Saturday, February 7, 2009

Perak — a failed democracy

FEB 7 — From a legal point of view I was made to understand that the power of the Sultan of Perak to disallow the dissolution of the state assembly is a grey area. What is obvious is the Sultan does not have the power to dismiss the serving menteri besar other than through a vote of no confidence.

Another grey area is whether the Sultan should accede to the request by the menteri besar to dissolve the assembly or whether he can act on his own prerogative to allow it or not.

I am not a legal specialist. Legal experts such as Malik Imtiaz have argued eloquently on this matter. However, as a legal expert His Royal Highness should understand that what is legal may not necessarily be moral or democratic. After taking full legal consideration, to allow the installation of the BN government in Perak has confirmed the Sultan's oversight on important elements such as democracy, morality and stability of the state government.

There are three grounds which I found the Sultan to have erred in his decision.

First, it is obvious that he did not weigh the sustainability and stability of the new government, which gained power through the backdoor. On this ground, the popularly elected Pakatan Rakyat government was brought down not through democratic means but through defections of its members to the opposition.

Legally, the constitution provides for freedom for association but this freedom is not absolute. We need to study this freedom of association in the context of a state or federal government. Malaysia practises party politics and most of its elected members are linked to political parties. The ruling coalitions are made up of political parties.

Hence, it is not democratic to allow for any defections which may easily threaten the stability of an elected government. Moreover, the three assemblymen who defected did not give any public explanation to justify their decision to defect. They even tried to get the public to believe that they were busy with their respective commitments.

Next, the Sultan has failed to conduct a test of character on the three defectors who are key to the change of government. If a test of character is conducted, the three assemblymen would have a problem to justify their defections. Firstly, two of the three are facing corruption charges and are due to face the court on Feb 10. If found guilty, they would have to vacate their seats.

Hence, it is obvious that even the new BN government, supported mainly by the three assemblymen, is not stable. Thus, it is in the interest of the Sultan to ensure that the probability of such an unstable government should not be allowed to exist. His Royal Highness should have appointed a caretaker government, at the very least, before their cases are called and argued in court. The assembly speaker has filed a case against the three defectors claiming that they have resigned. This case should be allowed to go to the court too.

It is obvious that the claim that they were made to sign the resignation letters under duress is hard to prove. It is part of employment terms since the three held important positions in the Perak state government.

On this point, the Sultan has failed conduct a morality test on the three. There are reasons to believe that their defections may worsen the negative conduct and practice in politics. This conduct is detrimental to the people if they are allowed to be part of the new government.

Third, the Sultan had initially indicated his choice of a unity government. This term is greatly misunderstood by His Royal Highness. There is no unity if the largest faction of the assembly is not included in the new government. A unity government formed between the BN and three so-called "independents" is not sensible and defeats the real meaning of unity.

All points considered, I believe the new government will be even more unstable than the previous one. Moreover, the manner in which the state secretary and the police who acted in an unconstitutional and irresponsible manner against the incumbent elected menteri besar has worsen public outrage. Politicians, especially those from the BN, should learn to respect the democratic process and the rule of law.

Perceptions are a powerful force. The perceptions formed on the BN and the new Perak are government detrimental to its rule.

The decision to unconstitutionally dismiss the elected MB and his administration is a bad decision of the Sultan’s part. It is obvious that the decision has failed the democratic and morality test.

The manner in which the incumbent government was toppled is illegal. Malaysians must learn an important lesson. It is they who can protect and defend their beloved democracy and constitution, not the politicians and not even the royalty.

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