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(Readings) Perak, A Constitutional Crisis February 6, 2009

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Malaysia, Politics, Readings.
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Perak, A Constitutional Crisis
Malik Imtiaz Sarwar 

Now that the dust is settling, it is becoming clearer what it is that took place in Perak over the last twenty-four hours. My respectful view is that His Highness may have acted erroneously in directing the resignation of the Mentri Besar.

As always, it will be useful to consider the objective facts. They are as follows:

  • His Highness, the Sultan of Perak, granted audiences and in doing so was made to understand that the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly no longer support the incumbent Mentri Besar. Of these, three memberships are disputed in view of letters of resignation having been tendered to the Speaker. The Speaker has taken the position that the letters are valid and as such the two members are no longer members. Further, legal proceedings are being contemplated
  • excluding the three disputed memberships, both the Pakatan Rakyat and the Barisan Nasional each hold influence over twenty-eight members
  • twenty-eight members have indicated in private to His Highness that they no longer have confidence in the incumbent Mentri Besar. With the three disputed memberships, this number increases to thirty-one
  • no vote of confidence has been moved at the Assembly
  • the incumbent Mentri Besar made a request for dissolution of the Assembly. This request was not made on the basis that the majority of members had lost confidence in the Mentri Besar. Rather, it was made on the basis that in the circumstances it might be appropriate for fresh elections to be held in the State
  • on 5th February 2009 His Highness refused the request and directed the Executive Council to resign. From a statement issued by the palace, this directive was based on His Highness having refused the request for dissolution.
  • crucially, the directive was made in accordance with Article 16(6) of the Perak Constitution. This article provides that where a request for dissolution is made as a consequence of the Mentri Besar ceasing to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Assembly and His Highness refuses, the incumbent Mentri Besar must tender the resignation of the Executive Council.

From the above, it is apparent that His Highness considered the situation to be one in which the Mentri Besar had ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the members. In doing so, His Highness accepted the three disputed members as still being members of the Assembly and as such approached the situation on the assumption that the Barisan block outnumbered Pakatan by three instead of one. It must be borne in mind that:

  • as noted above Article 16(6) is specifically directed to a no-confidence scenario, that is the incumbent Mentri Besar can seek the dissolution of the Assembly upon his having ceased to command the confidence of the majority
  • Article 36(2) however provides more generally that His Highness has the power to dissolve the assembly. It is clear that this provision is aimed at allowing His Highness to dissolve the Assembly for other reasons thought to be appropriate
  • as a matter of law His Highness is empowered to do what is permitted under the Perak Constitution and the Federal Constitution. This is the essence of a constitutional monarchy
  • the Perak Constitution does not empower His Highness to dismiss the Mentri Besar. The manner in which the Mentri Besar is to be removed from office is as provided for under Article 16(6), through a refusal to dissolve the Assembly at the request of the Mentri Besar when the Mentri Besar has ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the Assembly.

It is apparent that His Highness had moved on the assumption that the request for dissolution was prompted by the Mentri Besar having ceased to command the confidence of the majority. This may have been based on a misapprehension of the situation and the appeal to the Sultan to dissolve the Assembly for reasons other than confidence. If so, then the directive to resign was arguably not tenable.

However, it could be said that all things considered His Highness had come to the conclusion that in any event the Mentri Besar no longer commanded confidence. In this context, the central question is whether His Highness was empowered to conclude that the incumbent Mentri Besar no longer commanded the confidence of the Assembly without there having been a vote of no confidence.

There is precedent. The Federal Court had in 1966 (Stephan Kalong Ningkam) determined that a similar provision of the Sarawak Constitution required there to be a vote of no confidence taken in the Assembly before the Chief Minister was obliged to resign. The decision was based on several key factors that I believe to be relevant to this discussion. These were:

  • the Sarawak Constitution did not empower the Governor to dismiss a Chief Minister
  • the phrase “confidence of the majority” was a term of art and could be read as implying the need for a vote of confidence or a vote on a major issue. The Court took into consideration the fact that the Sarawak Council Negri should, in principle, manage its own affairs.
  • no vote had been taken in the Council Negri and instead the Governor had come to his conclusion based on extraneous matters, particularly confidential letters. The Court observed that members expressing a view outside the Council Negri might very well take a different position in it when under the scrutiny of the public. This was of particular significance as out of the forty-two members of the Council Negri only twenty-one had indicated their not supporting the incumbent Chief Minister.

It could therefore be credibly argued that the Perak Constitution requires the tabling of a vote of confidence in the circumstances. The factors considered by the Federal Court have great significance to the scenario at hand, one as ambiguous as that which the Federal Court was faced with in 1966.

