The new MPs will make their debut in Parliament tomorrow. ESTHER NG speaks to several first-timers on their expectations, priorities and maiden speeches.
THE public will certainly see some changes when the curtains on the 11th Parliament are raised tomorrow. The most obvious is, of course, the result of the facelift the Dewan Rakyat underwent recently to accommodate the increase in the number of MPs from 193 to 219.
Before the estimated RM5mil renovation, the Dewan could seat 210 MPs. Now, it can hold up to 243 seats.
The transformation is startling because the familiar but old-fashioned chamber has given way to a more modern setting complete with LCD screens.
This is a good sign, given that while the august House has had quite a few IT gadgets installed over the years, such as closed-circuit camera and television in the lobby, press room and other places, the chamber has been largely “left behind”.
Also, this is the first Parliament where Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi leads the Government, and the Prime Minister will face one of the biggest “comeback” to the House in the form of Lim Kit Siang (DAP – Ipoh Timur), who is tipped to be Opposition Leader.
The Dewan will also see new faces among its parliamentarians, and many of them are known to be outspoken and active.
One is Cameron Highlands MP S.K. Devamany, who will be the sole MIC backbencher if Tan Sri K.S. Nijhar (BN – Subang) is made Deputy Speaker, as is widely speculated. The party’s other MPs all hold government posts.
One of the most important issues for Devamany is the problem affecting the Indian community, particularly those concerning education and economic growth.
“As the sole Indian backbencher, it’ll be up to me alone to raise the issues relating to the community,” he said in an interview recently.
Also important for the first-timer are matters involving his constituency, like the trade in vegetables and flowers, import duties on seedlings and fertilisers, and their impact on the livelihood of farmers.
The former Ipoh city councillor pledged to highlight the problems, especially poverty, faced by the 8,000-strong orang asli population in his constituency.
Devamany reckons parliamentary debates will be livelier with the return of Lim and Karpal Singh (DAP – Bukit Gelugor), who were known to “roar” in Parliament before both were voted out in the 1999 general election.
“I think there will be more arguments with them around and this is actually better for the nation. This can only mean that the formulation of policies will be widely debated,” he said.
Tan Lian Hoe (BN – Bukit Gantang), another “freshie”, plans to focus on the delivery system of local governments, saying that it was currently too bureaucratic.
“I’m very interested in the implementation of regulations by local governments because at the end of it all, it involves the people,” said the Perak Gerakan Wanita chief.
She said she was “very excited” about tomorrow’s curtain-raiser, in which MPs are scheduled to elect a Speaker and two deputy speakers. The King will open the 11th Parliament on Tuesday.
“As a newcomer, I’ll sit and watch first before I take part,” said Tan. “We have to be cautious because what we say and do will affect the public. It’s not just a matter of shouting ‘aye’.”
Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin, who won uncontested in Papar, is also looking forward to tomorrow’s sitting.
“For me, there is a raw feeling in terms of parliamentary procedures. I have a lot to learn but that will not stop me from looking ahead to an interesting experience,” said the Sabah Puteri Umno chief who is all geared up to raise development issues and to call for more infrastructure in her home state, particularly water supply.
She said parliamentarians – both government and opposition – should focus on having “healthy” debates.
“We should not be pointing fingers at one another or putting the Government down. MPs should concentrate on how to make our system work better,” she said.
On what she expected from the sittings, the first-timer was optimistic: “From the way the opposition made statements during the general election, I think they will make constructive criticisms and suggestions.”
Loh Seng Kok, who served for more than 12 years as confidential secretary and political secretary to former MCA president and Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik, will walk into Parliament tomorrow as the new Kelana Jaya MP.
Although he is hardly a newcomer in the field, he will nevertheless be awed by his first experience as an MP in the House tomorrow.
“I’m extremely proud to be given a chance to carry the people’s burden and speak for them and I will not disappoint them,” he pledged.
He expressed confidence in the Government led by Abdullah, saying that the premier had shown he was willing to listen to constructive criticisms and rectify what was wrong with the government machinery.
In his maiden speech, Loh will focus on national integrity, education and dealing with the urban poor problem.
Datuk Dr Mashitah Ibrahim, another figure to look out for in this Parliament, said she was enthusiastic about appearing in the Dewan for the first time.
“I hope I can contribute my skills and knowledge,” said the former International Islamic University lecturer.
Dr Mashitah, who holds a degree in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and a doctorate in Syariah from Cairo University, said she was proud to be “doing something” for the nation.
To her, Parliament is a sacred place and not everyone has the opportunity to be part of it.
Being a parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, the Baling MP is certainly going to be seen often.
“I'm sure the Opposition will have a lot to say. We in the Government should be open-minded and accept positive criticisms so that we can improve the system,” she said, adding that she hoped “everything will run smoothly”.
Other freshies to look out for are Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim (BN – Kota Baru), Dr Wee Ka Siong (BN – Ayer Hitam) and PAS women chief Kalthom Othman (PAS – Pasir Puteh).
Lim, the Opposition Leader-designate, has reminded all and sundry that “this time round, we have the weakest Opposition in Malaysian history”.
He said now that Barisan Nasional had a 90% majority in Parliament, it would be very difficult for the Opposition to “check” on the ruling coalition.
“It’s a great responsibility for us. Then again, it’s also a great responsibility for the government MPs as they must be fully conscious that they have such a big majority. They must strengthen the institution and not succumb to the arrogance of power,” Lim said.
The Opposition has 20 members – DAP (12), PAS (7) and Parti Keadilan Nasional (1).
Asked how he felt now that he would face Abdullah on the other side, Lim said: “I hope he will walk his talk. For the past few months, the Prime Minister has promised to be more people-oriented and be concerned about integrity. Let’s see.”
The stage is set for an interesting sitting.
It’s all systems go, but hopefully not too smooth. The last time the Dewan had a minor “facelift” in 1998, the lobby floor was so waxy that there were quite a few stumbling MPs, clerks and reporters.
Perhaps the newcomers should tread with care in the gleaming august House.
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