Why this display of vitriol over Art Harun’s election as speaker?

N Surendran

The past two weeks have seen sustained criticism, abuse and attacks upon Azhar Azizan Harun (better known as Art Harun), both in Parliament as well as on social media and in certain news media.

Pakatan Harapan politicians and other opponents of Perikatan Nasional appear to regard Art’s acceptance of the nomination to be speaker of the Dewan Rakyat as a sin.

Yet, prior to his nomination as speaker, Art was regarded as a first-rate Election Commission chief by the very same PH/anti-PN bloc.

But, according to their reasoning, the moment he accepted the PN government’s nomination, he was transformed instantaneously into an unprincipled lackey.

This is a distortion of logic caused by the febrile state of politics in this country.

Going by Art’s fine record as EC chair and as a long-standing public advocate for good governance and democratic values, isn’t it also quite probable that Art took the job because he thought he could impartially hold the balance between the government and opposition?

At the very least, shouldn’t Art have been given the opportunity to prove himself on the job?

Former parliamentary colleagues of mine, whom I once considered fair-minded, have shocked me with the sheer unfairness of their public excoriation of Art.

Even the heated procedural disputes between PH and PN during the debate on the removal of Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof as speaker was laid at the door of Art, who had no role whatsoever in it.

In an extraordinary display of vitriol, cries of “haram”, “malu”, “barua”, “bodoh” were hurled by PH lawmakers during Art’s oath-taking and even before he could take the speaker’s seat.

While PH lawmakers later rightly took offence over the “gelap” remark, they were completely deaf to the unparliamentary abuse hurled at the new speaker by their own brethren.

Throughout the disgraceful affair, PH MPs joined the BN MPs in speaking and shouting out of turn, in complete disregard of parliamentary rules.

Is this the way to achieve the first-world Parliament so often touted by PH leaders in past years?

In their behaviour, they resembled the rowdiness and abusive conduct which they constantly used to censure in the Barisan Nasional MPs.

PH may well have good grounds to be aggrieved over the reason-less removal of Ariff as speaker. But did that justify crucifying the reform-minded Art, who perfectly discharged his duties as EC chair?

Art is criticised for taking on the job when it called for the prior removal of Ariff. But by dint of parliamentary majority, Ariff’s removal was a fait accompli.

If Art had not agreed to take on the job, who would have been nominated instead? Someone like Pandikar Amin Mulia? Or some BN or PAS MP? Would that have been better for the country?

While PH’s current zeal for the integrity of Parliament is laudable, it is a great disappointment to me that when in power, PH failed to carry out meaningful reforms to parliamentary procedure.

In 2015, as the PH representative on the Dewan Rakyat’s rules committee, I had tabled a minority report calling for critical reforms such as opposition parliamentary days, backbencher days, select committees to vet all bills, etc.

In power for 22 months, PH carried out none of these crucial reforms, which would have been invaluable now that they are in opposition.

There is a politics of hatred and malignity that bedevils and disfigures the Malaysian polity; now further worsened and embittered by the political cataclysm of February/March.

It distorts the perspective of all those involved in it.

Art Harun is the victim of it all.