikatan Nasional MPs staged a walkout from the Dewan Rakyat in protest of Radzi Jidin’s (PN-Putrajaya) ejection from the House.

Radzi had been booted out of the Dewan Rakyat after lashing out at Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and getting into a shouting match with government backbenchers.

He had repeatedly demanded that Anwar retract remarks he made against him and his party, interrupting the prime minister’s winding-up speech.

Anwar had denied that the government intervened in the attorney-general’s (AG) decision to request a conditional discharge for Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in his Yayasan Akalbudi graft case.

A 20-minute shouting match ensued, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul eventually ordered Radzi to leave the House.

The latest incident between Radzi Jidin and Anwar. - Photo by Bernama
The latest incident between Radzi Jidin and Anwar. - Photo by Bernama

“When the AG made the decision, I asked him (about it).

"I didn’t discuss the matter with him. I asked him to explain what were the reasons for (the decision).

“You can laugh (Radzi), but you (PN) did the same thing when it was your (PN’s) administration,” he said.

This prompted Radzi to repeatedly urge Anwar to retract his statement, before government MPs came to the Prime Minister’s defence.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul eventually ordered Radzi to leave the House.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin (PN-Larut) then defended his colleague, saying Radzi was simply trying to defend PN’s honour.

“If the Speaker has ordered (Radzi) to leave, then to protect the party’s honour, we will leave too," he said.

In one of the most famous walkouts in our Parliamentary history in 2018, which spawned a flurry of hilarious memes depicting former Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin sitting alone at the opposition bench in Dewan Rakyat.

Khairy had cut a forlorn figure earlier, sitting alone in the Opposition bench after nearly all abandoned the Dewan Rakyat in protest over the government’s alleged failure to provide 14 days’ notice of Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof’s nomination.

In one of the most famous walkouts in our Parliamentary history in 2018, which spawned a flurry of hilarious memes depicting former Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin sitting alone at the opposition bench in Dewan Rakyat - Photo by Fahmi Fadzil
In one of the most famous walkouts in our Parliamentary history in 2018, which spawned a flurry of hilarious memes depicting former Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin sitting alone at the opposition bench in Dewan Rakyat - Photo by Fahmi Fadzil

They said they were dissatisfied with the choice of candidate as it needed to follow the standing orders.

As the secretary of Parliament read out the proclamation for his nomination and appointment, Pas MP Takiyuddin Hassan questioned the legitimacy of Mohd Ariff’s nomination, which they claimed did not follow the proper procedure.

Despite their jeers, the Speaker election process continued, and BN and PAS MPs (except KJ and Anifah) walked out in protest.

“We had an option, to just sit (in the House) when something wrong was taking place or leave. Parliament is a place where we have to follow protocol, it is not a circus or platform to take revenge,” former Ketereh MP Annuar Musa had told Channel News Asia.

In 2008, ten years after Anwar Ibrahim ( who is now the current Prime Minister) had got kicked out of office in 1998 due to controversial circumstances, he had made a comeback and garnered a lot of support from the then Opposition to kick BN out of power.

In his quest, he clashed with the then-govt over a bill that would require criminal suspects to submit DNA samples, fearing that this bill could be tampered with and used against him in his Sodomy 2.0 case. Unable to stop the Bill from being passed, he then led a walkout of PKR MPs.

“We staged a walkout, there is no point in staying in and participating. This is very disappointing, the government remains in a state of denial.” Anwar had told reporters.

In 2016 Opposition lawmakers had staged a walkout during the tabling of the 2017 Budget by former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Najib had described it as an act of disgrace against the parliamentary institution, Najib said everyone, regardless of their political beliefs and ideologies, should respect the country’s democratic process.

“We must respect the democratic process and all the values tied to it. This is important because even in advanced nations, people have different views but do not act this way.

“This has brought shame to the Parliament,” he told reporters after tabling the budget at the Parliament lobby.

However, do any of these walkouts make the change they want? Well, judging by the outcome of these walkouts, only the 2015 and 2016 walkouts against Najib’s rule were successful in creating the change they wanted, albeit gradually through GE14.

But frankly it all boils down to this, elected representative are elected — and paid — to legislate. And that involves sitting through tedious sessions and going through the process that may include being the subject of criticism.

They should protest against the government’s wrongs, but that should be done by taking on the ruling party, by not running away from the debate floor.

Walkout, when it is not the last resort to protest against one’s parliamentary rights being denied, should be tactical and symbolic. And symbolism works only when it is employed selectively.

Overdoing it would be purposeless buffoonery that cocks a snook at we the people and makes democracy a laughing stock.