The Malaysian Insider

opinion

When will our MPs act professionally?

Farah Fahmy

APRIL 4 — Following the latest round of insults thrown in our Dewan Rakyat, I wonder: Isn’t it time proceedings there were televised “live”?

It never fails to amaze me how many parliamentarians appear to forget what their primary purpose is, which is to serve those who put them in power. Our MPs are doing the job precisely because we put them there to look after our interests. There are certainly many MPs who do this, of course.

These MPs look after their constituents, listen to them, and take part in debates. They also behave professionally and courteously towards their fellow MPs.

Unfortunately there also appears to be a number of MPs who are incapable of sustaining an intelligent and mature discussion. Take the latest round of insults over apostasy.

Apostasy is hardly a light subject in our country, and usually leads to accusations of Christian proselytisation towards Muslims. I would have expected that any discussion in the Dewan Rakyat that touched on apostasy would be handled sensitively and rationally in a week where we had a religious seminar that had as part of its original title “the Christian threat.”

But that really is too much to expect, it seems.

As it happens, I think PAS MP Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud asked a very pertinent question: “Why do we need to frighten others about this threat by other religions?”

Why, indeed.

I find it hard to believe that Islam is under threat in our country. We can practise our religion freely. Not only can we build mosques throughout the country, such works are also usually funded by the government.

Unlike the Jews in Nazi Germany, nobody is preventing us from marrying non-Muslims (indeed, non-Muslims must become Muslims to do so), nobody is preventing others from employing us and neither can others physically harm us with impunity. So what is this threat, and where is it coming from?

Disappointingly, instead of focusing on the matter at hand, Dr Siti Mariah was insulted.

This isn’t the first time our MPs have been unable to discuss issues rationally. The words “bastard” and “pondan” have been used before in the Dewan Rakyat. And of course, there is the disgusting and disgraceful “bocor” remark a few years back.

I understand that there is such a thing as parliamentary privilege. I think it is appropriate for our Parliament to retain this rule. However, the privilege is there to encourage healthy debate. When discussing matters of national importance, it helps not to be constrained when exchanging views. It is not, and should not, however, be a licence to insult and abuse your colleagues at will.

Imagine if you called your colleague “bodoh” during a heated work discussion. Or imagine referring to your female colleague’s menstruation during a work discussion. Or calling your colleague a “pondan.” Or calling your colleagues any of the insults that are oh-so-common in our Dewan Rakyat. I’m sure you would be reprimanded, and rightly so.

Throwing insults at other people does not create an environment that is conducive for work. Neither does it promote respect amongst each other. In short, it is unprofessional.

I suspect that some MPs indulge in this kind of kindergarten behaviour because they can hide behind parliamentary privilege. What’s more, there aren’t actually a lot of reports on parliamentary proceedings so we don’t actually know much about what happens in Parliament.

If I wanted to watch a “live” debate, I would have to find an Internet site that carried it — you might think that’s fair enough, since I live abroad. But actually, you in Malaysia would have to do the same thing.

Of all the broadcast media channels in our country, only TV1 carries reports on Parliament; and these are just reports, not “live” telecasts. In 2008, TV1 stopped showing a daily “live” telecast of 30 minutes. Why? Because of a few noisy sessions that showed shouting MPs.

I think this is a disgraceful state of affairs. I grant you that not every Malaysian is interested in what goes on in Parliament, but surely everyone has the right to see democracy in action. After all, what gets enacted in Parliament affects us all.

More prosaically, “live” telecasts allow us to see how our MP is performing. Wouldn’t you want to know how your MP behaves during debates? Wouldn’t you want to know what views your MPs hold? After all, it’s not as if all of us get to meet our MPs in person.

Additionally, holding “live” telecasts could induce our MPs to behave in a more professional manner. If they knew that they were being watched by the very people who put them where they are, they might refrain from insulting each other and actually discuss things properly.

It’s not long now till we get to choose our MPs again. I’d like to hope that this will serve as a wake-up call for our sitting MPs to start behaving with more decorum, but I rather think that this a vain hope.

Until all our MPs feel that they are accountable for their actions, insults are not going to stop and what is supposed to be an august debating house degenerates into petty, playground politics. It would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that this group of people shape the laws of our country.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.