Automatically Refer Foulmouthed MPs to Privileges Committee for Punishments

The Seed Community for a Professional Parliament (SCPP) calls for an amendment of Dewan Rakyat Standing Order 36 to automatically refer to any MPs who utter sexist, racist, treacherous, subversive and offensive expressions to the House’s Privileges Committee, and impose severe penalties if found guilty.

The wild accusation of Opposition women MPs as ‘indecent’ (tidak senonoh) and the twice uttering of “p***m*k” by Pasir Salak MP, Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (UMNO) in the Dewan Rakyat sitting in the afternoon of 20 July 2022 expose not just rudeness and vulgarity of the uncultured parliamentarian who repeatedly brings shame to his constituency and constituents, but also both the failure of Deputy Speaker Datuk Rashid Hasnon to act fairly and a two-year failure of the Standing Orders Committee – chaired by Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Harun – to tighten the rules.

Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon gave a slap-on-the-wrist warning to Tajuddin Abdul Rahman for such vulgarity, just two days after he suspended Kota Belud MP Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis (Warisan) for demanding a debate on the seizure of Petronas assets by claimed descendants of Sulu Sultan.

The inconsistency and disproportionality of the penalties (completely unjustifiable for Kota Belud MP) expose not just the poor judgement and weak personality of the Deputy Speaker in matters like parliamentary decorum, gender inclusion and public interest, but also a structural flaw in the line-up of Deputy Speaker that fails to reflect diversity in gender (no woman), region (no East Malaysian) and partisanship (no Opposition).

The SCPP however wishes to remind the public that the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders are ill-equipped to punish the offenders in vulgarity and demeaning expressions. While sexist, racist, treacherous, subversive and offensive expressions are all “out of order” (menjadi kesalahan) under Order 36(4) and (10), no penalty is provided. Hence, an offender can get out of trouble by simply withdrawing and apologising, which Tajuddin Abdul Rahman did not even bother to do before the weak Deputy Speaker.

To effectively deter vulgarity, the SCPP calls upon the Speaker as the chair of the Standing Order Committee to convene the Committee and has the amendment of Standing Order 36 passed before the Parliamentary meeting ends in August. SO36 should be amended so that:

(i)       Offenders must be automatically referred to the House’s Privileges Committee;

(ii)      If found guilty, they would be penalised with a fine of at least RM 500.

(iii)      Severity of penalties should be higher for repeat offenders, with mandatory suspension being an option to force the party or party whip to enforce discipline among their party MPs.

The first two suggestions were first submitted by Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto on 22 July, 2020, exactly today two years ago, after she herself became the object of racist slur by Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

Regrettably, two years after her submission was ignored by the Standing Orders Committee, another incident took place.

Symbolically, as MPs are paid RM 500 in allowance for every day’s attendance, a fine of at least RM 500 indicates that their attendance would be invalidated by offensive expression. The Privileges Committee is the House’s disciplinary board. As for the third suggestion, the mandatory suspension of MPs who breach the rules will make the parties sit up and take preventive action because it could mean loss of voting members in the House.

The Standing Orders Committee has seven members. Other than the Speaker as chair, four come from the Government bench: Ahmad Nazlan bin Idris (Jerantut-UMNO), Azizah Mohd Dun (Beaufort-Bersatu), Nancy Shukri (Batang Sadong-PBB), Ahmad Amzad bin Mohamed (Kuala Terengganu-PAS), and two from the Opposition bench: Sivarasa Rasiah (Sungai Buloh-PKR) and Hannah Yeoh (Segambut-DAP).

With the threat of possible fine and suspension, MPs and parties would exercise greater discipline to adhere to parliamentary decorum. The current failures to penalise repeat offenders has given a signal that such behaviours are tolerated, or even condoned, by the Dewan.

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.

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Endorsed by:

  1. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH)
  2. Persatuan Pengundi Muda (Undi18)
  3. Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)
  4. Bait Al Amanah
  5. Engage Network
  6. WISDOM Foundation
  7. Institute for Political Reform and Democracy (REFORM)