What is the point of the Dewan Rakyat sitting?

By Sheila Danker

The hallowed halls of the Dewan Rakyat represent a sacred institution, not only for its members that debate in it but for all Malaysians alike.

For the past few months, we have heard many quarters demand for its reopening, in light of the surge in the number of Covid-19 cases.

The reason – to discuss ways to tackle the pandemic and hold the government accountable for its actions under the emergency ordinances.

These seem like perfectly acceptable reasons which every Malaysian can get on board with. But when the day finally came, we were in for a rude awakening as the politicians showed their true colours in a spectacularly disgusting fashion.

I do not want to delve into the details as much has been written and shared on the exchanges between supposed “Yang Berhormats” whose actions did not seem to merit such an honorific.

I could not bear to watch the entirety of the proceedings, but I did watch some snippets which were uploaded and shared throughout the day.

Each time, I shook my head in disbelief and dismay.

What was the point of all this hullabaloo of reopening the Dewan Rakyat when it is painfully obvious that parliamentarians could not put their differences aside for the sake of the rakyat?

The one saving grace that day was when finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz took the floor in the afternoon. The iron hot temperature of the Dewan Rakyat lowered somewhat and finally there seemed to be an iota of maturity showcased by the MPs as fruitful exchanges and debates occurred.

Perhaps it was because Tengku Zafrul himself, as a technocrat and not a politician, was able to find the middle ground in what seems to be increasingly divisive and partisan politics practised in Malaysia.

Despite my previous misgivings about the Emergency proclamation, I switched off my screen feeling that it was perhaps justified.

No one needs to be told – more so these politicians – that the situation right now is dire. The healthcare system is stretched, we have more and more deaths and people are struggling to eke out a living amid government lockdowns.

In the past two weeks, this had become personal for me as I lost two dear colleagues to the virus.

I believe Malaysians everywhere hoped that with the Dewan Rakyat finally reopened, we would be able to make better sense of the pandemic.

Personally, I had hoped for a little more clarity and a cogent way forward. Yet, no sooner than within the first hour of proceedings, I felt that familiar sense of apathy – that these parliamentarians, deep down, do not have the rakyat’s interests at heart.

Of course, I would be wrong to assign blame to each and every member of the Dewan Rakyat – some, like Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah, presented her arguments and most importantly, the plight of the people on the ground in such an eloquent, respectful and firm manner.

It is for this reason, I trust that nothing will come out of the Dewan Rakyat, so long as most MPs continue behaving as uncouthly as they did.

The way forward is to select the best of the best – across party lines – to come together and work on a solution for the long term. Steps in the right direction have already been taken with the formation of the bipartisan National Recovery Council (NRC).

Recently, it was announced that the government has invited opposition members to join in its ranks, alongside other notable subject matter experts, industry players, NGOs and specific business sector representatives.

We have a higher probability of it snowing in Malaysia than hoping that the over-200 parliamentarians will behave civilly with one another and work together to come up with a workable strategy to bring us out of the pandemic.

I had hopes but they were dashed which, unfortunately, confirmed my subconscious fear that you really cannot expect decorum from clowns.

This letter first appeared in Free Malaysia Today and do not represent the views of this portal