Speaker: Going virtual is no easy task

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 17 Oct 2020

PETALING JAYA: There are constitutional and legal restraints to holding a virtual Parliament meeting amid calls from some MPs given the rising Covid-19 cases, says Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Seri Azhar Azizan Harun (pic).

He said this would require a lot of discussions before it could become a reality.

He said every Parliament session was convened by a proclamation by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong which will state the session and venue, which is the Parliament building.

“The proclamation for this year’s session was done last December. Secondly, if you look at the Federal Constitution, Article 62 (5) states that MPs absent from a House shall not be allowed to vote.

“Thirdly, if you look at the whole scheme of parliamentary sitting in the Standing Order, it is meant for physical meetings and not virtual ones.

“So, we need to amend all these things to enable virtual sitting, ” he said when contacted.

Azhar said although some countries such as Australia conducted virtual Parliament sittings, there were several restrictions for MPs.

He said MPs who were virtually present were not part of the quorum and not allowed to vote.

They also needed to give 15 minutes notice prior to speaking.

“So it’s not really meaningful, ” he said.

PKR’s Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil said virtual Parliament meetings were not impossible but Parliament must first convene to amend the Standing Orders that would allow virtual sessions to be conducted.

He said the United Kingdom’s experience in implementing virtual Parliament sessions could be studied to see if any particular aspects could be replicated here. “I believe such change is not only timely but also necessary given the uncertainties due to this pandemic, ” he said.

DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago said it was timely that Parliament moved on to an online platform as part of the new norm in organising the affairs of the state, adding that the rise in Covid-19 cases to three digits should be “a wake-up call”.

“So the time has come for Parliament to do so as it’s necessary at a time of a pandemic, ” he said.

Umno’s Arau MP Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said Parliament had placed stringent standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure the safety of MPs during the previous meetings.

However, the Perikatan Nasional Backbenchers Club chairman said he would leave the decision to the National Security Council (MKN).

“If MKN believes we should not have Parliament, then we won’t but if we are allowed to proceed, then we can do so with strict SOP, ” he said.

Bersatu’s Beaufort MP Datuk Azizah Dun said all lawmakers were required to take a Covid-19 swab test before Parliament begins on Nov 2.

Those from Sabah are also required to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine before they are allowed to attend the Parliament proceedings.

Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin said that virtual sessions would not be suitable for the upcoming session, as Budget 2021 was expected to be tabled.

“If it involves 10 to 20 people then it’s feasible. But with 222 MPs, it might not be suitable, ” said the Padang Besar MP.

Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee co-chair Andrew Khoo said the Dewan Rakyat should draft and implement new or revise existing Standing Orders to allow for virtual sessions.

“The present Standing Orders do not cater for virtual sittings of the Dewan Rakyat. So many questions arise – how to determine quorum, speaking order and voting among others, ” he added.

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