10 things about: The Malaysian Houses of Parliament

Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa
Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — While every Malaysian recognises the iconic building we refer to casually as Parliament, and know this is where our elected lawmakers meet to debate and pass laws, there are many facets or aspects of the Houses of Parliament that are a surprise.

First of all, it is not just one building but a complex that has two parts: a main building and a tall tower. The main building is where the Dewan Rakyat meets (the last session for the year just ended last Thursday) while the tower is where the Dewan Negara is housed.

The Houses of Parliament was built after independence and completed in 1963.

Here are some things you may not know about the complex and its goings-on:

A deer park: This complex is home to a several dozen deers. When you pass through the gates of Parliament, the deer park is on the left and has been there since the 80s. The deers are of the rare Axis species and are believed to be a gift from then Indonesian president Suharto.

A clinic: Among the facilities that Malaysia’s august house provides for its legislators and staff is an in-house clinic. The clinic is well equipped for minor procedures with a resident doctor and his staff of two nurses. There is also an ambulance on stand-by at the back in case of emergencies.

A statue of Tunku Abdul Rahman: A statue of the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj can be seen in front of the tower block. It has been there since 1971 and was sculpted by Austrian Felix de Weldon who also did the National Monument at the nearby National Monument Park.

Guards: The men in blue are trusted with keeping Malaysia’s most important people, its elected representatives, safe. Some have been stationed at the Dewan for over a decade watching history being made year after year. Some are even privy to the backroom drama and know most politicians by sight. Just last week, the Parliament security force proved to be heroes when they formed a human shield around Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad to protect him from an attempted assault on the grounds.

Temporary building: The current Parliament building is undergoing massive renovation; the Dewan had to be moved out. The multipurpose hall at the back of the old House was remodelled into a temporary Dewan. By next year, the Dewan will move back into the main building.

An MPs lounge: The lawmakers too need a place to relax when they are not debating in the Dewan. This is where they can have a smoke or even mingle with their opposition. It is really something to see two people who were just shouting at each other in the Dewan smiling at each other when they are out of the House.

Food coupons: Apart from the lawmakers ­— when the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara are in session — there are also a lot of officers and personnel in Parliament. Several of them have food coupons which can be redeemed under their ministry at the cafeteria. Reporters are currently given lunch boxes provided by Minister in Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Parliamentary Affairs Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Stop the clock: Sometimes more than several hours is needed to debate a single Bill. If the Bill is an important or a controversial one, it might take much longer. The Dewan allows for a the clock to be stopped in order for debates to be continued indefinitely. It can by done by invoking Standing Order 90(2) to suspend Standing Order 12 (3), which allows the session to continue indefinitely up till the wee hours of the morning. In recent times, this has been done for the debates of Bills like the Prevention of Terror Act (Pota) which went on for 10 hours.

Buggy services: The 16.2 hectare grounds is not that easy to get around by foot. There are buggys to ferry around visitors and staff to the various buildings and blocks in the complex. Since parking is scarce due to renovation works, there is also a shuttle service from a parking complex near Bukit Aman.

Viewing gallery: Above where the lawmakers and Speaker sits is a viewing gallery where debates can be watched. The viewing gallery is open to the public and can host an array of guests from dignitaries to students. One condition though, visitors need to be properly dressed and bow to the Speaker (like in a court) upon entry or exit.