Lawmakers can learn a thing or two from Dewan Negara president Wan Junaidi

A bronze statue of The Capitoline Wolf stands guard right outside the Dewan Negara president’s office at the Parliament Building in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

The statue, presented by Italy’s then ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Mario Filo Della Torre Santa Susanna on Oct 16, 1964, depicts the ancient legend of the founding of Rome. It also has an interesting mythical backstory.

With the she-wolf’s attentive pose – ears alert, and eyes wide open – the iconic artwork symbolises the man occupying the office; Tan Sri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

Wan Junaidi sat down with the team from Twentytwo13, on Oct 24. The next two hours were spent talking about a multitude of issues – from the Palestine-Israel war, the setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Law, to how lawmakers behaved in the august house and food.

The animated and insightful Sarawakian is a familiar face in Malaysian politics. Having turned 78 on Feb 1, the Aquarian stays true to his star sign – a man of ideas, diligent, hardworking, and loyal.

“I am crazy about reading, researching, and writing, I don’t do anything else at home. Other than that, I look at my wife’s face (Puan Seri Fauziah Mohd Sanusi), and when time permits, I watch television,” he said in jest.

Wan Junaidi is a reporter’s delight. He is one of the very few high-ranking officials who still answers phone calls from journalists, although he admitted that he is now extra careful when dealing with unfamiliar numbers due to the large number of scam calls. And he loves his food, too.

“Oh yes, I have my favourite makan spots whenever I go to Kuching … Yong Hua Cafe, Tok Janggut Cafe, and Fian Cafe. In Sarawak, we sit together and eat, regardless of who runs it,” said Wan Junaidi.

This is a common refrain among those from East Malaysia, who are known for being inclusive and colour-blind, compared to some of their more ‘uptight’, Peninsular Malaysia brethren.

Seated comfortably on the sofa with a Palestine muffler around his neck, the man has seen it all. Wan Junaidi comes with an impressive resume, having served as an inspector in the General Operations Force before reading law, and later, dabbling in politics. The former Batang Lupar and Santubong MP had served as Natural Resources and Environment minister, and as minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law).

Wan Junaidi has spoken about laws and reforms, as documented by Twentytwo13 on Wednesday and yesterday. He also spoke about the need to educate lawmakers who represented the people in the Dewan Rakyat.

Some of his memorable quotes include:

“Far too many people live in high places, in good places, thinking they know everything, but they actually do not.”

“I don’t think anyone else is like me, where they read the Parliament Hansards. I’ve read almost all of them, since 1959. I’ve read hundreds of books. It is fantastic. I can give you an actual summary of 1960, 1970, and 1980.”

“I saw how they debated on the laws (in Parliament) during the 50s and 60s. I must say I admire them … the debaters (had) very solid arguments. I admire the language they used, the way they spoke, the manner (in which) they spoke … very polite, very gentle … Even if there were disagreements with the Speaker’s ruling, it would not turn into a shouting match. They always treated the Speaker the way the Speaker ought to be treated.”

“MPs today should read the (past) Hansards and reflect on the depth of argument in terms of philosophy, understanding the subject matter before them, and the implications of what they say.”

It may seem like Wan Junaidi was taking a swipe at the current batch of headline-chasing lawmakers who mostly, lacked finesse, and who believe that raising their voices was the best way to get attention and “go viral”. But the seasoned politician was just calling a spade a spade.

“Today, MPs speak based on perception, all the time … it’s not based on the actual implications of the subject matter before them. Meaning, that when laws are introduced, MPs are supposed to know the law. They should know the implications of this law to the nation, its people, and perhaps, to his or her constituency. The MPs’ arguments should centre around these points,” Wan Junaidi said.

“Our MPs … are not updating themselves with sufficient knowledge. .. they are not equipping themselves on how to be effective legislators.”

The key takeaways after speaking to Wan Junaidi were that MPs must know their role, educate themselves on the subject matter, and go back to basics.

Having assumed the post of Dewan Negara president on June 19, much is expected from Wan Junaidi to institute reforms and changes needed to restore credibility in the august house.

And what’s the best way to inspire the younger generation to be lawmakers?

“For me, the simplest way would be to emulate the Sarawakians. Go to Sarawak and live like us. We don’t go around asking for sijil halal when eating at a shop. We see Muslims eating there, we go. It’s all about ‘keikhlasan’ (sincerity). Even if the food is halal, if you’re not ‘ikhlas’ (sincere), it becomes haram.

“So, if you want to makan (eat) laksa and kolok mee, go to Old Rex,” he quipped.

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