Speaker: Parliament not ready for virtual sitting

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The federal constitution needs to be amended to enable virtual sitting for Parliament, said Dewan Rakyat speaker Azhar Azizan Harun.

Azhar, who is also a lawyer, said his legal advice is to look at the regulatory and the constitutional framework for virtual parliament to become a reality.

“The federal constitution says that those who are not present in the House cannot vote,” Azhar said last night at Astro Awani’s talk show ‘Consider This’.

“Every time the King summons Parliament, His Majesty would issue a proclamation and that proclamation would say that the House is hereby summoned to sit from what date to what date, every day from what time to what time, and thirdly, the venue.

“And the venue is the House of Parliament, it’s physical. So, right now, the constitution, the proclamation and the standing orders are all made on the basis that it would be a physical sitting. So, if we want to have a virtual sitting, those have to be amended,” he said, commenting on calls to have a virtual Parliament sitting.

Azhar said that he has instructed the Parliament authorities to have a look at the methodology, technology and the present regulatory framework to enable virtual sitting.

He said there is progress where the team has seen the proposals and presentations by various contractors and have done the course study.

“In fact, tomorrow, coincidentally, we are supposed to sit down together with my deputies, three of us, together with my secretariat to go through whatever proposal they have made so far, that is in respect of technology and methodology and the cost, the financial side.”

Parliament has not convened since December last year and Azhar said, to date, there has been no notice from the government to reconvene.

On January 11, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah had granted his request for a nationwide state of emergency to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that it would expire on August 1.

The declaration of a state of emergency has led to criticism that the government is trying to avoid checks and balances, ignoring calls to reconvene Parliament despite the king decreeing on February 24 that Parliament should meet even during an emergency.

During the talk show, Azhar was also questioned on his reservations and compared them to statements by deputy speaker Azalina Othman Said, who had been pushing for Parliament to convene during an emergency.

Azhar hit out at those calling for Parliament to be convened, saying they were using the issue for their political purposes.

“In all respect to her, she’s not like me, she’s a politician. Being a politician, there’s a need to adopt a certain posture, a certain positioning for political benefits, and I do not have that.

“I do not find that I need to do so and, more so, in my seat, when everything is being politicised, I wish to avoid that,” Azhar said.

He said the government suspended Parliament to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic issues in a timelier fashion.

“Going by how Budget 2021 was debated at a political level much more than at policy level, the government thought with the emergency, it can deal with these two problems more effectively and more quickly.”

On the government’s Covid-19 prevention initiatives, he said, in his opinion, the initiatives have not been “communitised” much.

“We have, in fact, not done that at all, the enforcement, so to speak of the standard operating procedure (SOP), are left with the police and authorities.

“That gives the ‘them against us’ feeling on the ground, there is no sense of responsibility, there is no sense of togetherness in fighting the pandemic,” he said.

Azhar added that only by communitising the various initiatives can there be a sense of belonging, which can be used to fight the pandemic effectively. – TMI