Much will now depend on what the incumbent Mentri Besar does. In Stephan Kalong Ningkam, the Chief Minister concerned took it to court and won. The Federal Court declared the Governor as having acted unconstitutionally and the dismissal of the Chief Minister invalid. Mohamad Nizar could attempt the same course.

It would be regrettable if the situation were forced to escalate to that level. Litigation of that nature, any nature for that matter, will be disruptive at all levels. With the Barisan Nasional moving in already though, it seems that there is little choice in the matter. Walking away is simply not an option that the constitution and the people and democracy will allow for.

In the meanwhile, we will have to buckle in for what has become a full-blown constitutional crisis.

(Malaysian Insider; 6th February 2009)


(Readings) Which way for Umno? May 2, 2008

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, Malaysia, Politics, Readings.
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After the Malaysian polls, parties must embrace new competition in policy-making

April 26, 2008, Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

THE remarkable results of the Malaysian general elections of March 8 almost certainly mean that the country’s politics has changed forever. Five states are in opposition hands and the government has lost its two-third majority in Parliament. At the individual level, a sense of empowerment is widely felt in the northern states that fell to opposition parties.

Even supporters of Barisan Nasional (BN) parties such as Gerakan, which governed the state of Penang for 38 years, are pleasantly surprised by the sense of relief felt in coffee shops and on the streets.

With this change in political climate comes a mindset shift. Suddenly, a concept of “new politics” has appeared in contrast to “old politics” and to the discourses that emanated from the race-based system of the BN.

Public enthusiasm has entered the political arena in a way not seen in decades. This is evidenced by the sharp increase in membership that opposition parties have experienced over the last month, as well as by the sudden rise in popularity of all the newspapers in the country.


Readings: Malaysia’s Prague Spring? December 8, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, Malaysia, Politics, Race Relations, Readings.
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Malaysia’s Prague Spring?
Asian Analysis, ASEAN Focus Group 

In the past month, two massive rallies calling for political change were held in Kuala Lumpur. In any democracies, this would be quite normal but in Malaysia, rallies are the purview of the ruling National Front (BN), carefully staged to show support to the government or the ruling UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) party. The police often deny a permit for opposition parties to hold outdoor demonstrations or rallies. These two rallies were different; they were organised by NGOs, albeit with support from opposition parties.

The first rally, on 10 November, was organised by BERSIH (Malay for clean), a coalition of NGOs and opposition parties calling for “clean” elections. Under the existing electoral system, through indirect control of the Electoral Commission, ethnic mobilisation, money politics, manipulation of the electoral roll, gerrymandering, postal votes, double voting, mass media control and others, the BN has won every election since independence. The standing joke in Malaysia is that BN wins the election before the first vote is cast, the only question is the margin of victory. BERSIH wants electoral reform in all the areas mentioned above. To the surprise of many, more than 40,000 BERSIH supporters in yellow t-shirts came out despite public warnings from the Prime Minister and the Police that the rally was illegal and those who take part will be arrested. The police attempted to lock-down downtown KL but failed. In some areas, the police used tear gas and water cannons laced with chemicals to clear the streets. Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Hadi Haji Awang, leaders of the three main opposition parties – National Justice Party (PKR) , Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Islam (PAS) respectively – managed to evade the police and lead thousands to hand over the BERSIH memorandum on electoral reform to a representative of the royal palace.


(Readings) The Tiger Against Sangkancil November 24, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, Malaysia, Politics, Race Relations, Readings.
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Ramdas Tikamdas, former President of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) wrote a short opinion piece this morning to protest the heavy-handed and draconian tactics to snuff out voices of the dispossessed.

by Ramdas Tikamdas

A minority ethnic community claiming to be victims of state policy of affirmative action for the ethnic majority with political patronage, files a class action, not in their own land where they allege the abuse and discrimination but in Great Britain, the colonial power which transported them there 150 years ago for indentured labour to lay the foundations of the infrastructure roads and railways and the plantation economy upon which the present trumpeted progress and development is based.

But, they contend they have been alienated, sidelined and generally left to their own devises in their long houses, slums, squatter colonies and teaching houses that pass off as schools; and the small temples in these areas are not on their own land because poverty prevents private ownership.

Why do they not seek redress in their own land? Because they have no confidence in the apparatus of the State which they contend has contaminated every institution which makes up a democracy, the police, the attorney general’s chambers, the civil service, even the courts.


Who is R. Sivarasa October 5, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, International, Malaysia, Politics, Readings.

Perhaps this is the perfect moment to introduce R. Sivarasa, one of most renown, committed and consistent human rights advocate in Malaysia.

