Parliamentary culture in Malaysia radically evolved after BN MPs were elected in massive numbers to the Dewan Rakyat.
Deputy Speaker Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar believes that the unbecoming conduct seen in MPs today stemmed from the massive influx of Barisan Nasional lawmakers into Parliament.
The lack of opposition MPs in the Dewan Rakyat, he said, led BN lawmakers to emulate their opponents in the House.
“What happened is that the culture changed during that time. BN MPs said, ‘We must speak like the opposition. We want to check the ministers’.”
“And that is the era where people like [Kinabatangan MP] Bung Mokhtar [Radin] were asking four or five ministers to resign.”
“[There were] people who made use of the language to persuade the Speaker to allow them to continue talking [in the Dewan Rakyat]. So this culture evolved into something we see today,” he told FMT in an interview in his office.
(BN won 198 seats in the 2004 election, leaving the opposition with a mere 20 seats. It was their largest vote grab to date, commanding 63.9% of the electorate.)
Wan Junaidi said this practice could be seen during Question Time, where MPs query ministers over national issues.
Prior to 2004 Dewan Rakyat sittings, he said that as many as 14 questions could be answered during this session.
He added that this period was increased by another 30 minutes so that Parliament could see more questions being answered.
“Every morning, we see up to 60 to 70 questions [in the Order Paper]… following what we had before, if we can reach 15 in one hour, then we can have 20-plus [with the change].”
“But in 2004, MPs started talking [but they weren’t] asking questions. [They were] showing off how good they were and how well they knew [a subject],” he said.
With MPs showing off and interrupting a session, Wan Junaidi said that a lot of time was wasted.
For example, he pointed to June 13 Order Paper, which had a total of 111 questions to be answered.
However, only six questions were discussed over 90 minutes.
This culture of wasting time, Wan Junaidi said, was missing in Western Parliaments.
“If you look at England’s Parliament, their Prime Minister Tony Blair managed to answer 10 questions in half an hour,” he said.
Don’t play political card
Another problem with local MPs was their tendency to agree with their colleagues over every issue.
“You don’t agree with every MP in the Dewan Rakyat. Including the [BN] backbenchers, they’re not supposed to say yes all the time!”
“They are supposed to tell the government what is not right and correct,” he said.
At the same time, he said that an MP should not always go against a government’s view.
“You have to listen to the government’s explanation as well, and not just continue to say your [view] is right and the other’s is wrong.”
“…The whole idea of MPs who are not holding portfolios [in the government] is to put the government to account on whatever they do.”
“That is their responsibility as an MP,” he said, adding that an MP needed to refrain from playing the emotional or political card.
But most important of all, Wan Junaidi said that Malaysian MPs needed to respect each others’ opinions, even if they did not agree with them.
Every MP, he added, had the right to be heard.
“While you dare to say something, you must also dare to listen to what others say. It may be contrary to your belief.”
“…[An MP might say] I don’t like to listen, [but] that’s why they say, ‘I hate to hear what you [have to] say [but I’d] die to preserve the right [for you] to do it.'”
“That is democracy,” he said.