Making Sens - Dump Malaysia’s Donald Trumps

REGRETTABLY remarks in the Dewan Rakyat that are sexist and vulgar aren’t new.

Pasir Salak Member of Parliament (MP) Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s barbed retort levelled at Seputeh MP Teresa Kok on Monday last week is noteworthy for several reasons.

First, unlike other misogynists, Tajuddin isn’t an ordinary backbencher; he is the deputy agriculture and agro-based industry minister. Shouldn’t ministers and deputy ministers be role models of refined speech and decorum in Parliament?

Second, although proceedings in the Dewan Rakyat are recorded in full in Hansard, Tajuddin has denied asserting: “The only woman with a Kok is in Seputeh.” Would a check with Hansard reveal Tajuddin’s actual words?

Third, Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee, who was presiding over the proceedings, suggested Tajuddin was referring to the Seputeh MP’s surname “Kok”. In colloquial slang, “kok” is phonetically similar to male genitalia, website Malaysiakini says.

If the deputy speaker is correct, why did Tajuddin feel it was necessary to inform the Dewan Rakyat that the Seputeh MP is the only Parliamentarian with the surname “Kok”? How was this fact relevant to the altercation between both MPs?

Furthermore, isn’t the Deputy Speaker required to uphold Standing Order 36(4), which was amended on Nov 27, 2012: “It shall be out of order for Members of the House to use offensive language or make a sexist remark?”

Fourth, if the deputy speaker is correct, does this mean the Opposition MPs who chided Tajuddin for his boorish rejoinder are hearing impaired?

Fifth, this incident prompted criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

Although Tajuddin’s name wasn’t mentioned, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said: “As stipulated in the Standing Orders, MPs are not allowed to use rude, sexist or malicious words.”

Deputy Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun was more forthright. Making it clear the issue involved male chauvinism rather than politics, the MCA vice-president said in a statement:

“While we sit on the opposite fence and are aware that Teresa Kok’s comments are frequently intended to find fault with MCA, nevertheless our party does not tolerate any form of vulgarities by male MPs.”

There is wide chasm between debating in the Dewan Rakyat over issues impacting the lives, economy and social well-being of the rakyat as opposed to abusing one’s immunity and sinking to bottomless pit levels by hurling insults against the Seputeh MP’s family name, Chew added.

Although MPs who have made appallingly sexist remarks haven’t been publicly censured by their own top party leaders in the past while their political careers remain unimpaired, can Tajuddin be the new norm?

Some analysts argue politicians should be judged on their ability to garner popular support, not what they say.

Despite revelations that Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” and “when you’re a star, they let you do it (kiss them without asking),” the Republican contender still triumphed in the recent US Presidential election against former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

This overlooks two salient facts.
» Trump was forced to apologise for these tasteless remarks, which he described as “locker room banter” that took place years ago.
» Clinton won 2.2 million more popular votes than Trump but lost the tally in the electoral college.

Malaysian commentators may ask why should top political leaders sanction speakers of coarse sexist comments in the Dewan Rakyat?

There are two reasons why sexist comments made by Tajuddin and other backbenchers shouldn’t be given a free pass.

First, if Tajuddin’s remarks had been made in the workplace, he could have been sued for sexual harassment.

In a recent landmark judgement in Mohd Ridwan Abdul Razak v Asmah Hj Mohd Nor, the Federal Court created the tort of harassment, including sexual harassment, which it described as “a persistent and deliberate course of unreasonable and oppressive conduct, targeted at another person, which is calculated and does cause that person alarm, fear or distress”.

Second, would women be encouraged to become MPs, chief executive officers or company directors if they are subjected to bawdy observances? Women now account for 54.1% of the labour force, 26.3% of top management positions in public-listed companies and 70% of students in public universities in the 2016/2017 academic year.

If women are discouraged from venturing into politics or the corporate world because of sexual harassment, this would shrink the talent pool considerably. Can corporate and political Malaysia afford a narrowing of this significant demographic segment?

Non-government organisations should develop an index ranking male politicians by their lack of gender sensitivity and this should be a strong indicator that he is unfit to be nominated a candidate in the forthcoming general election.

Only when alpha males realise their lewd comments could exact a significant political cost will Malaysians get a Dewan Rakyat that doesn’t resemble a juvenile locker room.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com