History has recorded change and continuity and official opening of the new Sarawak legislative assembly building in Petra Jaya here on Monday by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin will mark this iconic symbol as the country’s oldest legislature.
First known and gazetted as the General Council until 1903, its history began in Bintulu where the first meeting was held on Sept 8, 1867 in a temporary wooden ramshackle building.
State legislative assembly speaker Datuk Seri Mohd Asfia Awang Nassar said Bintulu was the last territory acquired by the Brunei sultanate and present-day Kuching was then Sarawak.
The meeting had moved venues seven times ever since, including to the new building perched on the promontory by the bank of the Sarawak River.
“This indicates how far we have gone. With the capacity to hold up to 108 honorary members in the chambers, a parliamentary building usually serves the legislature for 100 years,” he told a media briefing here.
The RM300 million nine-storey building, with its distinctive “terendak” or Melanau sun hat-shaped roof as well as a 5,000-capacity convention and 800-capacity banquet halls, boosts of magnificent architecture and unique interior designs done exclusively by Uzbek artisans to reflect the confluence of cultures in Sarawak.
Describing it as an iconic symbol akin to the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France and the Sydney Opera House in Australia, he said, the disabled-friendly building has a total area of 760 sq metres, with a height of 27.7 metres and a diameter of 30.9 metres surrounded by 50ha of greenery, including the Orchid Garden.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the 218th Meeting of the Conference of Rulers will be held at the meeting chambers on the eighth floor, where the current 71 elected representatives are scheduled to convene for the next sitting in November.
He said in the Commonwealth countries, most parliaments were located either on a hill or by the river but the location here was advantageous as it was on a hill and by the river, giving a kaleidoscopic panoramic view with the Astana on the left and Fort Margherita on the right.
“You can write history right from when (Rajah) James Brooke was hiding as the rebels crossed the river during the Bau uprising, and the exchanging of cannons between Muda Hashim and Pengiran Indera Makkota on the one end and him, as the visiting Englishman, on the other end at the nearby Kampung Bedil Besar,” said Asfia, who has authored a book “Change and Continuity.”
His book, which traces the historical background of Sarawak’s legislature — the oldest legislature in Malaysia — and another one compiled by the Institute of Architect Malaysia, “The New DUN Sarawak Building – Symbol of the People Sovereignty”, would be launched in conjunction with the opening, he said.
He said the grand opening had already written a historical record because it would be the first state assembly building in the country to be graced by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and attended by all the rulers and heads of state or their representatives.
The historical occasion would also be marked by fireworks display as well as a regatta and a float procession on the Sarawak River in the evening.
Asfia, the ninth as well as the longest serving speaker, said for the last 33 years the meetings were held at the Council Negeri Complex in Petra Jaya here, which was expected to be turned into an Arts Centre under the purview of the state Social Development and Urbanisation Ministry.
Tracing back Sarawak’s legislature history, he said the general council had their second meeting in a place known as Fort Brooke in Sibu on June 15, 1868, which was the last so-called “outstation” venue.
The third meeting venue was at the Astana here in October 1870 while the fourth was in the Courthouse here on July 22, 1918, by which time it was already known as the Council Negeri.
“The fifth meeting venue for the Council Negeri was the Dewan Pembangunan Tun Abdul Razak where they had their 106th meeting on Dec 28, 1973,” he said, adding that it later moved to the last venue, which was officiated by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Aug 17, 1976.