Disrespectful and Chauvinistic Language Has No Place in the Dewan Rakyat

We, the undersigned civil society groups, view with alarm the treatment to which certain female MPs in the Opposition were subjected by the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Datuk Azhar Harun during the closing hours of yesterday’s special sitting of the House.

  1. The MPs concerned were YB Hannah Yeoh MP, YB Kasthuri Patto MP and YB Teo Nie Ching MP. The altercation occurred when these female MPs led the push to convince the Speaker to invite the Government to extend the sitting hours, so that the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, YB Khairy Jamaluddin could continue his response to the many important questions raised by MPs from both sides of the aisle regarding the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme (NCIP). 

  2. The request by the female MPs was entirely in keeping with similar requests made by MPs in similar circumstances in the usual course of proceedings in any parliamentary system. It is also entirely within the norm for Speakers of a legislative body to consider such requests if they have the power to do so, and if they do not have the power to extend time, to invite the government bench to bring a motion to extend sitting for a stated time if they are minded to do so. 

  3. Yesterday however, the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat – for reasons best known to himself – refused to even acknowledge that the request by the female MPs was not for him to extend the sitting hours, but for him to invite the government bench to do so. Instead, he responded repeatedly to these female MPs to “Tolong diam boleh tak” and “Tolong diam sekejap”, followed by repeatedly turning off the microphones. For many who were observing the live cast of those proceedings, both his language and tone were not simply inappropriate, not only entirely out of proportion, but also gave a clear impression of chauvinistic or gender-based discriminatory behaviour. While other MPs stood up to interject their support for the female MPs’ request, these female MPs were the ones at the forefront. Further, there were many moments during the proceedings in the House over the last three days when the male MPs from both sides of the aisle used rude and inappropriate language against each other as well as on occasion, the Presiding Officer in the House. Yet to none of these male MPs did the Speaker adopt such words and tone as he did with the female MPs yesterday’s evening.

  4. We hope that what was observed from monitors and TV screens across the country of the Speaker’s behaviour towards these female MPs this evening was magnified by the distance. In the event it was not, we offer the following advice directly to all MPs, particularly YB Yeoh, YB Patto and YB Teo: 
  1. Always bear in mind that under Article 57(1A)(b) of the Federal Constitution, the Speaker is considered a member of the House by virtue of his office (save for certain purposes which are not applicable here).  
  2. Therefore, it is entirely within their rights as Members of the House to subject him to the same rules of conduct and ethics to which any other MP of the House is subject.
  3. On that basis, the MPs may bring a motion against the Speaker to cite him for breaching the rules of the House, for example Standing Order 36(4), ask him to withdraw and apologise for his comments and have those comments struck from the record of the House.
  4. Should a similar situation occur in the future, MPs could bring Article 57(1A)(b) and Order 36(4) immediately to the Speaker’s attention on the floor of the House, in order that he may recalibrate his behaviour accordingly.
  1. Gender-based discrimination is present and it is endemic. It is our collective moral obligation to call it out when it happens, support those targeted and push for consequences, whether it happens in schools, workplace or the halls of Parliament.

This statement is initiated by the Seed Community for a Professional Parliament, a network of individuals active in civil society organisations, think tanks and academia working towards a professional Parliament that facilitates healthy policy competition between parties.

Signed by:

  1. Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0)
  3. Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)
  4. Bait Al-Amanah
  5. Persatuan Pengundi Muda (UNDI18)