Twists and turns aplenty
It is a mad, mad world in Selangor where the power struggle over the Mentri Besar post has resulted in political crossovers, name-calling, accusations of corruption and talk of fresh elections.
A press conference by the party’s Selangor deputy chairman Zuraidah Kamaruddin at the PKR headquarters took on a pasar malam atmosphere when two conflicting documents were handed out to reporters.
One document claimed that Selangor supported PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for the Mentri Besar post while another document nominated deputy president Azmin Ali as the alternative candidate.
The situation turned even more chaotic when Zuraidah, who is known to be an Azmin ally, read from the document supporting Dr Wan Azizah.
It seemed like Zuraidah had switched alliances and thrown her support behind Dr Wan Azizah.
Before the morning’s excitement could die down, reporters began getting whatsapp images of a sensational letter purportedly written by party secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution to Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.
Fortunately for Saifuddin, it was a fake letter or else his goose would be cooked. The fake letter had stated that if Khalid resigned, all the allegations of wrongdoing made against him would be withdrawn. It also offered to make Khalid the state economic adviser with a salary of RM50,000 a month.
Even as reporters rushed to verify the authenticity of the letter, the Mentri Besar had made a highly strategic move to invite the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate him on the accusations of corruption that Saifuddin had made against him a few days earlier.
Khalid had sent no less than the chief private secretary to the Mentri Besar to lodge the MACC report. It was Khalid’s way of telling his accusers: I have nothing to hide, investigate me.
He is so confident that he is in the clear, he has not bothered to wait for his accuser to go to the MACC; he himself is asking the MACC to scrutinise him. It was a slap in the face of his accuser.
As all this was happening, a news portal reported PAS secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali calling PKR strategist Rafizi Ramli “stupid”.
When The Star phoned Mustafa about it, he said Rafizi had made a “stupid comment”.
Rafizi had told a forum on the Selangor crisis that, in the run-up to the general election, PAS had wanted Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah instead of Anwar for Prime Minister. It was his way of explaining PAS’ insistence on supporting Khalid and its opposition to Dr Wan Azizah.
Mustafa is a very courteous politician and he was obviously not impressed by Rafizi’s habit of showing everyone how much he knows about everything.
The media who have been covering the power struggle have often likened what Khalid was going through to a roller-coaster ride but it was reporters themselves who were now feeling like they were on a roller coaster.
Reporters would be chasing one story in the morning. By midday, the story would have been overtaken by new developments and by evening, something new would have happened. That is how convoluted and fast-moving events have been in PKR. It is a mad, mad world in Selangor.
The chaotic press conference yesterday morning was a step forward for the lady president who has been battling public opinion about her candidacy for the challenging job of Mentri Besar.
Zuraidah is not only the party’s No.2 in Selangor, she is also the Wanita chief. Two other Azmin allies, Dr Xavier Jayakumar and Abdullah Sani, were also present at the press conference.
It has been very embarrassing for Dr Wan Azizah that Selangor, where Azmin is the chairman, has been lukewarm about her candidature for the top job in the state.
Azmin would have overtaken her if the matter had been put to a vote in the PKR supreme council meeting that was held to discuss the Mentri Besar candidate and if Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had not insisted on her.
Zuraidah’s U-turn suggests that the powers-that-be in the party have been working hard to undermine Azmin’s base by persuading his allies to change sides.
It has also come at a price and Zuraidah has been slammed by Selangor members for betraying her old friend Azmin.
It was also curious that she signed off her press statement in her capacity as Ampang division chief rather than deputy Selangor chairman.
Zuraidah’s U-turn is unlikely to be a turning point for Dr Wan Azizah in Selangor where Azmin still holds sway.
Moreover, very few are convinced that Dr Wan Azizah will ever make it as Mentri Besar.
Going by the commentary coming from PAS, it is evident that the party will not endorse her when it meets on Aug 10. PAS will continue to insist on Khalid.
The chatter among Pakatan politicians is that a snap state election is the only way out of the mess. The Kajang Move which was supposed to stabilise and unify PKR and its Pakatan partners has morphed into an uncontrollable monster that is about to consume the coalition.
There is no guarantee that the three parties can agree on the next Mentri Besar even if they win. In fact, the coalition will probably crack by the time state polls are called.
– Comment by Joceline Tan The Star/Asia News Network
It’s a game of numbers
The role of the Sultan becomes paramount if the political wrangling fails to come up with a solution.
THE raging turmoil in Selangor over the post of the Menteri Besar is testing the tenuous bonds of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partnership. Many riveting issues of constitutional law have come to the forefront.
The Selangor MB was appointed by the Sultan of Selangor and there are five main ways in which the MB’s term can come to an end – resignation, expulsion from his party, defeat in the assembly, dismissal by the Ruler and disqualification due to a criminal conviction.
Resignation: If the MB resigns and the ruling coalition (with 44 out of 56 seats) unanimously nominates a successor, a smooth transition is likely. The Sultan’s constitutional role of appointing a new MB will be largely formal.
Expulsion from party: If the MB digs his heels in because he thinks that he has a working majority of 28+1 in the 56-member assembly, an engaging political scenario may ensue. He may be expelled from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and be reduced to an independent or join another faction.
