Rough Road Ahead for Azhar as “Unelected” Speaker

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After being made Dewan Rakyat speaker without a vote, Azhar Azizan Harun will have to convince almost half the MPs that he can fill the big shoes left by his predecessor, Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof.

The former Election Commission chairman, a respected lawyer and writer previously, could not have begun his first hour as speaker on a worse note.

Amid shouts of “Shame!” and “Nobody voted for you!”, Azhar donned the speaker’s robe and took his oath after Deputy Speaker Mohd Rashid Hasnon allowed Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s motion to appoint Azhar as speaker.

Ariff was earlier removed after Muhyiddin’s motion was approved 111 to 109, out of 222 MPs.

Azhar took the speaker’s seat and his oath while opposition MPs were still disputing the procedures that led to his nomination.

Opposition lawmakers complained they were not given the chance to nominate an alternative candidate for speaker as provided for under the standing orders, to which Rashid said the timeframe for that had already lapsed.

Perikatan Nasional MPs argued that voting was unnecessary as Azhar was the sole nominee for the post.

At a press conference later, the new speaker also said the Dewan Rakyat’s standing orders did not require a vote to be taken if he was the only candidate.

While chaos continued in the house as government and opposition MPs shouted at each other over the appointment, Azhar ignored the furore and swore to uphold parliamentary democracy and the federal constitution.

After that, he said: “I want some decorum. This is Parliament.

“I want to thank the prime minister who proposed me for this post. I also want to take the opportunity to thank the MPs for appointing as the speaker for Dewan Rakyat.

“I also want to thank the MPs for taking part in my appointment process even though they don’t support me because you have ensured that the democratic practices are still alive.”

His words went unheeded as shouting continued and as he tried to figure out the mute control buttons for MPs’ microphones on the console.

Azhar’s first ruling of his speaker’s career, made within minutes of assuming the post, was to eject Amanah lawmaker Khalid Samad (Shah Alam-PH) out of Dewan Rakyat for shouting during his speech.

This prompted more shouting and requests for clarifications in accordance to standing orders.

Some calm returned after Khalid’s ejection. DAP’s Damansara MP, Tony Pua, revealed later on Facebook that he walked out in solidarity with Khalid and because of the “disgraceful” situation.

The calm was short lived as a fresh round of shouting began when the next motion to appoint new members of the select committee came up.

Azhar appeared unable to control MPs from both sides of the divide who were arguing over Abdul Azeez Rahim’s (Baling-BN) remarks about dark skin and “using powder” to Kasthuriraani Patto (Batu Kawan-PH), who was questioning the lack of women MPs nominated to the select committee.

Seeing how hopeless the situation had become, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Takiyuddin Hassan (Kota Baru-PAS) came to Azhar’s rescue by suggesting that Parliament be suspended until the next morning.

On the first day, Azhar presided over the house for less than an hour, becoming speaker at 2.41pm, and adjourning the sitting prematurely at 3.32pm.

Having taken the speaker’s chair under such circumstances, he will have his hands full with the challenge of proving he can be as fair and as impartial as his predecessor, Ariff.

Ariff, too, had his hands full when he was made speaker on July 16, 2018.

But using his experience as a former Court of Appeal judge, Ariff quickly gained the respect of MPs for being fair and efficient.

Though nominated by the Pakatan Harapan government, Ariff has thrown out government MPs, such as Ramkarpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor-DAP) for unparliamentary speech.

Ariff also banned all lawmakers from using the word “perompak” (robber), a favourite of PH lawmakers when criticising Barisan Nasional over the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal.

And he rejected interim prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s application in February, during the collapse of the PH government, for a special sitting as it did not meet conditions of the standing orders.

Azhar, who while in private legal practice had once worked at Ariff’s legal firm, Messrs Cheang & Ariff, had been a welcome figure after PH won the 2018 elections with his appointment as EC chairman.

Azhar, 57, oversaw efforts by the EC’s electoral reform committee (ERC) to revamp certain elections processes and laws, all of which now are under a cloud of doubt. A new EC chairman has yet to be named. – TMI