THE emergency proclaimed on January 11 expired as August 1 came and went, but another kind of emergency continues – an inept, corrupt, bungling government is hanging on to power by a slender thread and is too busy looking for ways to stay in power instead of governing.
It is a more dangerous emergency because if we do not sort it out, our ability to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic while preserving as much as possible our economy, our way of life and our very sanity is put in jeopardy, not only for now, but generations ahead.
To lift us out of this dire emergency, we need members of political parties – all those in the opposition, and in and out of the Perikatan Nasional coalition – to collectively state their open opposition against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
If they can get a majority to demonstrably show that they do not have confidence in Muhyiddin, then Muhyiddin, under the provisions of the federal constitution, has to step down. Under the current circumstances, that may be the only way Muhyiddin can be removed without going through Parliament.
Let’s backtrack a bit here. If we ask readers to raise their hands if they believe Parliament, scheduled to resume yesterday, was postponed because of the dangers of Covid-19 as announced by Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, it’s unlikely many hands will be up.
This government’s credibility is so badly shot that people are not likely to believe its explanation. It is also a very unlikely explanation. Some factories in the Klang Valley with thousands of workers are being allowed to operate, with positivity rates of way higher than 1%.”
But at Parliament, testing last week indicated around 1% as positive, and yet the health director-general found it fit to say that it should be closed when hundreds of factories probably are kept open with higher positivity rates. That does not sound right.
Which is more essential? Parliament, to ensure necessary checks and balances during a difficult time when government competence has never been lower and corruption never higher? Or factories, many of whom do not even produce essential goods but are suspected to be hotbeds of Covid-19 infection?
Obviously, this government does not put the parliamentary process high on the list of its priorities because it is hell-bent on prolonging its now unwelcome reign no matter what, even if it is openly defiant of the king, country and rakyat. By postponing Parliament meets, it pushes back its day of reckoning and buys time to make some nefarious, dirty deals to stay in power.
This is the sham that was exhibited last week, made more shameless by enlisting the help of the health director-general to give “reasons” for its postponement. At the same time, other movements, such as in and out of Muhyiddin’s residence, are freely allowed with no checks and tests.
All MPs have been fully vaccinated. Surely there was enough time to ensure that Parliament staff, as frontliners, are free of Covid-19 and would remain so, and they had gotten both doses. If a single factory has more than 5,000 workers in heavily infected areas in Klang and remains open, surely something can be done to keep Parliament open. Why was that not done? We all know, don’t we? This government has sunk to a new low.
Now is the time for all MPs to act. If they believe that this government is not the right one to lead the country, say so and sign any document, make any statutory declaration, put aside differences, be straight. If it can be demonstrated that Muhyiddin no longer commands the majority in Parliament, he must step down. A parliamentary sitting is not necessary.
Let’s lay the legal grounds out. Contrary to what the government maintains, the king has discretion in some important areas. Says Article 40(1) of the federal constitution: “In the exercise of his functions under this constitution or federal law, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or of a minister acting under the general authority of the cabinet, except as otherwise provided by this constitution.”
The key phrase is “as otherwise provided”. And there is provision for that. The very next Article 40(2) says: “The Yang di-Pertuan Agong may act in his discretion in the performance of the following functions, that is to say:
“(a) the appointment of a prime minister; and,
“(b) the withholding of consent to a request for the dissolution of Parliament.”
Further Article 43(2) says: “The cabinet shall be appointed as follows, that is to say:
“(a) the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as perdana menteri (prime minister) to preside over the cabinet a member of the House of representatives who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House; and,
“(b) he shall on the advice of the prime minister appoint other menteri (ministers) from among the members of either House of Parliament.”
The point to note is the phrase “in his judgment” in choosing the prime minister, which gives the Agong discretion.
Article 43(4) sets out clearly when the prime minister has to step down: “If the prime minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of representatives, then, unless at his request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament, the prime minister shall tender the resignation of the cabinet.”
Clear precedent exists
This does not have to be done via a parliamentary sitting and there is clear precedent. This was the celebrated 2009 case of the Perak assembly, when then state ruler Sultan Azlan Shah refused to dissolve the assembly, instead appointing a new menteri besar based on his assessment of who held majority control.
Court of Appeal judge Datuk Md Raus Sharif said Article 16(6) of the Perak constitution did not express mandatory requirement, as with the federal constitution, that there must be a no-confidence motion passed by the assembly against a menteri besar before he ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members.
“The fact that a menteri besar ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly can be established by other means. It cannot solely be confined to the vote taken in the assembly,” he added. Ditto for the prime minister.
Thus, while Muhyiddin has successfully postponed Parliament, that does not necessarily signal endgame. It can be different if the MPs want it to be. It’s a question of how much they will put the interests of the nation and the people above self-interest and frog-baiting.
They need to be careful here – Malaysians are not likely to have short memory, especially when their lives and livelihoods depend on it like they have never before. Fumble now, and you shall be forever remembered – in a very bad and nasty way, in an unforgiving manner. – The Vibes, August 3, 2021
P. Gunasegaram is chief executive of research and advocacy group Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes. He remembers why the rakyat rejected Umno and trusts that most other Malaysians do too