Art Harun – strengthening parliamentary institution or a stooge?
By Zan Azlee
I remember when Pakatan Harapan won the general election in May 2018, someone I know mentioned to me that it’s a weird feeling when your friends on Facebook have now become cabinet members and heads of various government agencies. I guess that speaks significantly about the circle of friends and acquaintances that we have.
Prior to the historic 2018 general election, the fight against the alleged kleptocratic government at that time managed to unite many Malaysians and they ranged from those in the actual political opposition to everyday Malaysians who would stay updated on social media and also through other activism movements.
Basically, everyone ran in the same circle. The opposition politicians were always on the ground. The people were always on the ground. There was constant engagement and everyone were more or less friends and knew each other. So of course, naturally, people would connect in some way or another.
Which brings me to the issue of the appointment of Azhar Azizan Harun as the new Dewan Rakyat speaker. His appointment has been fairly controversial. Firstly, he was appointed without a vote. Secondly, he resigned as Election Commission chairperson, an appointment made by the Harapan government, to be then appointed by the Perikatan Nasional government as speaker.
Yes, Art Harun (as he is more widely known), is also my friend on Facebook. I have to admit I don’t know him personally. We may have bumped into each other at certain events, but have never really spoken to each other face to face. I’m going to be presumptuous here and say that I’m sure he is familiar with my writings.
I, however, am very familiar with his writings which he usually posts on social media (or at least he used to) as many people would also be. His writings, all political obviously, are very witty, punny and entertaining to read. He even had a video series called “The Art Of The Matter” which was hosted on an online news portal.
Anyone who is familiar with Art Harun (well, as far as his writings and public opinions go) will also be familiar with the fact that he is a proponent of democracy, human rights, equality, justice and, of course, his commitment to criticising and being the check and balance against authority (prior to May 2018, the authority was BN).
So, when Harapan became the government, it wasn’t really a big surprise to see Art, who is a lawyer by profession, being appointed as chairperson of the Election Commission. I thought it was a good move because I believed that someone of Art’s practicality and opinions would bring the right changes to the EC. For most parts, it was pretty okay.
When the “Sheraton Move” happened and the “backdoor” government came into place, we saw so many people who were political appointees resigning from their posts, such as Latheefa Koya who resigned as MACC commissioner (if I remember correctly, even the prime minister resigned!). But Art continued on as the EC chair.
I saw this as maybe a good opportunity for Malaysia to finally strengthen our institutions instead of always being influenced by politics and political parties. Yes, I also realised that the opposite was happening with many other agencies and GLCs when PN started making their own new appointments. What a juxtaposition.
But then, as we all know, drawing closer to the Dewan Rakyat’s sitting, we suddenly saw Art resigning as EC chairperson. A few days later, he is appointed as the Dewan Rakyat speaker. Technically, there was a vote and it was 111 against 109 for him to be the speaker. The issue is that he was the sole nominee and the opposition had no chance to present their nomination.
It was also a very close vote with only a two-person difference. This shows that our Parliament is actually quite equally divided. This would make things very interesting if a motion of no-confidence against the prime minister would be tabled now. Would Muhyiddin Yassin command a comfortable majority or could he even lose?
But back to “the Art of the matter”.
The PN government had “invited” Art to be the speaker and he had accepted. In a situation where politicians have been jumping ship and shifting allegiances even within the same party, as we have seen with Bersatu and PKR, where does that put Art?
There already seems to be a stigma put on him as being a so-called “traitor” and a lot of criticism has gone his way for what has transpired regarding his appointment and also how his first day handling the Dewan went. He threw Khalid Samad, the MP for Shah Alam, out and allowed Azeez Rahim Abdul Rahim, the MP of Baling, to get away with a racist statement.
Only after much noise and criticism, he ordered for an apology and a retraction of the racist statement from Azeez, who did it in a very non-apologetic way (he said sorry but said that he was actually referring to the hall’s dark lighting and not to the skin colour of another MP).
What is interesting is that Art has always been very critical of the democratic process of Malaysia all this while. In fact, he even has a whole episode of “The Art of the Matter” where he talks about the responsibilities of the Dewan Rakyat speaker and how appropriately a person holding this position must act and behave.
It may be too early to judge Art Harun as the Dewan Rakyat speaker. Who knows? This may still be an opportunity where we can actually strengthen our institutions. He may stay true to being an objective speaker who will handle the Dewan Rakyat solidly instead of being a politically-appointed stooge.
Whatever it is, eyes are on Art Harun.
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
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