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Whither Perak?

Pakatan Rakyat Speaker V Sivakumar (left) and Barisan Nasional Speaker R Ganesan

THE Perak Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s persistence in not legitimising the Barisan Nasional (BN) state government draws either admiration or irritation.

In part, it’s a difference of opinion that reflects political alignments. The BN-aligned depict such resilience as “buat kecoh”. This was aptly described in a piece in Utusan Malaysia after Perak PR assemblypersons convened a 2 Sept 2009 sitting of the House in an Ipoh hotel. For the PR, it’s “lawan tetap lawan”, by now a favourite battle-cry in their ceramah.

In the courts, the PR has filed suits to challenge the legitimacy of the BN’s 5 Feb takeover of Perak in all aspects possible, except against the state’s ruler. A Federal Court decision on who the rightful menteri besar (MB) is, is pending. Embattled PR Speaker V Sivakumar is also suing the BN-installed speaker Datuk R Ganesan. Apart from that, Sivakumar is also pursuing a judicial review of the Election Commission‘s decision to retain the seats of the Behrang, Changkat Jering and Jelapang assemblypersons who left the PR to become BN-friendly independents.

Symbolic of its defiance, the PR has also insisted on convening assembly sittings, first the 3 March emergency sitting under a tree, then the recent one in a hotel held six months later as required by the state constitution. It deems as illegal the 7 May sitting when Speaker Sivakumar was removed by police and the BN’s Ganesan was elected — some say illegally — instead.

Amid charges of lawlessness, of being rabblerousers, and of confusing the public, what is the value of the PR’s continued “theatrics”? For how long can its resilience last? Will the well of public sympathy dry up?

The tree where the emergency sitting was convened

Making a point

Clearly, the PR is not relying on the courts to resolve the impasse, and has mounted resistance at other levels. At the grassroots, regular ceramah for Perakians have been held over the past months.

But after seven months since the PR’s ouster from the state government, there are views that the alliance should give their fight a rest and recoup for the next general election. After all, they already have public anger and sympathy on their side. While the PR wants to keep the injustice of the takeover alive, getting carried away with fiery rhetoric at a time when the BN federal government is attempting to regain lost ground through liberalisation policies can be a gamble.

But others feel the PR has no choice. “I think it is their duty to keep on being a pest. To remind everybody that the present Perak government was unlawfully set up by taking away a properly elected government with the use of the sultan,” says Universiti Malaya associate professor of law Dr Azmi Sharom in a phone interview.

“People should know that there is a reason for their ruckus. It’s not about buat kecoh or cari pasal, but a reminder that democracy should not be taken away through the use of institutions like the courts, the police or the palace, or by enticing elected representatives to cross over.”

In short, the PR cannot afford to show any acceptance of the BN state government’s legitimacy. But what next, if the Federal Court decides that the BN’s Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir is the legitimate MB?

Dissent to continue

Sungkai assemblyperson A Sivanesan reiterates the PR’s promise for fresh elections should the highest court decide in embattled MB Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin’s favour.

If that doesn’t happen, he says the PR promises another protest when BN-installed speaker Ganesan calls for the next assembly sitting, which is due by November, or six months after the 7 May assembly.

“If we attend, it will be under protest and we will ensure that the sitting cannot proceed because Ganesan was not properly elected. He has also misled the Bar Council about his legal practice and should be disqualified,” Sivanesan tells The Nut Graph over the phone.

The state constitution requires the speaker to cease his or her business or profession immediately upon election or in not more than three months, or be disqualified. Ganesan wrote a letter dated 6 Aug to inform the Bar Council that he had ceased legal practice, but his notice of cessation was filed on 17 Aug.

In other words, the PR is not likely to accept a federal court judgement that favours the BN. The PR is appealing the Court of Appeal’s judgement against the High Court’s decision that Nizar is the rightful MB. The coalition also considers as flawed the appellate court’s interpretation of the law to allow the sultan to sack a menteri besar and to determine the majority in the assembly without a vote in the House.

Nizar (Pic courtesy of theSun)
On other counts, the BN’s legitimacy is also tenuous when it comes to the three independents, Sivanesan notes. “If, on a particular issue, they happen not to vote in line with the BN, the credibility of the BN’s majority will be lost.” The Perak assembly has a total of 59 seats, with 28 each for the PR and the BN. While it is unlikely that the BN-friendly independents will suddenly behave independently, Sivanesan says the theoretical possibility underscores the principle of what a legitimate majority is.

Gerakan Youth chief Lim Si Pin, a Perakian, believes that the PR’s continued resistance will bear fruit only if the Federal Court rules Nizar as the MB. “Then they can say that their rule of the state has been unbroken.”

Lim is in favour of fresh state elections and has stated so on his blog. Still, he thinks the PR assemblypersons could be doing more “productive things” instead of whipping up sympathies.

“It is understandable that they want to do this, but I think their energies should be channelled elsewhere, like serving their constituencies,” he says to The Nut Graph.

“People are sympathetic. But like the story of the boy who cried wolf, people may end up treating the PR’s politics as a game. I’m looking at it from a voter’s point of view. If I elected you, I rather you come see to my needs than staging assemblies,” he says on the phone.

Short memories?

Does this mean the BN is hoping that voters will forget the bitterness of the takeover and the court judgements by the time the next general election rolls around?

“When times are good again, people may forget. It’s hard to predict how people will vote in the next general election when other factors come into play between now and then, like if the economy rebounds,” says Lim.

Indeed, it appears that this is precisely what Umno is banking on. Supreme council member Datuk Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah says the government’s approach is to concentrate on people and economy-centric initiatives.

“People are starting to turn their attention to the things the government has introduced, which is only a fraction of all the things the prime minister wants to implement, so Pakatan can go ahead do whatever it wants,” the Tambun Member of Parliament and finance minister II tells The Nut Graph.

He says the PR in Perak should perform its role as the opposition now and focus on development and economic issues in the state. “They should do this rather than instigate people to go against the courts.”

Voting on principles?

Sivanesan, however, has faith in the fact that Perak voters’ mixed ethnic composition will be positive for the PR in the next general election.

“It won’t be like Manik Urai, where the BN thought they were getting back the Malay [Malaysian] votes. But Permatang Pasir disproved that. There may be a small swing of Malays back to the BN, but there will be a larger swing from non-Malay [Malaysian] voters,” he asserts.

Perak’s voters are 51% Malay Malaysian, 33% Chinese Malaysian, 13% Indian Malaysian, and 3% Orang Asli, notes Sivanesan.

In Perak, all the PR appears to have on its side are the ethnic percentages, and principles. In a political landscape where there’s been a shortage of the latter, how Perakians vote next will say much about the progress of Malaysian political maturity. The value of the PR’s continuing resistance will also be known then.

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One Response to “Whither Perak?”

  1. YewLeng says:

    Technically Si Pin is wrong to say that PR is whipping up public sympathies.
    In order to ensure that there is no seepage for the BN to seize on for an excuse of ‘PR did not follow the the processes of the legislature, constitution, hence, PR govt by default ceases to exist’, the PR govt has its six-monthly sittings be they under the tree, in the hotel or even up Taiping Hill next!

    Si Pin – you can help resurrect justice by getting BN to take up the challenge – do a statewide election. Then the whole world will not get a free movie from Producer SilverLand Co.

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