Two weeks ago, Dato’ Sri Azalina Dato’ Othman Said, the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat), mooted the idea that a Member of Parliament from the Federal Opposition should be elected as one of the Deputy Speakers of the Dewan Rakyat (“The Proposal”).
Unfortunately The Proposal, a very novel one in Malaysia’s history and in the context of Malaysian politics, did not receive much consideration by politicians across the political divide.
The Proposal is worthy of further discussion as there is no prohibition against it, it would promote check and balance, and it has international precedent.
There is no prohibition against The Proposal in the Federal Constitution and Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat.
The Federal Constitution merely requires the Deputy Speaker to be a Member of the Dewan Rakyat.
That being the case, theoretically, a Member of the Dewan Rakyat from the Federal Opposition can be elected as one of the two Deputy Speakers.
Promote check & balance
The Deputy Speaker presides over proceedings in the Dewan Rakyat, in the absence of the Speaker.
When doing so, the Deputy Speaker is vested with all of the powers of the Speaker.
In the past, there have been claims that the Speakers (at different time periods) were biased against Members of Parliament from the Federal Opposition.
A Deputy Speaker from the Federal Opposition could negate or reduce claims of bias, and would act as a check and balance against the Speaker (who more often than not leans in favour of the Federal Government who elected him/her).
Where motions of no-confidence are involved, for example, the Deputy Speaker from the opposition could preside over the tabling, debate, and voting of the motion so as to minimise any apparent (or appearance of) conflict of interest.
The Proposal has happened in other countries in the past, mutatis mutandis.
There have been instances of elected representatives from the opposition being elected as Deputy Speakers. Examples include:
i. Ishkhan Saghatelian, Armenia, 2021;
ii. Andrius Mazuronis, Lithuania, 2020;
iii. Peter Slipper, Australia, 2010; and
iv. Michel Bissonnet, Quebec, 1989.
In India and Lithuania, there is arguably a constitutional convention that the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha (in India’s case) and two of the maximum seven Deputy Speakers of the Seimas (in Lithuania’s case) would be elected from the opposition.
Besides that, there is also precedent for an opposition Member of Parliament being elected as Speaker:
i. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Ghana, 2021; and
ii. Betty Boothroyd, United Kingdom, 1992.
All of the above goes to show that The Proposal deserves serious consideration. It is a shame that The Proposal, a constructive and yet unconventional parliamentary reform, disappeared as quickly as it had arrived on mainstream media.