The politicians, the poets and the people

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) complex as seen from across the Sarawak River, Kuching. — file pic

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By Lian Cheng

Apart from the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which drew passionate debates and incited heated arguments, this Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) session also saw many politicians turning into poets.

Nobody really noticed that there have been a lot of pantun being recited here and there during the Question-And-Answer (Q&A) Session as well as the debating time, until Pelawan assemblyman David Wong suddenly lashed out and called on DUN Deputy Speaker Datuk Garawat Gala to put an end to these poetic moments.

One cannot blame Wong for losing it. Wong’s questions were not answered for two consecutive days since the start of the DUN sitting on Monday (Nov 9). Yesterday morning, when the time for Q&A ended right before his questions could be answered, that was the last straw.

“We are only allocated one hour per day for questioning (Q&A) time and all these (honourable) members came out to recite their pantun and are wasting the time.

“My question is the next (to be addressed). And (for) two straight days and this House has become the ‘House of Pantun’ than the ‘House of Rakyat’. You are wasting a lot of time.

“This august House is supposed to address the issue of the people, not for members to show their artistry in pantun. I think we have to make a ruling on this, Tuan Speaker. This is getting out of hand, I tell you.

“Every member comes out to recite a pantun and the minister replies with another pantun when we can (could have used the time to) to have 20 questions answered,” he complained.

Well, things did not end here. Sensing Wong’s frustration, many backbenchers of the ruling coalition recited pantun before stating their questions while the assistant ministers responded in kind with pantun before answering any questions. Even a Chinese backbencher like Batu Kitang assemblyman Lo Khere Chiang also prefaced his Sarawak Budget debate speech with a pantun.

This morning as usual, before Coastal Road Assistant Minister Datuk Julaihi Narawi answered Wong’s question, the former started with a pantun. He then tried to explain the significance of pantun culture to Wong but was stopped by Speaker Datuk Amar Mohd Asfia Awang Nassar who instructed him to go straight to answering Wong’s questions.

For a while, the pantun drama seemed to have ended here.

Well, it did not. What was even more comical was that while Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah was delivering his winding-up speech on the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill, 2020, he denied Wong’s interjection by threatening to recite a pantun to Wong.

“Later I give you pantun, then you will get upset again,” Abdul Karim told Wong when the latter tried to interrupt his speech.

It seemed from this incident that pantun was turned into a weapon to silence Wong, a YB who is tough, vocal and full of the Democratic Action Party (DAP)’s fighting spirit.

What then is the significance of pantun? According to Abdul Karim, pantun is a vital part of Malay culture.

“Pantun is a way of delivering a message in a refined and delicate manner. For the Malay community, when the occasion calls for them to put across an important message, they have to do so through a pantun, for example, during a marriage proposal or before the start of a debate.

“Wong feels that it is wasting time which cannot be, as pantun are usually very short. Wong did make everyone a bit upset but not angry. Anyway, it is a small matter and let us not make a mountain out of it,” Abdul Karim told DayakDaily.

It is quite true that most pantun recited in the DUN were short ones of one stanza and did not take a long time. After Mohd Asfia put a stop to it, some backbenchers still managed to get a pantun in with only half a stanza.

However, it has to be noted that DUN only meets twice a year, and this session has been shortened to only five days due to the recent Covid-19 spike. Wong as an elected representative does have an obligation to bring some answers back to his constituents who elected him.

It is understandable that he would want the needs of his constituency to be made known in the Dewan so that something can be done. Of course, undeniably, he has done so untactfully and was being insensitive to another culture. However, no harm was done because one can clearly see that his outburst was purely due to frustration. The YBs of the ruling coalition understood Wong’s frustration. So when they all started their debates with a pantun to irritate Wong, it was done out of mischief and not out of spite.

This perhaps is because they are all Sarawakians and among them, there exists a detectable but unexplainable trust that no one harbours the ill intention to socially, religiously or racially belittle others. So no one is making a mountain out of a molehill.

This pantun incident, to our DayakDaily journalists, is just a comical drama that brought us much laughter and giggles, and of course, it also became our muse. After hearing many pantun for the last three days, we would also like to present a pantun to end this commentary:

Ayam berkokok di pagi hari
Memberi tanda sidang bermula
Adun bersedia diri sendiri
Menyampai suara rakyat semua.

— DayakDaily