WILL tomorrow, 7 May 2009, mark the end of the road for Perak Speaker V Sivakumar? Will he allow a motion to remove him as speaker and to appoint or elect a new one for the state legislative assembly?
Will he uphold the suspensions of Barisan Nasional (BN)-appointed Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir and six executive councillors by barring them from entering the House?
How Sivakumar handles these two key points will speak of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s democratic principles. The political strike-counter-strike in the last three months of the Perak constitutional crisis has seen PR having the upper hand because the speaker, who is a DAP assemblyperson, is aligned with the alliance.
If Sivakumar strikes out the motion for his removal, he would be seen as preserving his own, and the PR’s, interests. To simple folk who support the PR, this may look heroic. To the more erudite, it raises the question: is the PR no different from the BN when it comes to wielding power?
Weighing Sivakumar’s actions
In parliamentary democracy theory, there is nothing wrong with having a prime minister from one side of the political divide, and the speaker of parliament from the other. Indeed, there was a time when the British House of Commons had the tradition of selecting the speaker from the opposition.
The DAP’s Ipoh Barat Member of Parliament (MP), lawyer M Kulasegaran, also notes that it is the practice for the speaker, upon being elected, to quit his or her political party and serve as an independent MP in his or her constituency. Furthermore, the party from which he or she resigned would not contest in the seat in future elections for as long as he or she was the speaker. This was meant to show respect for the independence of the office.
So why the fuss about removing Sivakumar now that BN controls 31 (with the help of three friendly independents) out of the Perak assembly’s 59 seats?
Kulagesaran “If this were a mature parliamentary democracy, there would be no need to remove the speaker,” says Kulasegaran. He cites India, where the government of the day can change but the same MP remains the speaker.
The problem with politics and governance in Malaysia, however, is that people cannot yet disengage the two; thus the BN’s predictable move to oust the speaker in favour of someone supportive of the BN, and the PR’s survival-borne inclination to claw back tooth and nail to preserve what power they have through Sivakumar.
Yet, internally within the DAP, there are views that should Sivakumar act in any manner that smacks blatantly of self-preservation, the PR alliance could pay the price in a loss of credibility. There are considerations about what weight the speaker’s actions tomorrow would bear on the coming two to three years before the next general election.
It is learnt that a final pow-wow by Perak DAP and PR leaders is to take place today on 6 May to decide Sivakumar’s course of action tomorrow.
What are Sivakumar’s options? What ought to be the principled thing to do?
Sivakumar on 4 May wrote to the Perak Ruler Sultan Azlan Shah seeking a postponement of the assembly sitting in view of the fact that the court might not reach a decision in time. And even if it did, appeals are expected.
A deferment seems unlikely at this stage. The Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah, is to officiate at the assembly’s opening at 10am tomorrow. He will then attend a tea reception, and then leave. Up to that point, things in the House are expected to be civil.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Sivakumar could block Zambry and the six BN executive councillors from entering. The seven are still suspended as far as the PR is concerned, despite the Federal Court ruling otherwise. The court did not pass any judgment on the 3 March emergency assembly under the tree which upheld the suspensions.
The tree where the 3 March emergency assembly was held
Sivakumar could also immediately adjourn the sitting after it opens. This would be ideal in view of the High Court’s pending decision and the subsequent appeals, lawyer Andrew Khoo tells The Nut Graph. It would also avoid a dissolution of the assembly, which has to sit before 13 May or six months after its last sitting in November 2008.
But if the sitting is not adjourned, then the next two important issues for Sivakumar to address are the suspensions of Zambry and the six excos, and the motion to remove the speaker.
Khoo says the suspensions should be put to a vote in the House. This is because the Federal Court was silent on whether the assembly could vote on the recommendation of the privileges committee to suspend the seven. The court only ruled that Sivakumar himself did not have the right to order the suspensions.
“Zambry and the six excos should not be allowed to vote since they will be personally interested in the motion on their suspension,” says Khoo.
Voting on the suspensions would be the civilised way of deciding the matter. The muscle-flexing option would be for Sivakumar to bar Zambry and the six excos from even setting foot in the House, something Perak DAP chairperson Datuk Ngeh Khoo Ham reiterated on 5 May.
Vote on the speaker
Apart from the suspensions, the motion to remove the speaker should also be voted on. “The results must be respected,” Khoo says.
If the High Court rules in time before the sitting — whether Zambry or Nizar is the legitimate MB — the motion to remove the speaker would still be valid. Zambry may reconsider his motion if Nizar is ruled the rightful MB. But regardless of the court’s ruling, a vote on the speaker should be taken.
This is because the court’s decision on the MB and the motion against the speaker are separate, Khoo notes.
Zambry “They do not have to be from the same political side. Even if Zambry is MB, there is no reason in principle why Sivakumar cannot remain as speaker. The vote is like a motion of confidence on the speaker,” he says.
That, some could argue, would be the ideal — theoretically.
Khoo notes that the House should also vote on the three independents whom the Federal Court has deemed as serving assemblypersons. By voting on these contentious issues where the court is deemed to have interfered in the affairs of the legislature, the House can go some way in reclaiming its independence.
That’s not to say, however, that the constitutional crisis will end. The precedent has already been set for the courts to decide on matters of the assembly. At the same time, a parallel showdown outside the state secretariat building, where the assembly hall is located, is expected as PR parties are mobilising their supporters.
What tomorrow will amount to is whether the PR will fight to preserve the speaker’s status quo, or pick their battles and retreat to prepare for the war in the next general election.