Sometime last week, a parliamentary colleague from PKR suggested that all elected representatives should stop the practice of addressing each other as YB or Yang Berhormat outside the legislative chambers and to ask the general public to do the same. Is this a reasonable or even a practical request?
Within the legislative chamber, the standing orders, for those who may not know, prohibit MPs from addressing each other by name. Hence, we would usually address each other by the name of our constituency or sometimes with the honorific YB, or sometimes both, example Yang Berhormat dari Serdang.
As far as possible, I try to address my parliamentary colleagues by their names outside the legislative chamber. This is not an issue among my Pakatan colleagues, many of whom are familiar faces and expect me to call them by their names. But it is slightly trickier with my BN colleagues who are less familiar to me.
Thankfully, since most of the BN MPs are either Datuks, Datuk Seris or Tan Sris, I can get away with this by addressing them with their titles without using YB. But for the handful who are not yet Datuks? For example, would it be disrespectful if I address Masjid Tanah MP, Mas Ermieyati Samsuin, as Puan Mas?
If I’m still trying to figure out what is the best way to address my colleagues in parliament, what about the general public most of whom do not have any prior friendship or relationship with their MPs before they were elected into office? Most of them will just play it safe and address us as YBs, just to avoid the possibility of offending some of us.
Thankfully, my friends still call me Kian Ming or OKM. I would have it no other way. Some of them call me YB just to tease me. For those who don’t know me so well and don’t yet feel comfortable to call me Kian Ming, I ask them to call me Dr Ong instead. Over time, I hope that they would feel comfortable enough to call me Kian Ming.
Perhaps, what is more important than how an MP expects to be addressed, is how he or she expects to be treated. I’ve heard of stories of MPs who expect tents to be set up and specially decorated chairs to be brought for events which they are officiating in.
In Sabah and Sarawak, I’ve heard stories of how an entire kampung or village has to be in attendance to welcome their elected representative, who in some places will arrive in a helicopter.
As a result of some of these established expectations, many people are surprised when I turn up at events by myself, driving my own car and with my backpack on my shoulder. Coupled with my age and supposedly young features, sometimes the organisers fail to recognise me until I introduce myself to them.
More often than not, after their initial apologies, they would ask “Are you here alone?” I’m guessing that they are more used to MPs attending an event with an entourage, at the very least with a driver or bodyguard.
I had an opportunity to participate in a road building project that is part of DAP’s Impian Sarawak initiative to bring small-scale development projects in the rural areas of Sarawak.
This project required me to hike up a 3km trail to a village in the Mambong district. It took me about 1½ hours and when I arrived, many of the villagers were surprised that I, as an MP, would elect to hike up this trail to visit their kampung. (Apparently, their MPs and ADUN would only drop by in a helicopter) .
They were even more surprised when I joined the Impian Sarawak volunteers to carry stones to reinforce a bridge and to move 50kg fertiliser bags so that the trail could be widened.
I slept in the living room of one of the villagers together with the other volunteers and stayed for three days and two nights. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
About two months later, I’m told that the road together with a few bridges, are almost completed. I’ll be going up to the kampung in a few weeks’ time to complete this project.
I’m thankful that many of my colleagues have been involved in such projects in Sarawak and do not expect any special treatment even though they are elected representatives.
Whether they are addressed as YBs or not, they put their support into these projects and make their contribution felt. While the job of an elected representative is not to do so-called "menial" jobs such as pick up rubbish or carry tables and chairs, I strongly feel that we should not think that these jobs are somehow beneath us.
If we are called to stack chairs after an event, we should be ready to carry out these tasks. Just like when we are called to make our voices heard in parliament. Ultimately, for me, having this kind of attitude is far more important than insisting that people not address us as YBs.The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. DR ONG KIAN MING The STAR Online June 8, 2014