Under normal circumstances, the phrase “as soon as possible” (ASAP) conveys a sense of urgency that most people would be able to wrap around their heads without much difficulty.
But then, we seem to be living under abnormal conditions as ASAP has of late been read in various ways to the extent it has become curiously contentious in our political landscape.
In particular, ASAP has become a bone of contention between government politicians and their detractors that revolves around the nagging question of when our Parliament, which has been suspended since a declaration of emergency on 11 January, should be reconvened.
It all began when, at the end of the recent meeting of the Conference of Rulers, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong decreed that the suspended Parliament ought to be reconvened “as soon as possible” to allow MPs to debate the emergency laws and the national recovery plan.
The Agong had come to this conclusion after having audiences with leaders of political parties, a special independent committee on the 2021 emergency as well as briefings by government experts.
The King is also mindful of Parliament’s role as an important platform for elected representatives to meet and discuss various issues, particularly those concerning the Covid pandemic.
Actually, this is the second time the King has said that Parliament should meet despite the state of emergency. The first time was when a similar sentiment was expressed in February.
With the royal decree in mind, political analysts and activists in civil society were convinced that the pandemic and the consequent battered economy necessitate the reopening of Parliament as soon as possible given the urgency of the matter that needs to be deliberated by lawmakers. The message from the palace is loud and clear, they added.
Leaders from opposition parties, who have all along been demanding that the suspension of Parliament be revoked, predictably and understandably concurred with the Agong that Parliament has to be reconvened “as soon as possible”.
Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan argued it does not require the King to stipulate which month of the year Parliament ought to be reconvened. The former Negri Sembilan menteri besar was responding to de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan, who expressed a somewhat deep reading of ASAP.
Takiyuddin opined that the King did not specify any date when Parliament should meet, adding that the Agong did not say which month, just that it should be “soon”.
In a Bicara Harakah programme, Takiyuddin quibbled over the notion of “soon”, saying: “Now we are near the end of June. There’s July, then August and September is soon, we will have Parliament then.” It appears he has reduced ASAP to “soon”, which alters the meaning altogether.
Takiyuddin’s supposed critical notion of ASAP provoked a swift response on social media from an opposition politician in Penang, who pointed out that it is not the job of the King to even specify an exact date of the Parliament sitting. That, he warned, would be lowering the dignity of the king.
In an apparent move to distance himself from this enigma about how urgent or soon “as soon as possible” is, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun merely reiterated Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s commitment to reconvene Parliament in September or October this year, based on his rationale for doing so. That could leave you speechless.
A recent statement from the Prime Minister’s Office might not be of much help in resolving the so-called confusion over ASAP as it merely stated that the federal government had “taken note” of the views expressed by the Agong.
In urging for Parliament to be reconvened immediately, Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said the phrase ASAP could also mean “yesterday”.
It looks like it’s crucial that we use the phrase the way we ordinarily use it – as soon as possible. – The Malaysian Insight