Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 5 News List

New Malaysian parliament’s first debate gets ugly

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR

The first debate in Malaysia’s new parliament descended into noisy name-calling yesterday as a newly emboldened opposition took on the government.

Monkey and Bigfoot were two of the epithets used in a rowdy session during which lawmakers shouted and gesticulated in heated exchanges across the floor of the chamber.

The scenes, broadcast live on television, were an indicator of the new shape of Malaysian politics after Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s governing coalition suffered its worst ever election results in March.

The March 8 polls saw his Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country for the last half century, lose its two-thirds majority in parliament as well as control of five states.

The first sitting of Malaysia’s 12th parliament was delayed by more than 20 minutes as government and opposition parliamentarians hurled barbs and raised technical issues.

Opposition Democratic Action Party chairman and lawmaker Karpal Singh began by questioning the way the session was being held when he was distracted by a member of parliament, Bung Moktar Radin.

“I hope Bigfoot ... does not disrupt the proceedings,” Karpal taunted him, using a long-standing gibe about Bung’s physical size.

“Bigfoot, sit down,” he said.

Bung sprang from his chair, shouting: “I am bigfoot, you are big monkey.”

Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia struggled to control the situation.

“Let’s not create chaos in parliament,” he appealed as the verbal exchanges continued. “Let us ensure there is order in parliament.”

A semblance of order was restored when Abdullah responded to a question on measures taken to reduce the impact of rising fuel and food prices.

However, Pandikar’s refusal to allow the usual follow-up questions to the prime minister’s response drew a further outburst, with former opposition leader Lim Kit Siang calling the restriction “a mockery of parliament.”

An exasperated Pandikar again appealed for calm in the house.

“Now we have spent one hour shouting on issues, is this a democratic process? Can we continue peacefully?” he said.

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