On July 13, the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House of the Malaysian Parliament) elected former Election Commission chairman Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun as the new speaker in place of Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof following a motion tabled by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Azhar took the chair after 111 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted for and 109 voted against to have Mohamad Ariff vacate the seat of speaker.
The new speaker faced a “hostile” Parliament on his first day as he had to deal with inappropriate remarks involving name calling and a perceived racial intimidation of a Malaysian Indian MP.
For a moment, it seemed like Parliament had gone out of control, with MPs yelling at one another as Malaysians and, perhaps, audiences in other parts of the world watched the incident unfold over live broadcasts.
While an MP adhered to the speaker’s advice and apologised and withdraw his “derogatory” remark the following day, the question remains - why did it even happen in the first place? Of course, incidents such as this are not something new in the Malaysian Parliament.
Professionalism and Respect
From young, we have been nurtured to respect one another regardless of gender, age, race and religion in keeping with what constitutes the fabric of Malaysia’s multicultural society. In fact, many of these practices have been translated into our daily reality, including in the workplace and society in general. The majority of ordinary Malaysians enjoy being surrounded by a variety of culture and food, which comes with the nature of a multicultural society.
Yet, we witnessed the ugly side of human nature - name-calling, stereotypes, unprofessionalism and disrespectful behaviour against one another among parliamentarians who are supposed to uphold the highest level of professionalism as representatives of the ordinary people.
This brings me to my point about Malaysian democracy and politics through the lenses of Malaysian youth.
Youth, Democracy and Politics
Anyone of us who has gone through the formal schooling system would have learned about the great responsibility carried by our political leaders to drive the nation forward. The salutation for MPs, Yang Berhormat, literally means “With Respect” in English. Their words and actions do carry weight as they have a direct impact on the future of the country, the future of youth.
The Malaysian Youth Index 2015 of the Institute for Youth Research Malaysia (IYRES) shows an overall index score of 45.82% in the aspect of the political socialisation domain, with a lower score in “youth participation in political activity” of 42.75% compared to “discussion about political issues” at 48.29%. The overall political socialisation domain score is categorised as “Not Satisfied” by the institute.
The question is how far we have progressed since the 2015 research conducted by IYRES.
No doubt, the values that the school system has nurtured in young children through moral education – being respectful to one another – were not practised effectively in Parliament. What expectation can Malaysians have in ensuring social order while Parliament, as the centre of democracy, has failed to keep itself in order?
It is unsurprising that ordinary youths, who are not directly involved in political activities or civil societies, question the democratic process of our country and the reasons for them to participate in the process of democracy.
Thomson Ch’ng is an award-winning Malaysian youth and world-renowned youth figure. He has held leadership positions at the ASEAN Youth Organisation (AYO) and is currently a youth coordinator at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).