KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 — As the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Tan Sri Johari Abdul now spends his days keeping the affairs of the federal legislature in order.
But in a recent interview he gave to Malay Mail while anticipating an impromptu meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim over an emergency motion, Johari said he previously thought his career would go in a very different path.
“No (I wasn’t expecting to be the Speaker), I wanted to be a MB (menteri besar). In fact, before nomination (for the general election), I went to see my president, I said, ‘sir, I’m not contesting, I’m done with Parliament, I already did three terms, I contested five times, I lost twice and won three times, so I think I want to be MB.’
“I told him straight. He said okay, so, I didn’t contest,” Johari said.
Johari said this was why Kedah PKR Youth chief Muhammad Taufiq Johari ran in his former Sungai Petani parliamentary seat.
“I know how to do it, I think I can do it, this is because I have quite an experience, I was a government officer for 15 years, I was MP for 15 years, I was a businessman for 15 years, that’s 45 years so I think with these 45 years of experience, I educated locally and educated overseas, I worked overseas, I think I could work wonders in the state government.
“But then when the prime minister called me, he (said) needed me here, he ordered me to be back in Kuala Lumpur, ‘come back’,” Johari said.
Despite the scant notice, however, Johari has assumed the role with apparent ease.
As the Speaker, his familiarity with the Standing Orders has several times allowed him to put combative lawmakers in their place with less argument than was typical in the Dewan Rakyat.
Asked how he got up to speed so quickly, Johari said he has been in the same Dewan Rakyat for 15 years and was consequently familiar with the Standing Orders.
This was further magnified by his role as PKR’s chief whip since 2013, which Johari obliged him to know the rules by which Parliament operated.
“I got to organise (the party), as an organiser somehow or rather I know what is going on. At the same time, I was (Opposition leader) in the Kedah, so again a combination of that it helps me to be what I am today,” he said.
However, he said being Speaker meant that he would have no part in the political arena in order to maintain impartiality.
Despite his years as a politician, Johari admitted that he missed it “very much”.
“Once a politician will always be a politician. I try to refrain from making any political statements, but then again politics is always in the blood.
“I got my own family (taking after), one is an MP, I always train him to be a good MP, be responsible, and I also have another son contesting for state seat, and I have five sons I let them be... besides that from time to time I give seminars and lecture to the young, youths especially.
“What is important there is two things — one is to do the right thing, you have borders in life, so do not cross those red line, as long as it’s permitted within the law do the right thing, that’s the most important thing.
“Second thing is to have courage; you must have courage in whatever discipline that you are in, if you are in journalism you do that in journalism, if you’re in education you do that in education,” he said.
Johari previously served as the Sungai Petani MP from March 2008 until November 2022, and as Gurun assemblyman from May 2018 until his resignation in December 2022 to become the Speaker.
He was also the Pakatan Harapan Backbenchers Club chairman from August 2018 to November 2022.
His work does not end at tending to the daily affairs of Parliament. Feeling that there is low exposure among the public to how Parliament works, Johari said he has plans to raise public awareness, starting with the youths.
“What will happen is that we will do talent spotting on these students, those who are spotted will be invited again to come back so that we can nurture them.
“Eventually, I hope they become MPs one day. This is what I call investing in future, investing on the youth.
“And that will go on until my term is over in five years. Then that’s one thing. Secondly, we have programmes for NGOs to come, we have student activists, student unions, and of course the Parliament open day, which happened in the last two months, about 10,000 people visited us, and that will be a yearly event,” he said.
Programmes like this, Johari said, will hopefully help the society understand what democracy is all about.
At the same time, he said the most important thing is to prepare the future leadership, prepare the youth to take this position and become leaders.
“I think at the moment no single platform trains them to become leaders. None. I think by contributing in this position, I hope we will have future leaders,” he said.
Similarly for MPs, Johari said he has plans for a programme to “train” federal lawmakers on their role as parliamentarians.
“If you look at Canada, they have an orientation programme that lasts for six months, we tried to do that starting with the Backbenchers Club and that is a programme I want to do probably this coming session.
“But when it comes to writing good questions (for a Parliament sitting), that task belongs to their political leaders or chief whip. That is beyond me.
“(As for) the process and the system, yes that we can help them,” he said.