Parliament speaker - The Art of the deal - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Malaysiakini : “I cannot abandon my secretariat and my staff have been 100
percent behind me since day one and with talk of a possible general
election, I can’t abandon them.”- Azhar Azizan Harun
| All government positions are a compact between the individual and
political interests. A deal, you might say, in which utilitarian value
comes into play depending on the strength of the institutions and
political will. This is the cold, hard reality of the democratic process
rumours were spreading that the “liberal” darling of the Pakatan
Harapan political elite was going to be nominated for Parliament
speaker, the president of the Islamic group, Isma, Haji Aminuddin
Yahaya said this:
“Saya tiada masalah untuk menggantikan speaker yang lama iaitu Mohamad
Ariff Mohd Yusof kepada seorang speaker yang baharu kerana saya faham
akan keperluannya. Namun, kita mengharapkan yang dilantik nanti adalah
tokoh yang dapat membantu menguatkan agenda Islam dan Melayu di
course, nobody should be surprised that mainstream political dogma in
this country would view what is supposed to be a non-partisan role in
Parliament as a position to defend race and religion. The fact that when
Azhar Azizan "Art" Harun (above) defended
Oktoberfest and demanded that PAS provide statistical data on the
correlation between the festival and a rise in crime, is indicative of
how at one time he could present a rational argument without resorting
to legalese he is putting forward now.
He has, of course, bucked
the trend of the Harapan groupthink before. When Lim Guan Eng got into a
kerfuffle because he issued official statements from his then Finance
Ministry in Mandarin and then defended his actions, Art publicly reminded
the former finance minister, "Don't be arrogant and dismissive of this.
You are really pushing it. There is a limit to the ‘new Malaysia’.”
Art also felt the need to point out that he was “[...] not racist. And I am not talking about Malay rights or the proverbial "mertabatkan Bahasa Melayu"
and stuff. But please do your job as a minister as you should be
(doing). After all, you were the one who so proudly proclaimed ‘I am not
Chinese, I am Malaysian’. You are showing the wrong signal. The wrong
I do wonder though if Art’s attitude has changed
because he has decided to hitch his wagon to this Malay uber alles
government. Considering that Harapan has the fig leaf of racial and
religious inclusivity with the DAP and PKR, how does Art expect to
function with his supposed progressives values in a government with
regressive ideas about race and religion?
The quote that
opens this piece is from reportage of what the former EC chief said
when Tommy Thomas resigned as attorney-general. Art assured the rakyat
that he was not going anywhere and he would continue the reforms he
started when he was given the job as EC chief.
Asked about working
with the PN government he said this: “All political parties are not
alien to me and I am not alien to them, I believe. They know where I
stand and I will continue to do what I am tasked to do.” So does Art
really believe that the PN government chose him because of his
progressive values when it comes to governance, religion and democracy
which he wrote about extensively?
As someone who claimed that he
had 100 percent support of his staff in the Election Commission but who
chose to ditch the position for a new role in a teetering government,
one, of course, should be cynical of what exactly Art can do to reform
It is amusing to see all these Umno and PAS
politicians “supporting” – by not voting for – Art Harun after all the
run-ins he has had with them. Maybe that is the whole point of this
fiasco. All these alleged kleptocrats with extreme views on race and
religion never really endorsed Art for the position.
All they have
to do is remain silent and the current government would install someone
whom the Harapan base used to think was the perfect guy to run the EC
but now is some sort of “backdoor” speaker.
This is not to say
that Art is not an interesting distraction. I happen to think that his
appointment and the way in which he was appointed is the kind of
sideshow that PN desperately needs. Not only does it provide fodder for
PN partisans who are gleefully pointing out how the speaker is a liberal
and once the darling of Harapan, but it furthers racial narratives of
how the non-Malay-dominated Harapan tears apart a “Malay” who goes
against their groupthink.
Of course, Art’s first day
in school was a big disappointment. One would have thought he would
stake the high ground so at least he would have the time to scamper off
it which is what will eventually happen. Instead, he lets past the
racist statement, reacting only after withering criticism.
of his first acts was to boot out Shah Alam parliamentarian Khalid
Samad who claimed that PN was a backdoor government and that Art was a
“backdoor” speaker. Khalid thundered, “How can you allow yourself to be
used by them?" This is somewhat strange because it implies that Harapan
has a monopoly on independent and unbiased political appointments, which
we know is not the case.
But yes, kicking out Khalid smacks of
the kind of heavy-handedness that Art has raged against in numerous
articles before he became the establishment. And yes, many people - not
necessarily Harapan supporters - are wondering why Art is allowing
himself to be used in this way?
Surely Art would have known that
his appointment and the method of his ascendency are something that go
against democratic norms. After all, as the EC chief, what he was
apparently attempting to do was reform the system and increase the
democratic participation of the rakyat. How does it look when the
process through which he was appointed does not even pass muster when it
comes to democratic norms?
Art claimed that everything was done by the book, which is legalese for someone who cannot justify an action because, prima facie,
it goes against democratic norms and reeks of political malfeasance.
Again, this is something Art understands if one reads his voluminous
screeds against the political corruption of the former BN state.
remains to be seen if Art’s action as speaker brings “honour” to his
family (like he said in his presser) or remains just another footnote in
the history of a reformer who made a bad deal with the establishment.