THE Perak legislative assembly sitting on 7 May was the final act in the power grab by Barisan Nasional (BN). Three months after wresting the Perak government from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the BN yesterday finally grabbed the all-important speaker’s chair as the sitting descended into chaos.
ZambryNow, instead of having two contentious state governments led by two menteris besar, Perak now has the dubious honour of having two speakers as well. And the crisis shows no signs of abating.
To get to this point, two myths have been perpetuated about the state’s political and constitutional crisis
The first is that failure to hold an assembly by 13 May or six months from the last sitting will result in the automatic dissolution of the state government. The second is that “what matters most in a democracy is the numbers. The majority rules”, which BN-appointed Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir is fond of saying.
These myths have been used to support the BN’s naked agenda to replace the legislative assembly speaker V Sivakumar from DAP with someone supportive as the new chair of the House. This the BN achieved yesterday with the use of police force.
No automatic dissolution
The BN was never expected to return to Perak voters for a fresh mandate. Thus came about the spin that the House had to meet by 13 May or be automatically dissolved. Yet, Article 36 of the Perak constitution only states that the ruler must summon the assembly to sit every six months.
Unfortunately, the “great myth” about automatic dissolution, as lawyer Tommy Thomas has called it, has been reported in the media often enough that it now appears as fact.
Tommy Thomas “There is no such doctrine of automatic dissolution. It must be an overt act of the sovereign signing the proclamation of dissolution,” Thomas said at the 25 April Bar Council forum on the Perak crisis. Thomas served as legal counsel for Sivakumar in the suit brought against him by assemblypersons Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang), Capt (R) Mohd Osman Jailu (Changkat Jering) and Hee Yit Foong (Jelapang).
International Islamic Univeristy law lecturer Prof Dr Abdul Aziz Bari makes the same point. He says there are only two kinds of dissolution. One is upon a request made by the head of the government or a state to the prime minister or sultan. The second is when Parliament or a legislative assembly reaches the end of a five-year term when general elections must be held.
Abdul Aziz says the state’s six-month period between assembly sittings is only to ensure that a sitting takes place so that the government of the day can be answerable to the legislature, as is the practice in the British Westminster system.
To avoid its fears of putting the Perak crisis to a fresh vote, the BN has appeared hasty in convening the assembly sitting, especially since the Kuala Lumpur High Court has yet to make a decision on the rightful menteri besar case. The court will only do so on 11 May.
It appears that in the absence of a threat of fresh elections caused by a delayed sitting, 7 May was only the BN’s way of further consolidating power. Even Zambry himself admitted that replacing Sivakumar was unnecessary. His justification for it was that the smooth running of the state with the help of a “friendly speaker” was paramount.
Where the majority really belongs
“But we have the numbers…” is what Zambry, his Umno-backed lawyers, and BN-backed speaker Datuk R Ganesan are saying of the vote to boot Sivakumar out and install their own man.
“There is a maxim in democracy, that the majority rules. The BN has 31 and Pakatan 28, and the majority elected the speaker,” Ganesan said to reporters after the sitting yesterday when asked about the legitimacy of his appointment.
After the sitting, Zambry emphasised that the BN was right by telling reporters: “In the running of a democracy, we cannot allow the tyranny of the minority to decide for the majority.”
Ganesan He said this when justifying Ganesan’s request to police to help restore order in the House by removing Sivakumar.
It appears that the BN is confusing majority rule with might. It is also confusing might with being right.
If we follow the BN’s logic, it was right for the police to eject Sivakumar, because they were instructed to do so by the rightly elected speaker, Ganesan, in a sitting that had not yet been officiated by the Perak regent. They also claim that the sitting was legal nevertheless, because royal consent for it had been obtained earlier.
How far back do we go? Datuk Param Cumaraswamy says 7 May shows more clearly than ever the need for fresh elections. “The ugly events of yesterday clearly show that there can never be an orderly and stable government in Perak unless the legislative assembly is dissolved,” the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers says in a statement to The Nut Graph.
“That one disputed speaker could call in the police to assist the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove the other speaker … did not speak well of the calibre of the state representatives. Procedural fairness was thrown overboard in the assembly yesterday,” Param adds.
He also makes a point about the Regent Raja Nazrin Shah, who waited over four hours to deliver his royal address after the Sivakumar was thrown out and the House brought to order.
“Raja Nazrin’s presence there may not be seen as the ruler being above politics,” Param suggests.
Crisis far from over
The state’s legal and constitutional crisis is far from over. Appeals are bound to be filed against the High Court’s ruling on 11 May on the rightful MB, and suits could also arise from yesterday’s assembly sitting. Indeed, Sivakumar himself has already lodged a report against the police for trespass and assault.
Param notes that the sitting and its questionable motions passed could tarnish the court’s reputation further.
Param (Source: bestlawyers.com) “What happens if on Monday the High Court declares Nizar as the rightful menteri besar? On the other hand, if the court finds that Zambry’s appointment was valid, the public perception would be that the sitting yesterday pre-empted the court’s decision. The independence and impartiality of the court would be called into question.”
The BN insists they did nothing wrong. At a press conference on 8 May, Sungai Rapat assemblyperson Datuk Hamidah Osman said it was PR reps who “killed democracy” by ignoring the fact that new speaker Ganesan had been voted in by a majority of the House.
“Now that we have the majority, with 28 assemblypersons and three supporting independents, we have the right to introduce a motion to remove him,” she said.
The argument may come back to who has the numbers, but the BN should not forget that public perception also weighs other aspects. Backing up one’s majority position with the use of force, or disregarding the procedures for officially opening the sitting on the basis of numerical strength, makes for bad public relations.