Electing an impartial Speaker the first task of the 13th Parliament

In the lead up to the impending opening session of the 13th Parliament, choosing the Speaker and the process of his selection are matters of great importance to the nation.

The 13th Parliament has two crucial characteristics, namely,

first, by obtaining only 47% of the popular vote, the ruling Barisan Nasional did not command popular vote during the election and hence its political legitimacy is in question;

second, Pakatan Rakyat is here to stay, it is a force to be reckoned with, holding more than one third of the seats in Dewan Rakyat.

The new Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat must command the confidence and respect of all MPs and be able to work with both sides of the political divide in an impartial manner.

In most Westminster democracies, the Prime Minister will usually consult the Opposition on the choice of Speaker and put forward to Parliament the most acceptable candidate to avoid a vote and a divisive parliament from the start, as in the cases of Canada, India and others.

From the day the Speaker takes his Chair, he stays as non-partisan as possible. In the case of the UK Parliament, the Speaker severs his ties with his political party. In fact, the Speaker position in UK was not decided along partisan line. The current Speaker, John Bercow, is a Conservative but assumed the Speaker's role since June 2009 when Labour was still in government.

There is an unique feature in the Malaysian speakership that a non-MP is allowed to be elected as Speaker, which is unheard of in other Westminster democracies. It was introduced during Tun Dr. Mahathir's time to accommodate Tun Zahir Ismail, Speaker of Parliament from 14th June 1982 till his demise on 14th October 2004.

Dr. Mahathir was then an isolated figure in UMNO and he was most likely worried that a vote of no-confidence against him would be introduced in Parliament, hence the need of a former judge to take the Chair instead of an UMNO MP.

But this precedent serves the current situation well, in which, instead of an UMNO MP, a reputable eminent person acceptable to both sides of the political divide should be unanimously elected as the Speaker for the 13th Parliament.

The Prime Minister must initiate consultation and negotiation with Pakatan Rakyat immediately.

Failing which, if a vote is needed to elect the Speaker, it should be conducted through secret ballot - a measure to ensure the independence of the position.

Liew Chin Tong DAP Political Education Director & MP for Kluang