Past Events

Parliament, Unexpected: In Conversation with Ariff Yusof

Date: 14 May 2022 (Saturday)
Time: 8:00pm – 10:00pm

In this brief recollection of his short tenure as the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, Tan Sri Ariff Yusof, reveals his side of the story, by dissecting the events and procedures of Parliament while providing an insider’s view of the unprecedented political developments that led to the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government in 2020 and his eventual removal. Meanwhile, a global pandemic starts to rage and met with faltering response from the government, and a suspension of Parliament.

About the Speaker

Tan Sri Ariff Yusof is a legal consultant, and the former Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Parliament of Malaysia from July 2018 to July 2020. From 2008 to 2015 he served as a Judicial Commissioner, High Court Judge and subsequently a Judge of the Court of Appeal, Malaysia.


Key Takeaways from the Event

Penang Institute’s 14 May 2022 launch of Parliament, Unexpected: Recollections of Parliament, Politics, and Pandemic in Malaysia saw the author, former Speaker of Parliament Tan Sri Ariff Yusof, explaining his motivations for writing the book as well as sharing his thoughts and aspirations for parliamentary and political reform in Malaysia.

Parliament, Unexpected is the brief recollection of the whirlwind ride experienced by Ariff, Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat from 16 July 2018 when he was elected by Pakatan Harapan members of Parliament, until he was replaced by the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on 13 July 2020. The book was co-authored by Lutfi Hakim Ariff.

Sharing the stage with Ariff was two-term Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam, Yang Berhormat Steven Sim Chee Keong, who shared his thoughts on the contents of the book as well as on his experience as MP under Ariff’s speakership and efforts at parliamentary reform.

It was an evening of quiet, reasoned, but heart-felt discussion: many in the audience expressed despondence with the developments of the past several years, the direction and destination of the country’s third branch of government, the prospects of political reform, and ultimately, the fate of the nation.

As Ariff himself admitted in his remarks,

Never before in Malaysian political history have we seen such dramatic changes leading to a fall in the federal government through treachery … when the government duly elected by the electorate gets defeated through a backdoor movement that is constitutionally proper on its surface.

But constitutionality depends not merely on legalities – it also depends on more basic things, like the political processes that are at the heart of constitutional law. Forget about legalistic arguments. Using logic, when the electorate voted in Pakatan Harapan, how can it be right for Pakatan to be defeated by frogging?

But both Ariff and Sim urged their audience not to give in to hopelessness. The reasons they offered were varied and many. They ranged from the historical perspective – the audience was reminded that the 1,000-year old parliamentary system did not arise overnight – to the literary: Re-read ‘Hang Tuah’, urged Sim, and question whether feudalism and blind loyalty have truly been Malay/Malaysian political values and practices.

They urged the audience to consider the great strides achieved and that led to Malaysians voting overwhelmingly for hope and reform in 2018 – an achievement overturned only by the machinations and betrayal of the few known now as the ‘Sheraton Move’ of 23 February – 1 March 2020.

Among the other, less-dramatic reforms was the greater transparency in Parliament and the greater efficiency with which matters of public interest were deliberated. Ariff pointed to the televised debates in the Dewan Rakyat on the government’s management of the 2019 ‘Sungai Kim Kim’ crisis, as well as to the increase in parliamentary special committees to scrutinize draft legislation and their potential outcomes and effects.

Even a closer look at the last state elections in Johor, said Ariff, would reveal that it was not the ‘success’/’defeat’ perceived by pundits and observers.

Sim concluded the evening by admitting that descent into ‘chaos’ seemed the inevitable. But to surrender to such defeatism was an impossibility.

I want to say that I know many of us are disappointed with politics, Parliament, and politicians, especially. After the excitement of the night of May 2018, and in less than two years, we quickly descended into the chaos, of having parliamentary session sitting being suspended and essentially, democracy, being suspended for more than six months in this country. So I think it is understandable that people are dejected. But my dear friends, bear with Parliament. Bear with some of the politicians. There are many good MPs out there who are trying to do the impossible, not because we see ourselves as heroes or saviors, but because the option to give up on our country is even more inconceivable. Our Tan Sri Ariff was one of those MPs.

Parliament, Unexpected: Recollections of Parliament, Politics, and Pandemic in Malaysia is published by Matahari Books. It is also available from bookstores such as Gerak Budaya and MPH.