The first week’s sitting of the first meeting of the first session of the 14th Parliament this week had its fair share of amusement, seriousness and drama.
MPs were seen looking for their seats in the Dewan Rakyat, many of them now having to sit on the opposite side following the election victory of Pakatan Harapan and the defeat of the Barisan Nasional.
Some MPs attending the Dewan Rakyat for the first time were seen on Monday going through the wrong doors, confused as to which side they should be in. The seasoned MPs admitted to feeling odd having to sit on the opposite side in the House.
Although the Dewan Rakyat sitting was expected to be 'hot’, many probably did not anticipate fireworks on the first day itself, involving the election of the new speaker.
Hardly 10 minutes into the meeting, the opposition MPs challenged the election of retired Court of Appeal judge Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof as the speaker, claiming that his name was not given to Parliament 14 days earlier as required under Standing Order 4 (1).
The name of Mohamad Ariff (photo) had been proposed by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and seconded by Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
The opposition MPs, mainly from the BN and PAS and led by Opposition Leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, walked out, leaving Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin all by himself on the BN side in the House.
However, the opposition MPs returned later to be sworn in.
Ironically, the BN MPs found themselves adapting to their new role quickly and, so far, rather convincingly.
On Tuesday, just before delivering the royal address to open the meeting, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V jokingly advised the MPs to “sila duduk, jangan lari” (please be seated, do not leave), eliciting laughter and cheers from all the MPs.
Observers were quick to point out that the Agong was taking a jibe at the opposition MPs who had walked out the day before.
Speaker Mohamad Ariff settled down to his job quickly, bringing to play the extensive experience he has had in the judiciary.
Constantly reminding the MPs on decorum, he also proved that he meant business when he ordered backbencher Ramkarpal Singh out of the House for failing to retract the word “gangsters” the Bukit Gelugor MP had used in reference to the opposition MPs.
It was the first time in the history of the Dewan Rakyat that a backbencher had been ordered out.
The return of Mahathir to the Dewan Rakyat has also brought a new excitement and anticipation in the House.
Known for his wittiness and razor-sharp mind in fielding questions, Mahathir has never failed to impress and surprise his audience, especially the journalists assigned to cover him.
The Dewan Rakyat sitting proper began on Wednesday. It was a baptism of fire for the new cabinet ministers who had to face a deluge of questions from the MPs.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo, known as a firebrand and vocal critic of the past government in the last two terms, displayed his more composed and passionate side, and firmly fielded the questions.
During the swearing-in on Monday, 220 of the 222 MPs were sworn in before the Speaker.
The absentees were Pagoh MP and Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is recuperating from a surgery to remove a pancreatic tumour, and Sipitang MP Yamani Hafez Musa. The reason for the latter's absence was not known.
Batu Pahat MP Mohd Rashid Hanson and Teluk Intan MP Nga Kor Ming were elected as the new deputy speakers.
The Dewan Rakyat sitting continues on Monday.