Thursday, June 24, 2021

‘I’m no politician’: speaker tells of false narratives, posturing behind Parliament debate

He also says there are constitutional issues involved in the suggestion for virtual Dewan Rakyat sittings.

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Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Harun today said there were several “false narratives” being propagated by those calling for Parliament to convene during the emergency, adding that he had largely avoided the debate as the issue was being politicised.

“I do not wish to further muddy the waters. I do not wish to enter this political arena.

“All the words and all the posturing so far, sadly, to me, have been politics,” he told Astro Awani’s Consider This current affairs programme, two days after penning a lengthy article on MalaysiaNow explaining the lack of constitutional basis for calls to reopen Parliament.

Azhar said he understood the views of his deputy, Azalina Othman Said, who recently wrote an open letter calling for Dewan Rakyat to convene.

“With all due respect to her, she is not like me, she is a politician. Being a politician, there is a need to adopt a certain posturing and positioning for political benefits. I do not find the need to do so. More so, in my seat, when everything is being politicised, I wish to avoid that,” he said.

He also said it was wrong to say that he as the speaker had the power to call for a sitting, disputing as well the notion that only the Agong has the absolute power to summon or halt Parliament sessions.

“That is half the truth. The king has the power to summon or prorogue the Parliament, but His Majesty acts on the advice of the government through the advice of the prime minister,” he said.

Writing on MalaysiaNow on Sunday, Azhar said there appeared to be a lack of understanding among critics of the emergency about the concept of the division of powers as provided by the Federal Constitution.

He said the view that the government has no right to stop parliamentary proceedings should be argued out based on constitutional provisions.

“Whether we like it or not, that is the power of the Cabinet or executive and that power has been exercised,” he said.

Opposition politicians from Pakatan Harapan as well as NGOs affiliated with them have initiated legal proceedings against the government, seeking declarations that the emergency declared by the Agong in January this year was unconstitutional.

In the interview last night, Azhar said he had engaged with both politicians and the palace on the matter of reopening Parliament, adding however that he wished to avoid being dragged into politics.

“Everything in Malaysia now is hotly politicised, rightly or wrongly.

“The situation we are all in now is dire. An emergency has been proclaimed, and I think all the administration has to do is to focus on solving two things: Covid and the economic situation.”

He said the emergency would facilitate the process of passing critical laws needed to battle the pandemic, following the experience of the 2021 budget debates.

He also said his office had been looking into ways to hold virtual Dewan Rakyat sessions, adding that there are constitutional issues involved.

He said he had been advised that the Federal Constitution needs to be amended to enable virtual sittings.

“Because the constitution says that those who are not present in the House cannot vote.

“Number two, every time the king summons Parliament, His Majesty will issue a proclamation which will be gazetted, and say the House is hereby summoned to sit on so-and-so date and so-and-so time, and thirdly, the venue.

“So right now, the constitution, the proclamation and the standing orders are all made on the basis that the sitting will be physical.”

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