Expulsion from PKR does not automatically affect the post conferred on him by the Sultan if Khalid retains majority support in the Assembly. For example Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, was in 1969 expelled from her Congress Party. Mahathir Mohamed was left without a party in 1988 because Umno was declared illegal by the High Court. Yet both premiers retained their posts because it is not party affiliation or party posts but requisite number of legislative supporters that count.
No-confidence: If Khalid does not resign, a motion of no-confidence is a looming possibility. Two examples from constitutional history are: in 1976 the BN majority in the Selangor Assembly dismissed its MB, Datuk Harun Idris, because he had fallen foul of the national leadership. In Kelantan in 1977 PAS moved a motion of no-confidence against its own MB, Datuk Mohammed Nasir.
Khalid is not entirely powerless in the face of such a threat. The Selangor assembly is not in session and the power to advise the Sultan to summon the assembly belongs to the MB and not the Speaker or the PKR leadership.
Under Article 70 of the Constitution of Selangor, six months can elapse between one session and the next and Khalid can frustrate PKR by not advising early summoning of the assembly! The Sultan may, of course, frown upon such unreasonable delay.
A motion of no-confidence needs an absolute majority of the total membership i.e. 29/56 legislators. Many permutations are possible. First, PKR’s 13 Assemblymen (Khalid excluded), DAP’s 15, PAS’s 15 and Umno’s 12 may all team up to oust Khalid.
Second, Umno may support Khalid or abstain but all PR partners (43) may unanimously support the motion. Third, PAS may be divided but even if one PAS member supports PKR’s 13 and DAP’s 15, the motion will reach the requisite number 29. A fourth scenario is that PAS’s 15 and Umno’s 12 may abstain. With PKR having 13 (Khalid excluded) and DAP 15, the motion will fail by one vote! Khalid will have a right to continue. PAS’s role is therefore pivotal.
Dismissal by Sultan: The power of the Sultan to dismiss an MB is not explicitly mentioned in the Selangor Constitution. However Commonwealth conventions indicate that the Head of State has a reserve, residual, prerogative power to dismiss the political executive in some exceptional circumstances.
For example, PM Whitlam of Australia was dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr in 1975 due to the budget stalemate between the Senate and the House and Whitlam’s refusal to call an election to resolve the issue.
In the present scenario, the Sultan can remove Khalid in the following three circumstances.
First, if a majority of the members of the Selangor assembly make a written representation to the Sultan that they have lost confidence in Khalid and the Ruler wishes an immediate sitting of the assembly to resolve the issue of confidence and the MB refuses to advice the Sultan to summon the legislature immediately.
Second, because the assembly is in prorogation, the Ruler can follow Perak’s Nizar v Zambry (2010) precedent and personally determine the issue of confidence by taking note of political realities outside the assembly. The Stephen Kalong Ningkan v Tun Abang Haji Openg (1966) ruling in Sarawak that the issue of confidence must be resolved only in the legislative chamber is no more law.
If the Ruler comes to the conclusion that confidence has been lost, he can ask the MB to resign. If the MB refuses, the Ruler can dismiss him.
Third, if the assembly when convened, votes Khalid out, the Sultan can ask him to resign.
Dissolution: If Khalid is defeated by an absolute majority of the total membership, he has two options: resign or advise dissolution. The Sultan has wide discretion to accept or reject the advice. There are precedents from Kelantan (1977), Perak (2009) and Sabah (1994) when the advice to dissolve the assembly was rejected by the Rulers and Governor respectively.
Appointing a new MB: If Khalid resigns or is voted out but the PR coalition is deeply split over the choice of its MB, then the Ruler’s discretion and wisdom can provide the solution. As on many occasions in the States of Australia, the Sultan can choose a compromise candidate of his choice till the coalition puts its house in order.
Can a woman be appointed as MB? The incredible assertion that she cannot, has no basis in federal or State laws. In fact Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution is clear that gender discrimination is forbidden except in explicitly specified areas like personal laws.
A “hung Parliament”: If after a new election, no party or coalition in the assembly has a clear majority, the Sultan’s discretion will become pivotal. He may appoint a minority government or a unity government pending a repeat election.
Sultan’s role: All in all, it can be said that in the following critical circumstances, the Sultan holds the key to keeping things on an even keel:
> the summoning of the assembly in case the MB is reluctant to face a vote;
> the discretion to accept or reject the MB’s advice on dissolution in case it is 28-28 on the confidence vote;
> the discretion to accept or reject a defeated MB’s advice to dissolve the assembly after a vote of no-confidence;
> If on a vote of confidence, the floor is split 28-28 for both sides, the Sultan would have the discretion to allow the MB to continue pending elections;
> the dismissal of the MB in the situations outlined above;
> the choice of a new MB if the majority coalition is hopelessly deadlocked over who should lead it;
> after a dissolution, to allow the incumbent to remain as caretaker MB or to appoint someone else as head of an interim, neutral government pending election that must be held within 60 days after dissolution;
> after the election, the appointment of a minority or unity government if the results indicate a “hung” Assembly with no decisive support for any grouping.
One prays that none of the above exceptional powers will have to be marshalled and that Selangor politicians, despite themselves, are able to put the State’s and the nation’s interest above their compulsion for partisan polemics.
– Reflecting On The Law by Shah Saleem Farquqi
> Shad Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.