All  MPs, including Speaker Zahir, should be sent on a gender sensitisation programme to break down sexist attitudes and gender stereotyping so that  Parliament sets the national  example of  full respect for women MPs

- Solidarity with Fong Poh Kuan ceramah 
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Friday): Sunday’s Berita Minggu (16th December 2001) which carried an exclusive interview with the Speaker, Tun Zahir Mohamad Ismail, on the Fong Po Kuan case bore the heading: “Kali pertama Ahli Parlimen hina Speaker”. A more appropriate heading should have been “Kali pertama Speaker hina rakyat Malaysia”.

Zahir had maintained that Parliament is equivalent to the highest court in the country, but Parliament had acted in the Fong Po Kuan case as the highest kangaroo court in the land, where the Speaker arrogated to himself the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner all in one.

In the Berita Minggu interview, Zahir said:

“Ada MP yang bercakap sepatutnya perkara ini dibawa kepada Jawatankuasa Hak dan Kebebasan dahulu, jadi sekiranya dibawa kepada jawatankuasa ini maka perkara yang akan di bincangkan ialah perkara yang perlu disiasat dahulu iaitu sama ada orang itu melakukan kesalahan atau tidak.  Tetapi berkenaan ahli dari Batu Gajah ini, kenyataannya itu telah nyata ‘manifestly contemptuous’ (amat nyata menghina). Jika di dalam mahkamah ia dianggap sebagai ‘contempt in the face of court’ (menghina mahkamah), jadi dalam Dewan ia boleh dianggap sebagai ‘contempt in the face of Dewan’ (menghina Dewan Rakyat).”

The most disturbing implication of  this statement is the  Speaker’s direct involvement in the Fong Po Kuan case in adjudging the MP for Batu Gajah as guilty of “parliamentary contempt”, and refusing to allow the Committee of Privileges to decide on the issue - which is an usurpation not only of the rightful role, power and privileges  of the Committee of Privileges but of Parliament as a whole as well as contrary to the rules of natural justice of not being a judge of his own cause.

The harsh, unfair, undemocratic and discriminatory action against Fong Po Kuan had been justified on the necessity to protect Parliament from being brought into public disrepute and odium, when in fact, it is such high-handed actions using the blind and brute Barisan Nasional majority which bring Parliament in public disrepute.

The present Parliament has the largest number of women Parliamentarians, both from the government and opposition, in the nation’s history. However, in the past two years, there had been a series of deplorable incidents showing utter gender insensitivity and disrespect of women MPs, and in one instance a four-letter “F” word was used by a male Barisan Nasional MP against a woman MP.

Aren’t women MPs entitled to full respect or is this only reserved to male MPs - and when women MPs are shown contempt by such gender insensitivity and discrimination, doesn’t this bring Parliament into public disrespect, disrepute and odium?

May be, all the  MPs, including Speaker Zahir, should be sent on a gender sensitisation programme to break down sexist attitudes and gender stereotyping so that  Parliament sets the national  example of  full respect for women MPs.

We are not in a feudal era  but in the 21st democratic society where Parliament, whether MPs or the Speaker, must observe the principles of openness, accountability and transparency  and they cannot take refuge by claiming immunity from public scrutiny and criticisms, whether inside or outside Parliament.

If criticisms of the Speaker or Parliament are regarded as actionable “parliamentary contempts”, then I challenge the Zahir to take action against the New Straits Times for publishing a daily tally of the attendance of MPs during parliamentary sittings, which brings Parliament into public disrespect, disrepute and odium for exposing the failure of MPs to fulfil their most elementary duties - to ensure that a quorum of 26 MPs out of 193 MPs should always be present during Parlimentary proceedings to the extent that the former Barisan Backbenchers Club and MP for Parit Sulung, Ruhaini Ahmad, had an “incident” with NST reporters.

The 83 Barisan Nasional MPs who had voted in support of the petty-minded and vindictive motion to suspend Fong Po Kuan by six months without parliamentary allowance had done the MP for Batu Gajah and Malaysian democracy a  grave wrong and disservice and showed that they are “parliamentary bullies” who are blind to the principles of fairness, justice and democracy.

The voters in the constituencies of these 83 “parliamentary bullies” should demand a full accounting and explanation from their elected representatives as to why they supported the motion against Fong Po Kuan, which represented a triple discrimination against the youngest, woman and opposition MP in Parliament who had  distinguished herself  in two short years as an articulate and courageous MP who dare to bring the deepest concerns and fears of the people to Parliament.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman