Tarnished silver (© Chris Deraud / sxc.hu)
THE silver state is in crisis, with the Pakatan Raykat-led state government having lost its majority in the legislative assembly with four assemblypersons leaving its fold.
Now, with the Perak government in limbo, experts tell The Nut Graph that the best option for the formation of a state government is via snap elections.
“Once a mandate is lost, fresh elections are called to get a new mandate from the voters. Both sides can compete for the new mandate,” says Southeast Asian political expert Prof Dr James Chin of Monash University.
Chin adds that this is an accepted view amongst all Commonwealth democracies which use the Westminster form of government.
Constitutional law expert Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi agrees. Shad says: “In my personal view at the moment, some elected representatives’ loyalties seem to be in self-interest more than anything else, with party-hopping happening this way and that.” He adds that it would be best to leave the rakyat to decide on the state government by a vote.
Shad, however, says there are serious considerations for snap elections to be called.
“In the current economic climate, what kind of costs would a snap election incur? There might also be no clear-cut results,” Shad explains. He cites India as an example, where three elections were held in less than five years, because of political stalemate and unclear election outcomes.
Since the Perak state elections were held a mere 10 months ago, the Sultan might therefore consider it too soon to hold snap elections. Nevertheless in countries such as Japan, India and the UK, snap elections have been called even within a few months of a new government being elected into power due to political deadlocks or stalemates.
“In my opinion, calling for snap elections is the least controversial way of asking people to decide on their government in a democracy,” says Shad.
Bota assemblyperson Datuk
Furthermore, Chin dismisses Perak Umno liaison committee and state Barisan Nasional (BN) chairperson Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s claim that the three newly-independent state assemblypersons and returning Bota representative give the BN a governing mandate.
Shad, on the other hand, says the constitution does not stipulate that the majority commanded in the state assembly needs to be from the same coalition or party. Rather, the government only requires the support or confidence of the majority in the assembly.
“Now, Najib has to prove to the Sultan that the BN commands this confidence, and it is up to the Sultan to test it,” says Shad.
Satisfying the Ruler
According to Shad, neither state nor federal constitutions stipulate how the Ruler needs to be satisfied that a government commands the confidence of the legislature’s majority. The Ruler can be convinced in a variety of ways.
“For example, the Ruler might ask for a meeting in person, as happened in Perlis. Or the Ruler could be happy with the submission of a written letter or statutory declaration, as happened in Perak,” explains Shad.
The Ruler would also be well within his powers to instruct a vote of no confidence in the state assembly. This last measure is not stated in the state or federal constitutions, but an instruction by the Ruler to this effect would be binding.
“In fact, it is the safest thing to do in a Westminster system of government,” Shad says. “Because on the floor of the house, it is impossible for representatives to multiply, disappear or reappear mysteriously.”
But Chin stresses that a government that is formed by defections, “would be a mandate of the Yang Berhormats, not a mandate of the people.” It would not be a legitimate government as voters also cast their ballots along party lines.
Associate Prof Joseph Liow, a specialist in Malaysian politics from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, believes that the crisis unfolding in Perak speaks to more fundamental issues, namely the Federal Constitution’s silence on party-hopping.
Thus, even though Liow agrees that dissolution is only proper, he believes it is unlikely. “I won’t be surprised if the Sultan endorses the crossovers despite pressure from Pakatan Rakyat,” he says.
Liow ventures that the intense attention on Perak may cause its Sultan to err on the side of caution and stability.
State elections may have cascading implications on other states (© Steve Woods / sxc.hu)
“The worry is that a state election will have cascading implications for other states, thereby further destabilising an already tenuous situation,” Liow explains. “The safest option [for the palace] is to accept the new power configuration.”
Moreover, Shad says there have been high-profile instances when rulers have denied requests to dissolve state assemblies in situations of political gridlock, namely Sabah in 1994 and Kelantan in 1978.
“In Sabah, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS)’s Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan claimed a hands-down victory. Within 10 days, his majority evaporated,” he says.
Pairin advised dissolution of the state assembly to the governor, but the governor denied this request.
“Pairin’s case was quite clear-cut — the post-defection numbers were lopsided and not in his favour at all,” says Shad. Pairin’s PBS went from having 25 seats to five seats after defections.
“In Kelantan, PAS Menteri Besar Datuk Mohammed Nasir lost a vote of no-confidence in the state assembly and requested for a dissolution, but the Ruler denied the request,” Shad continues.
The Umno-backed Nasir refused to step down after a no-confidence vote was passed against him in the state assembly. The BN federal government then declared a state of emergency in Kelantan, and installed Tan Sri Hashim Aman as menteri besar, and he governed for three months.
Thus, in addition to a history of rulers denying requests for dissolution of state assemblies, the federal government has also not hesitated to declare emergencies in these gridlocked states. Apart from Kelantan, the federal government had also declared an emergency in Sarawak during that state’s 1966 constitutional crisis.
Terms of endearment
One other problem with a BN government-by-defection in Perak is that it will be overwhelmingly Umno- and Malay Malaysian-dominated. Already, 27 out of the 28 BN representatives are from Umno. Of the three newly-independent, BN-friendly reps, two are Malay Malaysians.
“It would not endear the BN government to the people of Perak if it were a lop-sided government,” says Shad.
Liow adds: “This will be a problem, but it is not a question the BN is preoccupied with at the moment — all they want is to take over government.”
See also: Snap poll best bet