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Rais on what it takes to be a Speaker

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia member Tan Sri Rais Yatim, who was once a Barisan Nasional minister and also an Opposition MP, speaks to Philip Golingai on the ideal Dewan Rakyat Speaker.

The Star: Who do you think will be the next Dewan Rakyat ­Spea­ker?

Tan Sri Rais Yatim (pic): The leaders know who to pick for purposes known to themselves. I can also say to be a Speaker, it is a horrendous job. Malaysian Parliament is not particularly known to be genteel in its discussion and deliberation. And many a member has been known to be more than voci­ferous, bordering on kurang ajar (uncouth) at times. There have been individuals who went overboard in trying to convince in what they believe in and politics has exhibited an ugly face through comments, utterances and gesticulations.

I would venture to say that for the future – since Pakatan Harapan has already gone this far – we will not be falling into that kind of image. And every party – be it Barisan Nasional – must make sure that Parliament is sacrosanct and that means that we must take care of our budi (deed) or virtues and our disposition as a country of multi­racial values and greatness. I think it is part of education and this must be borne out.

There is no calm moment in the Dewan Rakyat. Some will stand up and say pertinent and impertinent things, and sometimes, racial (things). At times, it reflects the gusto of a politician, rather that of a parliamentarian. Now, we would like to see more of the younger set observe the Standing Order but at the same (time), give Parliament due respect, being the highest law-making body and the institution of the nation that carves out the future.

What are the qualities that are needed for the next Dewan Rakyat Speaker?

Certainly one of them should be experience. You need to know the inner works of Parliament very well. Those who have served in past decades should be able to elicit that experience, especially Standing Order 18 (the motion to adjourn the Dewan Rakyat for debate), for example. You don’t need to study much about it but you need to know when it is to be called. It should be of immediate need, it should be of public interest and it should be efficaciously done. Now, a learner for the first time would not be able to go through that quickly. He has to get the milieu over time.

Tact is very important because you cannot be brash as a Speaker but you can be stern and according to the law of the House. We must utilise the whip in Parliament. Not the party whip, which can be useful, but the legal Standing Order whip. So that if a member abuses the system, he should be out of the Dewan. I think the predecessors have done the job following these rudiments but more now that Parliament can be quite cantan­kerous.

Your tolerance level must be very high, if not, you will get high blood pressure very fast.

Should the Dewan Rakyat Speaker be an MP?

It makes no difference. But it would be good if a non-MP goes in so that he can be seen as more neutral. He is not bound by his party’s rudiments and rules. And (in) many senses, it would stand out better if he is not a parliamentarian. But at the same time, the Speaker is from a new lot in the party system. He has to learn all over how to measure the heat and the sentiment.

How about this talk of having a female Speaker? What is your take?

Anybody with a good dash of lingual achievement and patience as well as the willingness to learn the art of parlay will be okay. You know being a Speaker is not all serious matter all day long. You also have some time to jive in to accrue certain humour.

But Malaysian Parliament is not known for humour. They have been very serious and they all go for the jugular vein most of time. I hope the culture of being a bit more relaxed would come in. And the habit of trying to pass law and motion quickly – overnight – should not be practised anymore.

For the first time, the Alliance/Barisan Nasional is not the Government. How do you see Parliament now that it is ­controlled by Pakatan Harapan?

I would expect this time around, the heat will be higher. But it would also be interesting to see how the Barisan big boys behave under stress. Before, they were on the other side, it was easier for them to look down as if trying to impose their position being a strong govern­ment. But now, they are the underdog. Therefore, the art of behaving like an Opposition is not learnt yet. That is a mystery to me.

When I was in the Opposition in Semangat 46 (as deputy president), we learnt this quickly – Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (Semangat 46 president) and myself. We went up and studied the Standing Orders first and we pakat (agreed) on what issues to raise and we would align ourselves in order of issues. I do not know whether the Barisan now will be able to do that having to face the kind of issues Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and the rest are having.

On one side, Umno is about to ripen its leadership selection and on the other side, they have to face the crux of the Parliamentary matters. Now, the public will face them as not leaders of Umno but of the Opposition. And that will call for a certain new tack, new approach and new style. I would also include in the parliamentary closet, the need to be neat in their lingual pre­sentation.

You were on both sides – in the Opposition as a Semangat 46 MP and as a Barisan minister – can you relate your experience?

The raw nerve (is that) being in the Government, it is easy to steamroll things. In the Opposition, we didn’t realise that at first. When we saw the ministers and deputy minis­ters come with set answers – not many of them can improvise with giving the apt answer without the script. When I was in the Opposition with Tengku Razaleigh, we saw that this could be one of the points that we must do – that is to do better homework compared to the Government.

Having said that, the Opposition has all the time to dig up but the ministers do not have time. They have to rely on aides and aide-­memoire to give the best form of answer. This is where the Opposition during my time – from 1987 to 1999 – we saw the clash of ideas very glaringly, producing the effect that the Opposition did better in terms of legislative work. Perhaps this time, Umno and the rest of its brothers would be considering a tactic for a better culture.

Are you being shortlisted for the Dewan Rakyat Speaker post?

I don’t think so. It is just big talk around. It was like this five years ago (after GE13). My name was thrown around and nothing happened. It could happen this way again as well. I would be very happy for the Government and the Opposition if they have a Speaker who is willing to lay down certain colour of repository of rights in Parliament and give due respect to the kind of legislator who would evoke fairness and the legitimacy of democracy in the Dewan Rakyat.

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