NEXT Monday, the third session of the 13th Parliament of Malaysia will commence, amid a host of contentious issues likely to come up for debate during this sitting.
Among them are repeated concerns over the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in April, and the Private Member’s Bill on hudud to be tabled by PAS.
There is also the eagerly awaited Anti-Terrorism Bill which is expected to contain several provisions similar to the repealed Internal Security Act in eradicating militancy and violent extremism.
As such, we can expect heated debates and the usual mud-slinging from both sides of the floor.
The only difference is that this time, the august house will be missing a recognised opposition leader to lead the dissenting voices.
Pakatan Rakyat still has time to pick a replacement for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently serving a five-year jail sentence after his sodomy conviction was upheld by the Federal Court on Feb 10.
Possible candidates include his wife PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, or DAP’s Lim Kit Siang. Perhaps even PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
However, it appears a replacement so soon is not being considered, given the lengths PKR has gone to in ensuring their jailed leader hangs on to his parliamentary seat, and by extension his political career, for as long as possible.
First, Anwar’s family filed a petition for a royal pardon at the eleventh hour to prevent him from being automatically disqualified as the Permatang Pauh MP.
PKR have now applied for him to be permitted to attend the Dewan Rakyat sitting in his official capacity when it convenes on March 9.
I don’t believe Pakatan were prepared to lose Anwar to jail another time, let alone ready to replace him as the face of the coalition.
PKR may be pushing its luck a bit too far by demanding that a jailed MP be allowed to attend Parliament, but then again, Anwar is no ordinary criminal.
The argument of guilt or innocence does not even arise in choosing whether to grant him leave from prison.
It is sufficient to note that he will not be a threat to himself or others if let out temporarily, as was the case when he appeared at the High Court three days after his imprisonment to testify in his defamation suit against Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
Anwar’s case is also unique in the sense that he will continue to remain an MP until the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has deliberated on his appeal for pardon, which could take months.
If not allowed to attend Parliament, it will render him ineffective as a people’s representative. And under such a scenario, his constituents would end up as the biggest losers.
Based on that reasoning alone, his presence in Parliament makes legal and logical sense. Any decision to the contrary would be an affront to the democratic process.
PKR’s almost daily statements on the matter have put the Federal Government under further pressure, even prompting the Home Minister to shift the burden of responsibility to the Attorney-General.
Call it gaining “brownie points”, but the Barisan Nasional-led government could do with some after the backlash from Anwar’s conviction, which many believe was politically motivated.
I for one would not place much hope on seeing Anwar out in the open again so soon, but who knows?