BATTLELINES are being drawn in Parliament today as the first meeting between the Pakatan Harapan government and the Opposition convenes after the May 9 polls.
The real clash, however, is set to take place on Wednesday, the first of many to come until Aug 16.
After the ceremonial duties have been undertaken today and tomorrow, the first full question-and-answer session will take place.
It is expected to last over an hour and ministers can expect a barrage of questions from the Opposition and the backbenchers alike.
“For this meeting, more than 1,500 questions have already been submitted, touching on issues concerning economy, law reforms, judiciary’s independence and other wings of the Government,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong in an interview.
“There are many more questions,” added Liew, who will be in charge of Parliament.
Among the 90 new faces making their debut in Parliament, none may be more nervous or excited than Batu MP P. Prabakaran.
The youngest MP said he was feeling the responsibility thrust upon him by his constituents, supporters and PKR, which had endorsed him.
“After attending the briefing in Parliament the other day, I started reading up on the Standing Orders and procedures,” he said, adding that he met his predecessor Tian Chua, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad and other MPs for guidance.
“I will be observing the speeches by senior MPs, their line of questioning, motions and the private Bills tabled,” said the law student, who has himself sent in 15 questions.
At 22, Prabakaran is a few years junior to the youngest minister – 25-year-old Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.
Adding to the trepidation of the new ministers and MPs, the first 30 minutes of the session, which will begin at 10am, will be telecast live on RTM.
This means that how they perform – whether they stumble or fly – will come under the scrutiny of the public wanting to see how those they have voted in will measure up.
Subsequently, the session – which is expected to be contentious, judging from past meetings – will be aired live on Facebook.
This is the first time in Malaysia’s history that the two sides are switched in the House’s seating arrangement.
On one side will be Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, making his first official appearance in Dewan Rakyat as Prime Minister after stepping down 15 years ago, facing off with Opposition leader and newly elected Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Ten years ago, when Parliament met for the first time after the 2008 general election in which Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority, the then Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia had his hands full for the first 90 minutes.
He had to control name-calling, jeers, heckling and even shouting – all on the first day.
For first-time MP and new minister Yeo Bee Yin, she is hoping for productive debates from everyone across the political divide.
“I want to include as many MPs as possible in my ministry’s decision-making process,” said Yeo, a former Selangor assemblyman who now holds the Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment portfolio.
With the number of Pakatan representatives and their “friendly” comrades from Sabah and Sarawak making up almost two-thirds of the Dewan, the proclamation of former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof as the new Speaker and the swearing-in of the 222 members of Parliament – starting with Dr Mahathir – are expected to go on without a hitch.
That will be followed by the King’s Royal Address the next day.
Liew said there would be an election to fill the two Deputy Speaker’s positions, one of whom is speculated to be Nga Kor Ming of DAP and the other from PKR.
“Pakatan has submitted two names while the Opposition submitted one. I guess there will be an election for it,” he added.
With Pakatan’s promise to reform Parliament – such as having nine agencies reporting directly to it, having the Parliamentary Services Act, setting up a select committee to monitor every ministry and having an Opposition MP head the Public Accounts Committee – a question on the media’s mind is whether they will be given full access to the MPs.
The previous Speaker had banned reporters from the lobby – literally, from the halls of power – and journalists have long called for this to be reversed.
DAP’s Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran has taken up their cause.