The position of the Speaker of the House in Malaysian democracy

The position of the Speaker of the House in Malaysian democracy

We have often heard such questions, time and time again: Can the Speaker be partisan? Can the Speaker be removed? Can the Speaker be an MP as well?

It is time to settle the score:

Is the Speaker part of the Government?

No. In Malaysia, power is separated into three branches: The Government (Executive Branch), the Courts (Judiciary Branch) and Parliament (Legislative Branch). Under this system, one branch cannot subdue the other, merely balance and check. The Speaker is appointed by Parliament (the Legislative Branch) under Article 57(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Yang di-Pertuan Agong appoints the Speaker. Therefore, he is not answerable to the Prime Minister, as he belongs only to the Legislative Branch. He is not part of Government, or any other component of the Executive Branch.

What is ‘Parliament’ and how is the Speaker elected?

Elected Members of Parliament form the legislature and reside in Parliament. Parliament is self-governing and regulates its own procedure as can be seen in Article 62(1) of the Federal Constitution. Neither Government nor the Courts, can tell Parliament how to run its business. 

Anyone can be the Speaker, either and MP or non-MP. After the elections, candidates are nominated by MPs, two other MPs must second each nomination. When the Malaysian Parliament, the Dewan Rakyat, convenes for the first time, MPs will vote for their candidate for the Speaker from the list of nominees. The Prime Minister’s vote is good as another MP. If there is only one nominee, he or she is automatically appointed the Speaker (like our current Speaker) in accordance to Order 4(3) of the Standing Orders. As this is a procedure of Parliament, the entire affair is conducted internally with the Secretary of the House presiding over the vote and appointment.

Can the Speaker be partisan?

The whole idea of having a Speaker to referee Parliamentary debates, interpret standing orders and to set the agenda for sessions. Therefore, it is common for the Opposition to accuse the Speaker of being partisan and biased. Our current Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff bin Md Yusof is not a politician nor an MP (although he was previously with Parti Amanah Negara) when he assumed his post as Speaker.

Can the Speaker be an MP?

Yes. In 2004, Pasir Salak MP YB Tan Sri Dato’ Ramli Ngah Talib was appointed Speaker. However, Article 57(4) of the Federal Constitution states that an assemblyman chosen to the post of Dewan Rakyat Speaker must relinquish the state seat in his respective DUN.

Can the Speaker be removed?

Yes. If the Speaker dies in office or becomes incapacitated the Speaker must be removed. But the Speaker can also quit on his own volition. He can be disqualified under Article 57(5) of the Federal Constitution, for being in an office of profit (bar none of the exceptions therein). But generally, under Article 57(2), the Speaker can only vacate his office by resigning. He shall do so by “writing under his hand addressed to the Clerk of the House of Representatives”, and shall vacate his office:

  1. When the House first meets after a general election (meaning he resigned when Parliament dissolves for a general election); or
  2. When he ceases to be a member of the House (either he is not an MP or Parliament has dissolved for elections);
  3. If the House at any time so resolves, whether viewing him as no longer fit for the job or otherwise – this is to be done via a vote and a motion for such procedure would first be necessary.

What exactly will happen on July 13th, 2020?

On June 28th 2020, Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof confirmed had received a motion from Pagoh MP and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin proposing to terminate him from his Dewan Rakyat Speaker post. This is set to be decided via a vote on July 13 when Parliament reconvenes. If the vote fails, Mohamad Ariff will remain as Speaker. If the vote passes, he will be removed and a new candidate for the Speaker must be put forward. If a sole candidate is nominated, he or she will be appointed automatically.

Why hasn’t Pakatan Harapan put forward their own Candidate for the position of the Speaker?

For the Appointment of a new Speaker, according to Order 4, “Every member who wishes to propose a person who is either a member of the House or is qualified for election… as Yang di-Pertua… shall notify the Secretary of his proposal in writing at least fourteen days before the meeting”.

Parliament will convene on July 13. The last date to submit nominees for the role of the Speaker was June 26 (14 working days prior, based on Standing Order 4). There were no submissions of names from Harapan, with their representatives alleging to The Straits Times that notice given was too short. However, with such an awareness of Parliament convening and rumours percolating of a Perikatan Nasional candidate as early as April, the argument that Harapan was caught by surprise is not persuasive. They were just slow to act.

Can Pakatan Harapan still attempt to submit a nominee for the Role of the Speaker?

Yes. There is precedent. On 16th of July 2018, when Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof first assumed his role, BN and PAS MPs staged a walkout from Parliament over the complaint that the Dewan Rakyat Secretary was not notified of Ariff’s nomination 14 days before the Dewan Rakyat convened, therefore being in breach of Order 4. Failure to comply with the 14-day requirement of Order 4 is merely an irregularity and will not nullify the proceedings for the nomination and voting of the new Speaker. 

Secretary Datuk Roosme Hamzah clarified that Ariff’s nomination was received on July 2, 2018. But even if there was an Order 4 breach, Harapan’s case may have been saved by Order 99A of the Standing Orders, which stipulates: “Where in making any decision there has been a failure on the part of the House… to comply with any provision of the Standing Order in the proceeding leading to the decision, such failure shall be treated as an irregularity and shall not nullify the proceedings or the decision resulting therefrom”.

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