Public debates should never get personal. In the Dewan Rakyat, however, debates more often than not involve name-calling.
In the heat of the moment, Members of Parliament tend to relapse into their personal capacities and hurl words that hit at the person rather than on the lack of information, perspective or logic.
Last week, when the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded that the previous administration had not “robbed” RM19.4 billion in Goods and Sales Tax (GST) credit funds as stated by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng last year, opposition Umno politicians raised an uproar that the latter had misled the Dewan by saying the funds were “robbed”.
When Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof disagreed with the Umno politicians, it was natural for them to express their disappointments but when its Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin referred to the Speaker as “useless”, that was disrespecting the chair.
If he had argued with the Speaker based on facts and logic, that would have been acceptable parliamentary behaviour — not dismiss him with an adjective that hints at a personal trait.
In another debate, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim (BN – Arau) called on the Speaker to expunge a question submitted by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) MP for Labis, Pang Hok Liong, who had asked the government to clarify regarding the allowances and benefits given to the King.
Shahidan said the question was an insult to royalty as it involved the rulers and it should not have been allowed. In the ensuing debate — which one newspaper called “a shouting match” — Pang told Shahidan to mind his own business and added “at least I don’t molest underage girls” as his parting shot! Shahidan shouted back, “Hey, bangsat (rogue!)!”
The argument continued with each asking the Speaker to get the other to retract his statements. The Speaker asked both to retract the offending words or he would eject them out of the house. They complied.
(Shahidan was charged with allegedly molesting a girl last year. However, on April 24 this year, the Sessions Court in Kangar gave him a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.)
This is not the first time MPs were attacked on personal issues or characteristics. In many previous debates, words like “kling” — a derogatory term referring to Indians — and “bocor”, a reference to a woman’s period, among a host of other unsavoury but very personal terms were used on fellow MPs.
The Speaker should ban the use of any word or phrase that alludes to the person, especially if it derides the other person and diminishes who he or she is in the eyes of others. There should be no reference to one’s race, religion, culture, personal traits or lifestyle choices.
At the Dewan Rakyat, MPs are there NOT in their personal capacities. They are there as representatives of their voters and all their arguments should be confined to their issues, not one’s own personal life.
The Speaker should provide clear guidelines as to the personal issues that should not be even mentioned in debates and threaten ejection from the house or even suspension. It would definitely enhance the quality of debates in the Dewan Rakyat!