[This article was originally written in Bahasa Malaysia. Klik sini untuk versi BM]
You may have heard of the Parliament of Malaysia being refered to one of the most important governmental institutions in Malaysia, playing a crucial role in passing federal laws which are usually named ‘Acts’ (or Akta in Malay).
But what we refer to as ‘Parliament’ is actually comprised of three components. According to Article 44 of the Federal Constitution, the three main elements of the Parliament are:
Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA);
Dewan Negara; and
Based on this Article (as in Article 44, not the one you’re currently reading), the power to make laws lies upon the Parliament which uses a bicameral system (dual house) that comprises of House of Senate (Dewan Negara) and House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). The Dewan Rakyat is also dissolved before every General Election to make way for a new set of MPs as voted for by the People.
More to the point of the article (the one you’re currently reading), the Dewan Rakyat operates under a set of rules called the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat (SO). Order 1 of the SO states that when the Dewan Rakyat commences its meeting for the first time after an election, their first task is to appoint a Yang di-Pertua Dewan, or commonly known as the Speaker.
As such, YB Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, former Judge of the Court of Appeal was appointed as the Ninth Dewan Rakyat Speaker of the 14th Malaysian Parliament, succeeding Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia. The appointment of the Speaker is important because he or she is responsible for a very specific set of duties...
What are the duties of Dewan Rakyat Speaker?
YB Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof. Image from NST
Generally, Tuan Yang di-Pertua Dewan / Speaker acts like a moderator who chairs and regulates the Dewan Rakyat meeting. There are several powers granted to him in order to ensure the efficiency of the meeting session and obedience towards the regulations among the Members of Parliament (MPs) as prescribed under the Standing Orders (SO). Among the powers of the Dewan Rakyat Speaker are:
If you watch videos of parliamentary sessions, you’ll sometimes hear an MP saying –
”Dengan izin Tuan Speaker, we need to ...”
It means that, if any MP who wants to speak English during the session, he has to obtain permission from the Dewan Rakyat Speaker by at least saying the words stated above before continuing his speech. According to Order 8 of the Standing Orders (SO):
This is because Bahasa Malaysia, as the national language, is prioritized for use in government administration.
In this context, a ‘motion’ typically refers to a formal proposal. During a session, MPs may end up making numerous motions or suggestions; which would be pretty daunting if not time-consuming. So it makes sense that not all motions raised before the speaker will be accepted or executed (carried out).
Order 18(7) of the SO states that the Speaker has power to refuse to allow any motion proposed by any MP for the following reasons:
- The MP is using it as an opportunity to speak to the House
- The matter has already been discussed and clarified by the government
- If it contravenes (goes against) any Standing Orders
This is to ensure that time is efficiently spent according to the Order Paper (Aturan Urusan Mesyuarat) – basically the schedule or timetable of the day.
When parliament is in session, MPs are given the opportunity to ask a Minister questions on urgent or pressing issues in in a specially allocated period called Question Time. Sometimes, an MP may be unclear with an answer or statement given, so there’s also an allocation to ask Ministers or Deputy Ministers additional questions (‘supplementary questions’) – but there are rules. According to Order 24(3) of the SO:
In short, an MP can only ask up to 3 supplementary questions which have not been answered yet, and it has to be related to an answer already given. An example would be if a minister had answered a question about the fishing industry, an MP cannot ask a supplementary question about the rising crime rate. The rules also prevent sneaky MPs from combining several questions as one.
Generally, the Speaker vets through these questions to avoid turning Question Time into a debate or prolonged discussion as per Order 24(4) of the SO:
Speaker also has the power to suspend any MP from his service!
Recently, Bukit Gelugor MP YB Ramkarpal Singh was ordered to leave the Dewan Rakyat, with his service suspended for two days due to his failure to comply with the Speaker’s order to withdraw his remarks made during the session. In such, YB Ramkarpal has the dubious honor of being the first MP to be thrown out and suspended under the 14th Malaysian Parliament.
But does the Speaker actually have the power to throw out and suspend MPs?
According to Order 44(2) of SO:
Based on this provision, yes – the Speaker has the power to order any MP who fails to comply with related Standing Orders to leave the House and suspend his service for up to 10 days if stated; or for two days if the period is not stated by the Speaker. This includes the day the MP was ordered to leave the House.
If the Speaker thinks that this action is not sufficient, he can also suspend an MP for a longer period of time with the assent (agreement) of the majority of MPs through procedures described under Order 44(3) of SO.
So… how is the Dewan Rakyat Speaker appointed?
Looking at his duties and powers, the Dewan Rakyat Speaker is important as to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of the Parliament. Therefore, the nominees that will be chosen must fulfill the criteria stated under Article 57(1) of the Federal Constitution.
In simpler words, Dewan Rakyat Speaker nominees can be chosen among the MPs or any Malaysian citizen who is eligible to contest in the federal election (for Parliamentary seat) which is, generally, someone who is at least 21 years of age and not disqualified from running in the election.
If the Speaker is not an MP, he or she must take an oath before the House, and be regarded as one of its members by virtue of Article 57(1A) of the Federal Constitution.
In terms of electing the Speaker, some of the conditions prescribed under Order 4 of SO are as follows:
- An MP must have the consent of the candidate(s) before submitting their name.
- The names must be submitted to the Secretary of the House at least 14 days before the first meeting begins.
- During the nomination session, an MP will orally propose the candidate’s name. If there’s agreement, this proposal will be seconded (supported). No debate or discussion is allowed.
- If there’s only one candidate who has been seconded, he or she will be declared as Speaker without question. If there’s more than one candidate, the MPs will need to vote by written ballot.
In a way, this is something that Parliament and house parties have in common – a good speaker can really make a difference.