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LETTER | Is the special sitting of Parliament a sitting of special chamber?

LETTER | With Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham being the latest opposition figure to fire a salvo against Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun, I think it’s important that each provision in the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders (SO) is not read in isolation.

Under SO11(1), the first sitting of the House in each session shall be held in such place on such day and at such hour as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may by proclamation appoint. Under SO98, a session means the sittings of the House commencing when the House first meets after being constituted, or any time and terminating when the House is prorogued or is dissolved without having been prorogued.

Let me explain. By parliamentary practice, a session is convened for every calendar year. In each session of Parliament – that is, in each calendar year – there are usually three meetings which are accordingly called the first meeting, second meeting and third meeting.

After the last sitting in a session in a calendar year – that is, the last (usually the third) meeting – Parliament is prorogued under Article 55(2) of the Federal Constitution. This is done before Parliament is convened – or summoned under Article 55(1) – for the first meeting of the next parliamentary session in the new calendar year.

For example, the third meeting of the third session of the fourteenth Parliament – Mesyuarat Ketiga Penggal Ketiga Parlimen Keempat Belas – for 2020 was held from Nov 2 to Dec 17, 2020. Parliament should have been prorogued after the last day of sitting on Dec 17. But the prorogation has yet to be done.

Proroguing and summoning Parliament is by way of proclamation which is published in the Gazette. For example, the first session of the thirteenth Parliament which last sat on Dec 5, 2013, was prorogued by a proclamation dated Jan 8, 2014. The proclamation was published in the Gazette on Jan 25, 2014 [PU(A) 28/2014].

The first meeting of the second session was then convened or summoned by a proclamation dated Jan 18, 2014, and published on Jan 25, 2014, as well [PU(A) 29/2014].

In short, Parliament is prorogued after the last sitting in a session. This can be seen in the Hansard that records, among others, the parliamentary calendar (takwim) for each parliamentary term. 

Parliament is now in its fourteenth (14th) term, which is why it is called the 14th Parliament.

Now, as mentioned above, the third session (2020) of the current (14th) Parliament has yet to be prorogued by proclamation. It was only adjourned after it last sat on Dec 17.

An adjournment is a temporary break during a parliamentary session, such as at weekends, or during recesses, or between meetings. Remember, there are usually three meetings in a parliamentary session. In between meetings, Parliament is adjourned. 

Parliament is reconvened – as opposed to convened – after being adjourned. But after the last day of the last meeting of a parliamentary session, Parliament is prorogued. The prorogation usually comes later by way of proclamation before the next session is convened by way of proclamation as well.

Both proclamations, in practice, are published on the same dates.

When Parliament is adjourned it is reconvened only on the request of the government – that is, the prime minister as the Leader of the House. SO11(3) states as follow:

“If, during an adjournment of the House, it is represented to the speaker by the prime minister that the public interest requires that the House should meet at an earlier date than that to which the House was adjourned, then speaker shall give notice thereof forthwith and the House shall meet at the time stated in such notice. The business set down for that day shall be appointed by the prime minister and notice thereof shall be circulated not later than the time of meeting.”

As such, the House can be reconvened for a Special Meeting – Mesyuarat Khas – as the case is for the forthcoming sitting on July 26. It is the special meeting of the third session of the fourteenth Parliament.

A special meeting of the third session (2015) of the thirteenth Parliament (2013 – 2018) was similarly reconvened under SO11(3). It was held for two days from Jan 26 to 27, 2016. This was after the last sitting on Dec 3, 2015, of the third meeting of the third session before the fourth session was convened for the first meeting on Mac 7, 2016. It was accordingly called the special meeting of the third session of the thirteenth Parliament.  

While a 28-day notice is required before the commencement of each session of Parliament under SO11(3) and SO9(2)(a), the secretary of the House, in cases of urgency as may be determined by the speaker, may dispense with such notice, and in that event, the longest notice possible must be given.

In short, the special meeting on July 26 is proper and in order, respectfully.

Now, according to Azhar, SO11(3) explicitly states that the prime minister has to decide the business for the special meeting from July 26.

“I am bewildered and puzzled. With the collective number of years Harapan has had in the Parliament as MPs and even as part of the government, and with a stellar line-up of well-known legal practitioners in its stable, it doesn't appear to understand or even know the Standing Orders very well.”

“I would like to implore the Harapan presidential council to stop this politics of hate through subtle and surreptitious misinformation as well as false narrative,” said Azhar. 

With due respect, Azhar too may have overlooked that the special meeting commencing on July 26 could be, or be turned into, a sitting of the special chamber – Kamar Mesyuarat Khas. The term “special chamber” was introduced by way of amendment to the SO on April 7, 2016. This was after the last held two-day special meeting in Jan of that year.

SO16(1) establishes a special chamber to consider (a) speech on any matter of administration for which the government is responsible under SO17; and (b) a defined matter of urgent public importance under SO18.

So far, the agenda for the sitting that has been distributed to MPs stated that there will be five days of ministerial statements only. These are indeed speeches on matters of administration for which the government is responsible, if not defined matters of urgent public importance.

In a sitting of the special chamber, the business is transacted in the order as determined by the speaker (SO14A).

Article 62(1) of the Federal Constitution allows each House of Parliament to regulate its own procedure. SO99(1) allows the speaker to make and issue rulings on any point of interpretation of the SO or on any matter of practice. Importantly, failure to comply with the SO does not nullify proceedings in the House (SO99A).

It remains to be seen how the speaker would interpret the provisions on the special chamber in the SO.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.