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Perak, Malaysia – a constitutional monarchy gone haywire February 7, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia , trackback

perakAn interesting political conflict is taking place in the state of Perak in Malaysia these days. Things have turned into complete chaos with a government that won’t resign, a monarch that won’t dissolve the parliament and two political alliances trying to steal each other’s representatives with all means necessary. All claim to have the constitution on their side and accuse the others of acting unconstitutionally.

After the 2008 elections, the state parliament is divided almost 50-50 between the opposition alliance PKR and the government alliance BN. Until now, the state had a PKR government who ruled with a 3-member advantage in the parliament. So far pretty straightforward, but then it becomes complicated…

First: In august 2008 two assemblymen, Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Mohd Osman, were charged with corruption. On january 26th 2009 they disappeared from public view. The national leader of PKR, Anwar Ibrahim, claimed that this was a setup engineered by UMNO to force them to change sides.

Then suddenly, UMNO crown prince and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak suddenly takes over as coalition leader in Perak, signifying that something important is brewing. He then leaks information that the two “missing” assemblymen will cross over from PKR to BN. This would have left BN only one vote short of seizing majority in the state assembly…

…if it wasn’t for the fact that in the meantime, UMNO assemblyman Nasarudin Hashim had defected to PKR, leaving the government coalition two votes short.

Then, on February 1st,  two letters arrived at the home of the Perak assembly speaker. They proved to be undated resignation letters from the two missing assemblymen. The speaker immediately accepted these two resignations with reference to the Perak constitution asking the Election Commission to prepare for a by-election to replace them. It appeared that PKR had been able to avoid losing power in the state.

But… suddenly one of the missing assemblymen resurfaced, claiming that the resignation letters were something they had been forced to sign when they were elected, as a safeguard against party defections. He wanted to continue to serve with no intention of resigning. The speaker still claimed that the resignation letters were legal.

The election commission, on the other hand, refused to accept the resignations and ruled against holding  a by-election. The state government now countered by announcing the dissolution of the parliament, a power that constitutionally lies with the Sultan.

Representatives from UMNO had also met with the sultan and informed him that the newly defected Nasarudin had now turned his coat yet again to return to UMNO along with another earlier defector. With Jamaludin and Mohd Osman who were now declared BN-friendly independents, this would leave BN with a majority. The Sultan refused dissolution and asked BN to form a new government. This was based on the state constitution that requires the Menteri Besar (Head of state government) to command an active majority in the state assembly.

Interestingly enough, the Sultan himself has written a book on constitutional monarchy in which he allegedly subscribes to the usual European constitutional practice:

Under normal circumstances, it is taken for granted that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong would not withhold his consent to a request for dissolution of parliament. His role is purely formal.

In this case he clearly didn’t stick to that convention.

So… now we have the Deputy Prime Minister, now head of UMNO Perak, is looking for a new Menteri Besar, while the old one claims to still hold his post according to the constitution. The assembly speaker has accepted the resignation of two assemblymen who claim to still retain their seats…

An interesting case of constitutional law indeed. It doesn’t become simpler to follow with the lack of objective news sources. In Malaysia we have the choice between the politically censored mainstream press or the predominantly PKR-biased blogosphere. It takes quite a bit of reading of both to try and find a sort of middle ground presumably as close to the truth as possible.

Some relevant blogs and news sources:

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