On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Reps should mind their language in the House

The Hansard, which records the House meetings in verbatim, has no record of the outburst during the debate on the Islamic state and things would probably have remained that way until the media approached Bung Mokhtar in the lobby and asked him why he had uttered the word.

To their surprise, he admitted it but said in defence it was in the "heat of the moment" and that if there were chairs in the House, "they would have been sent flying in the direction" of Chong Eng, the Bukit Mertajam member.

A year before, Bung Mokhtar sparked a controversy when he uttered a sexist-tainted "boleh masuk sikit?" (can I come in a little?) remark in his attempt to seek clarification from Chong Eng.

Back then, he had said he meant no harm and that the phrase was commonly used in Sabah. The matter was subsequently dropped, much to the chagrin of many MPs.

So, it came as no surprise when Bung Mokhtar was quoted as saying that strong language (euphemism for foul language) was necessary to make sure the message was delivered.

Utusan Malaysia quoted him as saying "there are times we become over-expressive in presenting our views in Parliament and this is when the language problem crops up".

This was in response to an appeal by Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim not to use "rough and foul" language in Parliament.

Many Malaysians, I am sure, must be disappointed with lawmakers who try and justify the use of profanity in Parliament.

Wrong is wrong and right is right. As elected representatives, they should know better.

Larut MP Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar reportedly said in The Star that "as long as the MPs are speaking from the bottom of their heart and the message is being delivered, I think it is okay to use rough language".

It is better for them not to use the honorific Yang Berhormat (The Right Honourable) if they cannot live up to the expectations of the rakyat as role models.

No one expects our politicians to be holy men; the very least they can do is to exercise some restraint when debating issues affecting the people and nation.

It is natural for tempers to flare but Malaysians expect some degree of good debating and good use of language.

I find it hard to accept a statement by Chong Eng that shouting was necessary when the words or views of MPs were twisted or unfairly dismissed.

Some opposition politicians, too, have a reputation for using bad language. DAP MP Karpal Singh has his share of such remarks. He has called his opponents binatang (animal) and makluk (alien).

I remember once, during a meeting of the Penang State Assembly, the pencil he was holding went flying towards then Chief Minister Dr Lim Chong Eu who was seated directly across. I am not sure whether it was intentional but it resulted in a furore.

Dr Lim seldom lost his cool when dealing with Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang. The Gerakan founder leader would close his eyes, as if taking a nap, and smile. Now and then, he would stand up and make curt replies, which infuriated the opposition members more. I don't recall the "old fox" – as Karpal Singh called him – ever shouting. The man had class.

Controversial Karpal, on one occasion during the 80s, had to be escorted out of the House by then George Town OCPD Mokhtar Daud after Karpal Singh refused to be led out by the Sergeant at Arms.

Strangely, despite Karpal Singh's public image of an angry man, he is exactly the opposite in real life – soft-spoken and polite. He bears no grudge and I can't recall him ever burning newspapers that were unfriendly to him. Such a gimmick was, at one time, popular among some other DAP politicians.

At another time, Penang DAP assemblyman Seow Hun Khim even brought along a cucumber to emphasise a point. In more recent times, PAS MP Mahfuz Omar called another MP, Datuk Anifah Aman, jakun.

The use of the word "Jakun" (an orang asli group) is considered derogatory because it is always associated with backwardness. Many MPs, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak, were particularly offended by that remark.

MPs must realise they are there to represent their constituents and they must also uphold the dignity of the House. There are rules and practices laid down according to parliamentary tradition.

If they expect the people to respect them, they must first learn to respect themselves and their peers. If they cannot conduct their debate civilly, then we should not allow our children to watch the debates.

We do not want our children to pick up bad manners or, worse, foul language from our legislators.

Neither would we want our teachers to spend their time telling students about the rule of law, only to end up letting our children see the opposite when they are at the parliament public gallery.

Perhaps Dr Rais may want to carry out his courtesy campaign at the Parliament lobby. Some MPs would probably not take too kindly to such an exercise. But then we expect leadership by example.