Sultan Azlan Shah (image source: sultan.perak.gov.my)
PETALING JAYA, 6 Feb 2009: People have the right to question a Ruler’s decision which impacts the public, legal experts said.
Asked to comment on the opposition towards Sultan Azlan Shah’s decision not to dissolve the Perak legislative assembly yesterday, Datuk Param Cumaraswamy said: “The public has the right to discuss the implications of the Sultan’s decision, which affects the electorate.”
Param, who is the former UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said citizens have the right to disagree with the palace’s decision and express desire for snap elections.
Malaysian Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan agreed, saying: “As long as public dissent is expressed peacefully, respectfully and reasonably, it should be permitted.”
Last night, the embattled Perak Pakatan Rakyat called for a 100,000-strong public demonstration in Ipoh to support the coalition government which the Sultan has asked to step down to make way for the Barisan Nasional (BN).
“These accusations of treason are unfounded,” Ambiga told The Nut Graph in a phone interview. “Police blockades of the demonstrators (last night) [were] unnecessary.”
Additionally, Nizar’s refusal to relinquish his post as the MB also cannot be considered treasonous or seditious, the legal experts said.
Former Malaysian Bar Council president Yeo Yang Poh said that treason and sedition are archaic offences.
“Historically, the rationale for treason and sedition was not democracy-based,” Yeo said in a phone interview. “The rationale was raised in a context of king and empire. In a modern democracy, it is obsolete.”
Ambiga added that the Bar Council believes the Sedition Act should be abolished.
Param said that the Sedition Act outlawed incitement of disaffection against the Ruler.
“But it is up to a court of law to decide if the demonstration (last night) was agitating the public to show ill-will against the Ruler,” said Param.
It is also ultimately for the court to decide if Nizar’s refusal to step down as MB is seditious, Param added.
“The BN can criticise Nizar for not adhering to the constitution or the law.
“But to accuse the Pakatan Rakyat of treason and sedition is simply not in tune with modern democratic values,” said Yeo.
Sultan acted constitutionally
The experts, however, said it was inaccurate to say the palace had violated the constitution or the laws of the land.
“The Perak constitution confers the power on the Sultan to appoint an MB who commands the confidence of the state assembly,” Param said.
He added that an MB who loses the assembly’s confidence can ask the Sultan for a dissolution, but it was up to the Sultan to consider the request.
“If the Sultan refuses to dissolve the assembly, the state constitution provides that the MB resigns, along with the state executive committee,” Param said.
Ambiga said that because of this, it would be difficult for Nizar to insist on staying on as MB.
She said the Pakatan Rakyat could challenge the BN’s takeover by seeking to establish the validity of the assemblypersons’ pre-signed, undated resignation letters and challenging the Election Commission’s decision in court.
“But we must remember this is uncharted territory for everyone, in that the numbers in the state assembly are very close,” Ambiga said.
The BN now has 28 seats, an equal number of seats as the Pakatan Rakyat, in the 59-seat state assembly. The BN is relying heavily on support from the three independents, formerly from Pakatan Rakyat, who resigned on 4 Feb.
“The composition of the state assembly remains so divided. How long is it going to go on like this?” Param asked.
“At the end of the day, this is now a government formed by crossovers, and our laws allow for this,” said Ambiga. “Whether it is ethically and morally right or wrong is a different issue.”
See also: Perak crisis