Siva was a key mover in the ISA Family Support Group during the turbulent time of the 1987 ISA arrests of social activists, politicians, activists, trade unionists etc.

He, with ISA detainees who were later released from Kamunting, formed Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), which grew to be Malaysia’s leading human rights organisation.

He’s even on Wikipedia 🙂


(Readings) What Has Oxford Done? August 20, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Malaysia, Note2Self, Politics, Readings.

What Has Oxford Done?
M. Bakri Musa and Din Merican

Both are graduates of Oxford, but what a difference between the two! What separates them is that elusive quality: class. One has it; the other does not. When you have class, Oxford will bring out the best in you. When you do not, not even esteemed Oxford can do much for you.

One is a crown prince, a sultan-to-be whose recent wedding warmed the hearts of Malaysians for its elegant simplicity and regal restraint. His eloquent speeches inspire the young and old alike; they enthusiastically embrace his enlightened vision of Malaysia. He appeals to their idealism and decency, and they in turn respond in kind. His understated passion and cool rationality resonate with the citizens. He elevates the tone of our civil discourse. In short, Raja Nazrin is “Yang Teramat Mulia” (“The Most Esteemed”) personified.

The other is a neophyte political operative, with grand pretensions of being the next Prime Minister. For now however, he is till struggling just to have the title (but not the qualities) of a “Yang Berhormat” (“The Honorable”) that goes with being a Member of Parliament. His obscenely ostentatious wedding a few years back dragged on for days, with multiple ceremonies. Its extravagance easily outmatched the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, minus of course the royal elegance. Today he is again indulging in excesses; this time hurling insults at Malaysians and assaulting their sense of decency.


(Readings) 50 Tahun Terang Bulan Terbarai August 11, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, History, Malaysia, News Archive, Politics, Race Relations, Readings.

My favourite Malaysian writer strikes again 🙂

Some choice quotes:-

Bagaimana sebuah negara yang mengelar diri mereka – merdeka – tetapi lagu kebangsaan pun di ciplak.

Tuntutan MERDEKA adalah projek dan tuntutan Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM). Merdeka BUKAN projek United Malay National Organisations.

Dalam negara yang penuh dengan klentong, penipuan dan pembohongan bercakap benar adalah tindakan yang revolusioner.


(Readings) Chinese least impressed with Pak Lah August 5, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Current Affairs, Democracy, Note2Self, Politics, Race Relations, Readings.

For those without access to Malaysiakini – an interesting poll which some of us looked at yesterday… and groaned.

So, before you break out the champagne or light fireworks, please analyse the voting demographics of each constituency, esp. those who harbour Parliamentarian dreams. Also bear in mind, there are always BN-block votes in each constituency.

Too much emphasis had been put on an earlier poll, which also also indicated the so-called ‘Chinese-swing” votes. This is exactly why the “Chinese”-component parties of BN have been asking for a later date for General Elections, but Umno has decided that setting aside their concerns will still give them the majority of seats in Parliament.

Those with 70% or more of Chinese voters will do well, but not the rest. This also means that Opposition parties who hold these coveted seats will allocate them to their Chosen Ones. The rest will have to fight it out as hard as, if not harder, like during 2004.

Opposition MPs-wanna-be’s have to do so much more work.



(Readings) What has happened to culture’s challenge? July 20, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in Art & Visuals, Note2Self, Readings.

Alan Riding: What has happened to culture’s challenge?

(IHT, 20 July) PARIS: For the past three years, this column has sought to make the case that art and life or, more broadly, culture and society are natural interlocutors: just as art can express life’s emotions in a coherent form, culture can provide society with a spiritual dimension and an ethical framework.

Now, in this valedictory Entr’acte, the moment has come to test this premise. Can the arts actually improve the way peoples and nations understand and behave toward each other? Or does culture, in both its popular and sophisticated forms, represent little more than introspection, escapism and divertimento?

As for responsibility, can countries expect artists, writers and intellectuals to serve as a moral compass in times of public confusion? Or are modern democracies happy for social and political questions to be the exclusive preserve of elected officials?


Malaysia transit for illegal arms? July 20, 2007

Posted by elizabethwong in International, Malaysia, Readings, Southeast Asia.

Weapons Export Arrest Made in New York

By LARRY NEUMEISTER, The Associated Press
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 9:20 PM

NEW YORK — A Pakistani national was arrested Thursday on allegations he illegally shipped weapons to Malaysia, including fighter jet parts likely to end up in Iran.

Jilani Humayun, 59, was charged with 11 counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The charges carry up to 150 years in prison upon conviction.