The Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s challenging of the forced seizure of its state government in February 2009 through defections and desertions is still morally legitimate today, even if interpretation of the law deems the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s coup legal. But disappointment is beginning to set in with the loose tongues and invectives being hurled about in the House.
In today’s sitting, PR assemblypersons behaved boorishly by indulging in name-calling and sexist remarks. Today, reporters inside the House tweeted that PR assemblypersons called the BN’s Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir “lanun” or “pirate”, and told BN-installed Speaker Datuk R Ganesan to wear a saree. What’s with the reference to female attire? Doesn’t calling Ganesan “speaker haram” and then equating him to a woman demonstrate that PR reps think a woman is unfit to be speaker?
Sure, the PR are the underdogs, and what else can we expect them to do but bite back? But can boorish behaviour ever be acceptable even if the cause fought for is justified? Surely parliamentary behaviour must be expected of leaders elected into public office.
Nobody doubts that it’s a complex battle for the PR to fight in Perak. But by now, some degree of public fatigue with the theatrics has settled in. And the use of sexist remarks and unparliamentary behaviour today does nothing to help the PR retain public support. In the meantime, at the national level, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak‘s government is already on a high-gear charm offensive to win back trust.
BN assemblypersons today could afford the appearance of decorum because they controlled the House. Might does not make anyone right, but precisely because it had might and is aided by subservient public institutions such as the police and a pliable judiciary, the BN in Perak is where it is today.
The PR’s Speaker Sivakumar (right) and Menteri Besar Datuk
Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin (Pic courtesy of Merdeka
Review)Still, that didn’t stop the shouting and heckling from both sides when the BN and the PR each conducted their own assembly sittings separately but simultaneously in the same hall. Boos and jeers erupted whenever a member from either side stood up to speak.
As farcical as it is, both sides are obsessed with giving themselves the appearance of legitimacy, even if it means behaving like rowdy schoolchildren. And predictably, both sides will blame the other for thuggish behaviour, pointing fingers and crying, “You started it first!”
By resorting to name-calling, and rude or sexist language, elected representatives only serve to harm their own image. It tells of an inability to articulate thoughts reasonably. It speaks of a loss of self-control and of giving in to emotions. It points to a deeper absence of gender and human respect. It makes politics personal when there is more at stake.
Today’s circus in the Perak state assembly demonstrate how elected representatives on both sides of the divide are not that different. Remember when BN Members of Parliament (MPs) Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin and Datuk Mohd Said Yusof likened a leak in the Parliament roof to the menstrual cycle of DAP MP Fong Po Kuan?
The same expectations of parliamentary behaviour should also apply to Perak’s PR representatives. Their resilience is applauded, but they must fight with the stature of real leaders, and not as schoolyard heroes with locker-room jokes.
PR Teja assemblyperson Chang Lih Kang, however, feels that their representatives were more decorous today compared to 7 May. Tensions were higher in the May sitting because of the physical threat to Sivakumar, who was eventually roughed up and forcibly removed from his chair by plainclothes police officers, who then detained him illegally until Ganesan could usurp the speaker’s chair.
Sivakumar being dragged out of the House in May (Pic courtesy of Sinar Harian)
“This time, I believe we were very decorous. We just wanted to make our point that we reject Ganesan as the speaker. We didn’t make any physical contact with the BN representatives and only had verbal exchanges,” Chang tells The Nut Graph.
“I do understand that the public are fed up, but we have to be consistent. To concede would be politically wrong,” he adds.
Yet, by having two separate assemblies under the roof of one august House to table and debate a different set of agendas, both the BN and the PR have trivialised the state legislature’s sanctity.
Civil society watchdog Aliran put it succinctly when it said that “anarchy reigns supreme in the Perak assembly. Law and order have completely broken down.”
“What we are witnessing today is a farce that has brought down the dignity of the state assembly,” it continued in a press statement today after the assembly sitting was adjourned.
But for as long as the BN uses its might and government machinery to prevent fresh state elections, Perak PR assemblypersons see little choice but to remain a pest to keep their cause alive. And for as long as BN continues to disregard public opinion on the need for fresh elections, the rest of the term in the Perak assembly will be a guaranteed circus.
The Perak assembly is now stuck in a vicious cycle of provocation by the BN and reaction by the PR. If the PR believes that the majority of the people are on their side and against the BN coup, let’s hope that their assemblypersons can avoid schoolyard heckling and find ways to defend their ground with dignity.
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