We have banished our conscience at the foot of political expediency. We have long since been only moved to claim what is ours, or what we believe to be ours, and ours alone. We have long since been only moved to protect our rights or what we believe to be our rights.” – Art Harun, January 2010

BELIEVE it or not, the above was written by current Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun (his own blog can now only be read by invitation, hence the third-party reference) in January 2010 when he was writing regularly in a popular blog under the name Art Harun.

But his behaviour in Parliament was nothing more than part of an orchestrated abuse of the parliamentary process this morning which culminated in the revelation by the law minister that the six emergency ordinances have been revoked effective July 21, 2021. He however did not stipulate if these have been formally revoked, or if the revocations will be backdated. 

Imagine – the whole country was unaware that the emergency laws had been revoked five days ago until this morning, an important event that was kept from the all citizens (it’s not clear if the king was informed) solely for the purpose of one-upping the opposition that had proposed motions for the repeal of the emergency.

This is a major indictment of this backdoor government, which most likely does not even have a parliamentary majority, that has kept the country in the dark about this just so it gets one up in Parliament. In the meantime, it could rely on the speaker to put the necessary blocks in the House, which was not so august today.

An unruly session on the brink of disorder saw several MPs challenge Azhar’s rulings with Ramkarpal Singh of Bukit Gelugor asking whether the speaker is the government’s lapdog, a question that would have been unthinkable in the former’s earlier days as a brave, principled blogger.

He quoted Parliament Standing Order 14(1), which states: unless the House otherwise directs, the business of each sitting shall be transacted in the following order:

1. Formal entry of speaker

2. Prayers as shall be approved by the House. The prayers for a joint session shall be accordingly amended to include references to the Senate and to members of the Senate and shall be read by the Dewan Rakyat secretary

3. Taking of oath by any new member

4. Messages from the Agong

5. Announcements by the speaker

6. Petitions

7. Ministers’ question time

8. Questions to ministers for oral answers

9. Motion on matters of urgent public importance

The important phrase there was “unless the House otherwise directs”, which implies Parliament can direct the order of business to be changed. But, Azhar did not allow it.

Both Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo and Selayang MP William Leong reminded Parliament of Article 150(3) regarding states of emergency, where it states “a proclamation of emergency and any ordinance promulgated under Clause (2B) shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament and, if not sooner revoked, shall cease to have effect if resolutions are passed by both Houses revoking such proclamation or ordinance, but without prejudice to anything previously done by virtue thereof or to the power of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to issue a new proclamation under Clause (1) or promulgate any ordinance under Clause (2B).

Leong told the speaker: “I hope you know what you are doing. You are a lawyer. How are you going to face the victims who are going to die in the next six months?”

Leong was referring to the emergency ordinances being in effect for six months after the ending of the emergency on August 1.

Other MPs spoke on the need to allow debate, but Azhar stood his ground and refused to change his decision, declining to put the relevant motions before the House.

And then, in the middle of all these, the law minister dropped a bombshell. Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan said Putrajaya has decided to cancel all ordinances under the emergency proclamation.

After Gobind pointed out that the proclamation of emergency had not been lifted, and after being blasted by numerous MPs, Takiyuddin revealed that all six ordinance revocations were backdated to July 21, resulting in uproar in the House. Takiyuddin said the issue of revocation is irrelevant.

In the pandemonium, Azhar decided to proceed with the order of business and invited Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to outline his economic recovery plan. Amid the noise and bedlam, the prime minister, who had been silent until that point, continued to read out the plan for several minutes before stopping.

For several minutes, MPs objected on a point of order and eventually the speaker relented to Gobind, who said under Article 150(3), such a decision has to be made by Parliament. To which the speaker said “unless revoked earlier”, evoking another round of arguments. Eventually, Muhyiddin continued with his address, ironically with the phrase “it is an unprecedented event”. He was referring to Covid-19, but it might as well have been used for the abuse of the parliamentary process.

The backdoor government had for the moment trumped the opposition by revoking all six emergency ordinances on July 21, for the time being avoiding all motions that would have put them in an untenable position.

If there is one thing that is clear from this, it is that the power of incumbency is often supreme, because the power of the state and that of the office of the prime minister and others who report to him can be used – no, misused – to keep them in power. And it was done without the prime minister having to speak a word about it in Parliament.

The sad truth is that Malaysia has yet to elect a government that respects the office of Parliament, and when it did in 2018, a person who had previously abused Parliament repeatedly gave it back to those who would abuse Parliament again.

Malaysians need to remember this at the next polls, or they will surrender their rights and privileges yet again. – The Vibes, July 26, 2021

P. Gunasegaram is chief executive of advocacy and research unit Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes