Speaker post: Call to consider ex-judges, lawyers too

Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen says the best candidate is needed to fill the position of Dewan Rakyat speaker. (Youtube screengrab)

GEORGE TOWN: Pakatan Harapan (PH) should open up the choice for the Dewan Rakyat Speaker to a wider pool that include former judges or lawyers rather than restrict the candidates to MPs, a lawyer said today.

Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen said the best candidate was needed to fill such an important position to enable Parliament and democracy to flourish.

“Restricting the candidates to MPs will reduce the field for the PH government to choose from. The government can’t afford to get the selection wrong as there are so many reforms that they want to accomplish.

“Our Parliament would be best served by the best qualified candidate – which is not necessarily an MP – and who must be non-partisan, learned and highly respected.

“The candidate must be one who can command the confidence of both sides of the political divide,” he told FMT.

Paulsen said the concern here was political baggage and impartiality.

“It is highly unlikely a candidate who is an MP can totally abandon party politics. There will always be public perception against the person, all the more so if he or she is a party loyalist,” he said.

Paulsen was asked to comment on remarks made by PH secretariat chief Saifuddin Abdullah, who said the coalition was sticking to its election manifesto to appoint an MP as the Dewan Rakyat Speaker.

The matter, he said, was clearly stated in the manifesto.

Paulsen said it was not really important for PH to stick to its manifesto in choosing the speaker.

“The manifesto is not written in stone. It is short-sighted to insist on following the manifesto if there are better options,” he said.

Paulsen said a similar discussion had taken place at the height of the debate on the appointment of the attorney-general.

“In the manifesto, the AG was supposed to have been appointed from among MPs.

“But after much public debate, Tommy Thomas was appointed as the AG, a better and justifiable departure from the manifesto,” he said, stressing that any deviation from the manifesto must be for the better.

Paulsen’s suggestion was supported by former Bar Council chief Ambiga Sreenevasan, who said there are distinguished former judges who can restore the dignity of Parliament.

“Parliament is the third arm of the government and it needs reform. A speaker must be familiar with the constitution, laws and must command the respect of the House.

“(The speaker) must be independent. We have retired Court of Appeal judges who fit the bill,” she said in a series of tweets.

Ambiga, who is also National Human Rights Society chairman, said the appointment of the speaker cannot be about politics.

“(The) manifesto may say it should be (an) MP. But if (an) excellent candidate (is) chosen, people will accept,” she further tweeted.