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LETTER | Precedents on replacing a sitting parliamentary speaker

LETTER | After Malaysiakini first reported that Umno planned to nominate Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said to be the new Dewan Rakyat speaker, another Malaysiakini report – two days later – highlighted DAP’s willingness to discuss further with Azalina if she was serious about putting her name forward to replace Azhar Azizan Harun as the Dewan Rakyat speaker.

Now that there is a person to be proposed to be the new speaker, how to go about proposing that person to replace a sitting speaker?

Well, a precedent was set last year.

It started with then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin submitting a motion to remove the then Dewan Rakyat speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof (above) to be replaced by Azhar Azizan Harun. The motion reportedly was submitted to Ariff on June 26.

It appeared that Ariff did not pass the motion to his deputy to decide on the motion on the ground of conflict of interest. As a matter of fact, as a speaker, Ariff accepted the motion because it was “regular” on its face.

“I look at the motion and I say it looks regular, so I accept it. I cannot say no, this is not politically correct. I refuse. I have no such powers,” he had said.

Ten days after his removal, Ariff told Malaysiakini that he knew the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government would try to remove him as the speaker before the motion was submitted to the Parliament.

“It was not a surprise. I knew it was coming. The signs were there,” he added.

But Ariff stood by his principles. He went by the book.

Muhyiddin’s motion read as follows:

“Bahawa Dewan Rakyat ini mengambil ketetapan untuk Tuan Yang di-Pertua, Yang Berhormat Tan Sri Dato' Mohamad Ariff bin Md Yusof mengosongkan jawatannya atas alasan terdapat pencalonan lain bagi jawatan Tuan Yang di-Pertua.”

On July 13, 2020, the motion was approved, with 111 ‘yays’ to 109 ‘nays’, with Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon chairing the proceedings.

Nga Kor Ming resigned as Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker ahead of the motion to remove him

It was momentous and historic. Ariff became the first sitting Malaysian speaker to be removed. According to the parliamentary convention, a speaker’s position is typically made vacant in one of the following three circumstances - when Parliament is dissolved for a general election, when the speaker passes away in office or when the speaker resigns.

But when Ariff was removed, none of the above existed. His other deputy Nga Kor Ming had resigned ahead of the vote to remove him as well.

It sets a precedent too – that is, to remove a sitting speaker, a motion for the speaker to vacate his seat on the ground that there is another person for the post may be submitted to the speaker, who does not need to recuse himself from deciding whether the motion is regular or otherwise. But the speaker must recuse himself when the motion is brought before the Dewan Rakyat.

Of course, the motion must comply with the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders, in particular Standing Order 27(3) which requires not less than 14 days’ notice “unless it is in the name of a Minister, in which case seven days’ notice or, if Tuan Yang di-Pertua is satisfied upon representation to him by a Minister that the public interest requires that a motion should be debated as soon as possible, one day’s notice shall be sufficient.”

It was on this ground, among others, that the motion to remove and replace Ariff was contended as valid, being in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Accordingly, there is not one, but two precedents.

The first is, if a member of Parliament wishes to remove and replace a sitting speaker, do as Muhyiddin did. Submit a motion under Standing Order 27(3) on the ground that there is a replacement.

The second is, if a speaker receives a motion to remove him or her, do as Ariff did. If the motion looks regular, accept it even if it is not politically correct. Go by the book.

The motion should appear on the Order Paper 14 days after the receipt of the motion.

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