Friday, May 02, 2008

:: Dewan Dispatches

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Dewan Dispatches: The good old bad days are backby:
Azmi Anshar
Perhaps we should be grateful that our parliamentarians display bravery more with verbal rattling and macho posturing than with fists of furies and flying kicks. In some foreign people’s assembly, arguments that begin in a civilised nature would almost always degenerate into a flurry of violence and ungentlemanly (or unladylike) conduct, with a couple of chairs and shoes thrown in for good measure at the object or objects of loathing just to justify the rush of adrenaline.

But inside the reverent hall of the Dewan Rakyat, this irreverent verbal jousting – abrupt interjections, rude interruptions, tastelessly snide remarks or just plain badmouthing – were exchanged like gunfire, a verbal Baghdad-like war zone so to speak. If real bullets were exchanged, our MPs engaged in this modern verbal warfare would walk out of the hall barely hanging on to their skins. It is not so much the exchanges as were the words or lack or words hurled that calls into question as to why this session should be telecast live, as posited by Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek. Should ordinary, civilised Malaysians be subjected to acts and words of idiocy by seemingly intelligent parliamentarians? On the flip side, they should, seeing that the opening salvo of the 12th Parliament, which should have been a routine question and answer session, backslided into a kind of “reality show”, a cross between Jerry Springer and Akademi Fantasia. Take a sample of the colourful exchanges filled with metaphors and insults between seasoned campaigner Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) with his long-time punching bags, Bung Mukhtar Radin (BN-Kinabatangan) and Datuk Seri Ibrahim Ali (Ind-Pasir Mas). When Karpal, citing the standing orders of the lower house, questioned the validity of the 222 MPs’ oath-taking on Monday, he was immediately interjected by an indignant Bung Mukhtar, who must have thought that Karpal was questioning his legitimacy. Karpal wasn’t the least disturbed, retaliating in the best way he knows how: throw back the insult and lob a verbal grenade to Bung Mukhtar: "I hope Bigfoot does not disrupt proceedings. Bigfoot, sit down." Like the swiftest gazelle, Bung Mukhtar sprang from his chair to rebut, shouting: "I am Bigfoot, you are big monkey." The circus was at its entertaining peak. Then there was the altercation with Ibrahim. In the most dead-panned of tone, the Pasir Mas MP questioned why the wheelchair-bound Karpal did not seek the House’s permission to allow him to speak without having to stand up – tactically tactless but something the Kelantanese would have enjoyed mouthing. The reaction was predictable. Other MPs hyperventilated over Ibrahim’s tactlessness and called for him to withdraw his remarks but Karpal remained nonchalant, so blasé was he to the politically incorrect vilification that he must have developed a rocklike façade to the attacks. Of course, the insults and un-House posture were pure entertainment, even for the most politically-minded of Malaysians. But it must have been a revelation for rookie MPs who, regrettably, would likely pick up this newfound Parliamentary vocabulary, like this sabre rattling exercise at the expense of rookie MP Tian Chua (PKR-Batu).Tian Chua would have thought that he had exercised parliamentary civility by asking Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing (BN-Bintulu), during the debate on the royal address, on what he thought of a certain kris wielding exercise. Tiong, the BN’s backbenchers’ club chairman, laughed it off and dismissed Tian Chua’s view as newbie’s impertinence. He even rapped the Batu MP as a “batu api” (instigator). Tian Chua could only smile sheepishly. All in all, only three questions were answered on the first day of raucousness, with Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia having to act like a schoolmaster dealing with a bunch of screaming, unruly schoolboys, exasperatingly dousing the incessant arguments over point of orders and petty semantics over why supplementary questions were not allowed on the first day and why a question first in the queue was not given priority. Twenty minutes elapsed quickly before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was waiting patiently in his seat, could deliver his reply but by this time, Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timor) had already protesting that by not allowing added questions, it was an unprecedented move in the history of the Dewan Rakyat. Lim also claimed without supplementary questions, the presence of the Prime Minister in the House was “pointless.” Lim topped his rhetoric with a claim that there appear to be a “conspiracy” to stop Pakatan Rakyat from asking questions, to which Pandikar rebuffed, saying that he was also concern with time-keeping and that Mps could ask the supplementary questions on another day. As the clash intensified, Abdullah appealed to the Speaker to allow one or two supplementary questions. Pandikar Amin relented and allowed Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (PAS-Marang) the privilege of the day. It was after this that TV1 ended live transmission. That’s what so special about the Dewan Rakyat: expressions of democratic opinions are freely bartered, even if it sounds half-witted. The positions that these opposing MPs take is this: no quarter given and no quarter taken. Democracy was also throttling at a fine pace at the Parliament lobby where wives of Internal Security Act detainees used the occasion to push their appeal that the authorities release their husbands after years of detention without a trial, or at least, a more solid reason. It was as if these seasoned MPs, knowing that the Q&A was aired live on TV1, at least for the first 45 minutes, dropped their regular Joe routine and donned a Shakespearean mask for a theatrical performance of outrage and moralising. Cynics would say it was the other way around.