Being the Speaker of the House in Malaysia’s Parliament is hard work, Art Harun would know.
Just four months into the job, the speaker, whose real name is Azhar Azizan Harun, has been in the spotlight for his colorful, no holds barred character, having been caught on tape on several occasions lashing out at politicians and, at times, simply losing it.
Azhar was elected Parliament Speaker in July after winning 111 out of over 200 votes. It was Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who had selected Azhar as the potential candidate to oversee parliamentary sittings. Analysts said that Azhar had appealed to urban Malaysians and was considered trustworthy due to his legal background.
The lawyer of 30 years had spent a year helming the election authority from 2018, when he introduced online voter registration, facilities for voters with disabilities, and live-streaming of the voting process.
The 58-year-old has “no regrets” about accepting a job at such a rowdy place, telling reporters in July that MPs can continue to be “unruly” if they want, because the public was watching.
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True enough, it has been a wild ride since Azhar took over from Mohamad Ariff Yusof. Here are four moments we think would go down in history:
‘Do not disturb.’
Last Thursday, Azhar raised his voice at Shah Alam MP Khalid Abdul Samad after the latter interrupted Finance Minister Zafrul Aziz while he was in the middle of delivering the budget speech.
Zafrul was wrapping up his speech when Khalid suddenly stood up to accuse the government of “twisting the facts” about the opposition’s involvement in approving the budget. Azhar then reminded him that he was not allowed to interrupt someone unless he was seeking clarification, speaking to Khalid calmly before eventually raising his voice.
“Point of order,” Azhar told Khalid. “According to the rules, an MP may not interrupt another who is speaking unless he wishes to seek clarification.”
“The speaker of the house may stop an MP from seeking clarification if he finds that there isn’t enough time for it or if he believes that the MP is purposely DISTURBING the speaker,” he added.
Khalid, who is part of the opposition camp, went on to ask about the number of times the budget was discussed with the opposition before it was presented in Parliament. No answer was given. Khalid then joined 12 other parliamentarians in rejecting the federal budget.
‘Let’s not get a heart attack.’
Last Tuesday, Azhar tried to calm things down as tensions grew between Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong and his predecessor Anthony Loke over a transportation project in Klang Valley. Loke kept interrupting Wee while the latter was delivering updates until Azhar stepped in, telling them to “calm down” and not get a “heart attack.”
“Seremban MP, please calm down, calm down. Let’s not get a heart attack,” the speaker was heard as saying. “Please continue, Wee.”
Wee replied that he was “calm” and was “merely asking Loke to let me finish speaking before lashing out.”
Loke said: “There’s no need to beat around the bush, just read out the facts.”
‘Please listen to me! I’m speaking now.’
Even the speaker himself gets interrupted sometimes. During a sitting last Tuesday, Azhar was explaining the new restriction on parliamentary debates when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim jumped in to criticize Azhar for being “too strict.”
“Please listen to me! I’m speaking now,” Azhar shouted at Anwar. “If anyone wishes to seek clarification from the speaker, it can be done, but only for clarification’s sake, it’s not up for debate any more. The time for debate is over.”
Azhar had given MPs only 20 minutes to debate the budget as part of a new COVID-19 measure after a political aide contracted the coronavirus. But Anwar had objected to it, saying that it was “stopping MPs from raising important questions.”
Anwar had accused the speaker of not understanding the MPs, to which Azhar replied: “I do understand. I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand.”
‘I’m not stopping anyone from debating.’
That wasn’t the first time Azhar was riled up in front of politicians opposing his COVID-19 parliamentary restrictions, which had also limited attendance to only 80 MPs.
While lashing out at politicians earlier this month, Azhar went so far as to call out those who don’t even return to Parliament after their lunch breaks.
“OK, I am so done,” Azhar said. “Where does it state in the Federal Constitution that I have to listen to all 222 MPs in one sitting? There are only 26 people in one quorum.”
“Even during our normal parliamentary sessions before this, not all 222 MPs will be present,” he later added. “There will be around 120 MPs and not everyone will be here for the whole day. Sometimes, after the 2.30pm lunch break, we can’t even make up the numbers for a full quorum.”
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This article, ‘Please listen to me!’ Four times Malaysia’s newest speaker Art Harun loses it in Parliament, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.