Thursday, February 19, 2009

Perak snap polls inevitable?

The following article is taken from THE NUT GRAPH.

Perak snap polls inevitable?
19 Feb 09 : 5.00PM

By Deborah Loh

COULD fresh state elections in Perak, which Barisan Nasional (BN) worked so hard to avoid, happen after all?

In its haste to topple the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state government, BN rushed to grab three independents, and the Menteri Besar and executive councillor positions. But it appears to have forgotten the powerful Speaker in the state legislative assembly.

BN's newly-installed Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir and his six executive councillors yesterday found themselves suspended from the assembly for 18 months and 12 months, respectively.

If the 59-seat house were to sit today, PR would have 27 assemblypersons on its side (the 28th being the Speaker) and BN only 21. The three independents are no longer members of the House, as far as PR is concerned.

This unprecedented move throws up questions about parliamentary democracies under a constitutional monarchy never before faced by Malaysia.

Can the Speaker, V Sivakumar from the DAP, run a House with an MB (Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin) who was sacked by the Sultan? Was the Speaker's move sub judice considering that a court case to declare the appointments of Zambry and his exco illegitimate is still pending?

Lawyers are at loggerheads over what has been done. But politically, it was a masterstroke by PR to drag the impasse in attempts to force a snap poll.

In limbo

The Perak state assembly must convene before May 13, six months from its last sitting on 13 Nov 2008.

With Zambry and his excos out of the House, it is possible that PR would call a special assembly to vote out the BN government earlier, in the middle of the Umno party elections which are from 24 to 28 March.

To forestall that, Zambry and his excos could go to court to seek a declaration that the suspensions were ultra vires. But even that would take time.

"If Sultan Azlan Shah wants to avoid a continued impasse, or worse, to have his appointments booted out through a vote in a special sitting, he would have to make a new decision on whether to allow a dissolution," Perak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) legal adviser Mohamed Asri Othman tells The Nut Graph.

The BN side is now locked in meetings to decide whether to take the suspensions up in court. Gerakan deputy president and Perak MCA chief Datuk Chang Ko Youn told The Nut Graph this morning via text message that they were still discussing the issue.

Chang, a lawyer, is advising the new BN state government on the impasse. Chang is also one of the special advisors with exco status appointed to assist Zambry on Chinese Malaysian affairs.

All powerful Speaker

Even without the suspensions, Perak was likely heading for a showdown in elections anyway.

"If the House is in constant deadlock, if bills cannot be passed, it would be bad for the state. Investors would not come, the state budget cannot be passed, the administration would grind to a halt. Ultimately, elections would be required," says Asri, a former DAP deputy secretary-general, and the Dermawan assemblyperson in 1990.

All scenarios hinge on Speaker Sivakumar who holds wide-ranging powers and whose position gives him the authority of a High Court judge, Asri notes.

Law lecturer Prof Dr Abdul Aziz Bari of the International Islamic University adds that the Speaker's decisions, if reached according to the House's standing orders, are final and difficult to challenge in court.

"This was BN's biggest mistake. They overlooked the problem with the Speaker," he says.

Even if the assembly sat with all BN assemblypersons present, Sivakumar could:

block the entry of the three independents, Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang), Mohd Osman Jailu (Changkat Jering) and deputy speaker Hee Yit Foong (Jelapang), and create a hung assembly with 28:28 ratio of BN:PR assemblypersons. The three PR party deserters have disputed their undated and pre-signed letters of resignations with the Election Commission. But as far as PR is concerned, they are resigned from their elected positions.

block any motion to pass a BN-initiated vote of no-confidence against Nizar; and,

block any attempt to vote him out as Speaker. The Speaker is elected by the House, and can only be removed by a vote, his resignation or if he ceases to become an assemblyperson.

Another possibility would be for all the 28 PR assemblypersons to protest the new BN government by not attending the assembly when it convenes.
"They would render the house dysfunctional. The BN assemblypersons on their own cannot elect a Speaker without first having removed Sivakumar. The House cannot proceed without a Speaker," Asri says.

Partisan vs professionalism

Sivakumar's powers as Speaker, and what he chooses to do with it, are lessons on being professional versus partisan.

Clearly, Sivakumar will continue to hold fast to PR's stand that the palace-endorsed takeover of the state was illegal and unconstitutional.

But even in such a situation, should he act as Speaker or as PR representative?

"The Speaker has the power to block motions initiated by BN, but on what basis would he do this? He is supposed to be neutral. If Sivakumar's decisions are biased, PR would be guilty of the same thing they complain about in Parliament regarding the Dewan Rakyat Speaker's (lack of) neutrality," says lawyer Andrew Khoo.

"This is where you need [leadership]. If PR refuses to let the assembly sitting proceed by throwing up obstacles at every juncture, then it is really a question of whether this is a political tactic to force elections," Khoo notes.

People's will?

PR can arguably say that the partisan actions of its Speaker are meant to let the will of the people settle the impasse through a snap poll.

Ipoh-based Asri believes this is inevitable. He speculates that Sultan Azlan Shah will be left with little choice.

He also believes that BN itself is considering this possibility, based on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's statement that he will brief the Conference of Rulers on Perak's political crisis at their next meeting.

"If BN now wants the state assembly to be dissolved, Umno akan malu. I wouldn't be surprised if the PM will seek the advice of the Conference of Rulers on a dissolution. It would be convenient for Umno to say they have to abide by the Rulers' decision as they have been rallying in support of the royalty."

Considering Asri's political affiliations, he may just be agitating for a snap poll. But if his speculations turn out to be true, what a bitter irony it would be for BN.

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