There was chaos in Parliament recently after the session on 19 September turned feisty during Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s winding-up speech on the 12th Malaysia Plan Mid-Term Review. In what should’ve been remembered as the first time such a mid-term review was made in the Dewan Rakyat, the session will now infamously be known for the verbal feud between Members of Parliament (MPs) and an opposition walkout.
The hullabaloo started when Anwar alluded to Putrajaya MP Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin being used to ‘corrupt practices’ done during the previous Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration as he was clarifying the recent discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) in Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi’s corruption trial. However, Radzi took the statement as Anwar accusing him of being corrupt, thus starting a shouting match between the opposition and the government MPs which ended with the Putrajaya MP’s ejection from the session followed by the opposition staging a walkout in solidarity.
Perhaps the most infamous incident during the chaos was when Radzi shouted that he was confident that Anwar ‘is a sodomite’ several times. In the aftermath of the pandemonium, many took exception to the Putrajaya MP’s action and words, saying that it was unbecoming of an MP and sullied the sanctity of Parliament.
With all of that in mind, given that both Anwar and Radzi threw remarks at each other that may be deemed as defamatory, their respective supporters have called for both to take the other to court. On Anwar’s part, while the Speaker had accepted his explanation that ‘Putrajaya’ refers to the previous administration in his speech, the statement itself was rather vague when read back and can be argued to be accusing Radzi of being corrupt.
Meanwhile, on Radzi’s accusation of the Prime Minister being a sodomite, Anwar previously initiated a defamation suit against Kedah Menteri Besar Dato’ Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor for something similar when the latter called him ‘immoral’. Furthermore, Anwar had also previously won a suit against former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for the latter’s ‘main belakang’ remark.
Unfortunately, despite both having valid reasons to take the other to court for defamation, this is simply not possible due to one of many privileges bestowed upon MPs. Specifically, MPs and Senators are given “legal immunity” from being hauled up to court for anything said in either House of Parliament or the Parliamentary Committee.
This privilege is prescribed under Article 63 of the Federal Constitution below:
Articles 63(2) and 63(3) clearly assert that a statement made in either House of Parliament or any Parliamentary Committee is not liable to any proceedings in any court in Malaysia. As the Federal Constitution is the highest law of the land, this provision means that the Judiciary has no jurisdiction over the matters said in Parliament.
Hence, should Radzi initiate a defamation suit against Anwar or vice versa, both can just use the absolute privilege of Parliament as a defence. In other words, the Legislature is exempted from legal action unless it touches on the matters prescribed under Articles 63(4) and 64(5). Of course, based on the Parliament Hansard for the session, both Anwar and Radzi didn’t say anything mentioned in the aforementioned provision.
Furthermore, this privilege also exempts any action against Radzi under Section 41 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 for ‘Qazaf’. Recently, several reports have been lodged to the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (JAWI) against the Putrajaya MP for his accusation of Anwar being a sodomite.
So, what action can both Radzi and Anwar actually take against the other? Well, they can both refer the other to the Rights and Privileges Committee of the Dewan Rakyat under the Standing Order 36(6) of the House for having ill intention and let the matter be decided by the Committee.
Moving forward, let’s hope that such an incident will not happen in Parliament again and that MPs can be more professional in performing their duties as lawmakers.