IPOH, Feb 6 — Of all the Perak Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers, it is Tronoh assemblyman V. Sivakumar whose life has changed most drastically after Feb 6, 2009.
Before the March 8 general election in 2008, Sivakumar was working as an aide to Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran.
After winning the Tronoh state seat in the elections and becoming an assemblyman for the first time, he also became the first Indian to be appointed Speaker in a legislative assembly.
When the dramatic events of the infamous power grab first unfolded, Sivakumar, who was still in the process of learning about his role as Perak Speaker, suddenly found himself in a very crucial position.
After his PR friends were booted out of government and were replaced by a new team from the Barisan Nasional, Sivakumar became the opposition’s only hope in trying to wrest power back.
As Speaker of the House, Sivakumar still commanded authority over all the 59 state assemblymen in the assembly and the PR was trying to choke all avenues of his power.
“When I took up the post of Speaker, I did not know what the job entailed. I had no idea how important the Speaker of the House was.
“In my early days before becoming an assemblyman, I had only looked at the state representatives and told myself that one day I wanted to be one of them.
“I never looked so far up to the Speaker’s chair and said that I wanted to be him,” Sivakumar told The Malaysian Insider in an interview recently.
He said that although he managed to learn plenty during the PR’s one-year tenure in government, it was during the days of the “power grab” that he really understood the true importance of the Speaker’s role in the assembly.
“There were times when I wondered to myself ‘can I really do this?’. There are many things that are written in the Standing Orders about the rights of the Speaker but it is not easy to implement them.
“I kept asking myself if by doing certain things, would I be wrong and would it only serve to backfire on me? It was not easy but I had the help of the lawyers in the party,” he said.
Sivakumar’s first move in the power grab was to declare the seats of Changkat Jering, Behrang and Jelapang vacant upon receiving the infamous “undated resignation letters” from the assemblymen before Feb 6.
That, however, failed to work when the trio appeared in public to declare themselves as BN-friendly independents and publicly deny knowledge of the letters. They also sought legal redress on the matter.
On Feb 6, Pangkor assemblyman Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir and his six state executive councillors were sworn into government before the Sultan at Istana Iskandariah in Kuala Kangsar.
“The next thing we could do was to invoke my powers as the chairman of the assembly’s Rights and Privileges Committee,” he said.
In the PR’s well-crafted strategy, Sivakumar was to receive a complaint from a member of the assembly over the “wrongful” installation of the new government under the BN.
He revealed that when Zambry and his group attended the committee’s inquiry, they refused to respond to the questions put forth.
“He came into the room with his gang, sat in front of me and told me ‘I am not going to answer you on anything’. And then he left.
“Zambry only attended the hearing to show to the media that he respected me as a Speaker but in truth, he showed the committee total disrespect,” said Sivakumar.
He added that the committee, after deliberating for hours, decided on the spot to suspend Zambry for 18 months and his executive councillors for 12 months.
This implied that the BN would lose its three-seat edge over the PR in the assembly and a vote of no-confidence against Zambry as the mentri besar would surely be passed in seconds.
The decision, however, was questioned in court and the Federal Court overturned it, declaring that Sivakumar had acted ultra vires the Constitution.
Still, the repercussions of that decision, said Sivakumar, were that he was forced to live the next few months of his life like a fugitive.
“I was never in Perak for more than a few days unless I was needed. I moved from state to state, under the protection of the PAS ‘unit amal’ members. I sent my family to live with my in-laws.
“I could not make public appearances for fear of my safety because we all knew that I was the target of the BN,” he said.
He added that despite this, he never once wanted to give up the fight. “The government was stolen from us and I wanted justice to be served,” he said.
With that in mind, Sivakumar and his friends in the PR endured a series of chaotic state assemblies, from the March 3 “tree sitting” to the tumultuous May 7 sitting, the Sept 2 “hotel sitting” and finally, the most recent Oct 28 assembly.
On March 3, Sivakumar, upon being blocked from entering the State Secretariat for the assembly, convened the sitting anyway, decked in full Speaker’s garb, beneath the shade of a large rain tree near the building.
On May 7, Sivakumar found himself roughly removed from the Speaker’s seat and unceremoniously kicked out from his post of Speaker during what was probably the country’s most farcical assembly sitting.
On Sept 2, Sivakumar, still insisting that he was the rightful Perak Speaker, tried to convene another sitting but, upon being prevented from entering the State Secretariat again, decided this time to hold it in the air-conditioned ballroom of a hotel.
On Oct 28, Sivakumar, again insisting he was the Speaker, led the team of PR representatives to attend another sitting, this time convened by his successor, BN’s Datuk R. Ganesan, but was allegedly attacked by policemen at the basement parking lot of the State Secretariat.
In the process, the official Speaker’s garb he had donned was ripped and Sivakumar only managed to salvage a small strip of the embroidery.
“I went through a lot, more than any Speaker in the country has ever been through. But it has not weakened my resolve one bit,” he said.
Sivakumar said he was still positive the support of the people remained with the PR and that the events of the power grab still angered the Perak electorate.
“After the past one year, the people are still with us. When I go out in public, this is what I see. People come to me and tell me they sympathise with the PR,” he said.
Sivakumar added that he was more than game to keep up with the fight, no matter what it entailed and despite the fact that none of PR’s strategies had earned them success.
“I am ready to go on. This time, however, I am more prepared. The Perak crisis is a dark time for the people but to me, it has helped to mould me into a better leader and a better representative of the people.
“If I sit back on the Speaker’s chair again, I will know so much better how to handle the assembly,” he said.
Sivakumar also expressed optimism that the results of the Feb 9 court case in the Federal Court would favour the PR and not Zambry.
“I think everyone knows that the best way to solve this crisis in Perak is by going back to the electorate. If PR wins, we will dissolve the assembly and opt for snap polls. It is the best way,” he said.
In the meantime, however, Sivakumar has gone back to playing his role as a state assemblyman and no longer has any reason to hide.
“These days, I go back to my constituency every day to meet the people. Earlier, when I finally decided it was safe to return to my constituency, I used to hear people telling me ‘why have you been away’ or ‘it has been so long since I saw you’. I no longer wish to hear such questions,” he said.
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