Sunday, April 26, 2009

In Perak crisis, frustration describes public sentiment

KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 — Tommy Thomas and Datuk Shafee Abdullah, two of Malaysia’s most prominent lawyers, turned a Bar Council forum on the Perak constitutional crisis into a courtroom today, debating fine legal points.

But it was Subramaniam Pillay, an unknown economist with social pressure group Aliran, who probably articulated public frustration over the power grab by Barisan Nasional (BN) which has plunged Perak into chaotic battle for control with Pakatan Rakyat (PR) that is being played out in various courts.

“I've absolutely lost hope in our current judiciary,” said the Teluk Intan native.

Subramaniam was referring to recent court rulings which appears to have ignored the doctrine of separation of powers and also constitutional provisions which say the judiciary cannot rule on proceedings of legislative assemblies.

“Give everybody a chance so everything is aired and then we come to a decision, whichever way it goes then the public will understand why the decisions were made and were not simply arbitrary decisions,” he said in commenting about the swiftness in which various legal disputes are being disposed.

“This is the perception of not just me but many Malaysians. We’ve lost faith in the courts. That’s bad because it has severe consequences to the economy.

“All this is bad for the economy of a country because it will deter foreign investments,” said the economics lecturer, adding it reduced the public’s overall respect for the law at a crucial time when the country needed to create a climate of stability.

However, Subramaniam also pointed out the Perak crisis was a “blessing in disguise” as it would ultimately benefit the public, especially Perakians, even though they may have lost the government they had voted in at last year’s general elections.

He noted a greater public awareness of their rights, which would force the political parties to buck up and become more service-oriented or face the voters’ displeasure.

He called for an overhaul of public institutions such as the Election Commission and the recently-created Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) and raised the idea of creating an Anti-Hopping law, to ensure voters get the last say in who represents them in parliament.

Of the three speakers, Subramaniam received the loudest applause from the audience.

This was despite the presence of the two stars in Thomas, a constitutional law expert who represented Perak Speaker V. Sivakumar in court recently and Shafee, a veteran lawyer who had previously acted for BN.

Thomas offered the forum an insightful view from the Speaker’s perspective.

He questioned the federal court’s haste in wrapping up the legal wrangling between the two political rivals without carefully considering the consequences of its decisions.

“In constitutional law, there is no doctrine of automatic dissolution,” said Thomas, pointing to a lack of description for such under Article 36 of the Perak Constitution.

He attacked the idea put up by BN on the need to resolve the legal dispute before May 7, its self-imposed deadline to avoid an automatic dissolution of the state legislature.

Shafee presented arguments from BN’s perspective.

He argued that the “crisis” proper began right after the general elections on March 8 last year, when DAP, PKR and Pas formed a “loose federation” to persuade the Sultan of Perak to allow them to govern the state even though BN had the majority votes in the Assembly as a “solid federation”.

He explained the present “crisis” arose only because PR refused to admit defeat despite the alliance having realistically lost its majority.

Shafee defended the court’s apparent hasty rulings as a “sarcastic” attempt to follow the new Chief Justice’s directive to improve the delivery of justice as many court cases had piled up over the years.

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