Set the precedent, PM; face a confidence vote

What is more disappointing than new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s rehashed lacklustre Cabinet is the fact that he has not passed a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat. By not facing a confidence vote, he has failed to uphold the spirit and intent of the federal constitution.

His Cabinet is no different from the previous prime minister, Muhyuiddin Yassin’s Cabinet — over-sized and packed with mediocrity or less of it. That is to be expected since Umno, Perikatan Nasional and its partners offer Ismail limited choices. But, why did he go ahead and make a prime ministerial decision without first proving his majority through a confidence vote, and finding legitimacy from it?

Ismail’s party, Umno, may argue that that his appointment is constitutional and democratic. Constitutional? Yes. But democratic? That can be argued. By not facing a confidence vote, he has opened himself up to questions regarding the legitimacy of his government.

Doesn’t Ismail know that in a democracy, if the prime minister and his Cabinet are not elected through a general election and is installed during mid-term because the previous government lost its majority, the new administration must first prove its majority through a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat before it can govern?

In the absence of a general election, passing a confidence vote is considered as rightful election to govern by the elected representatives of the people. In a democracy, a confidence vote is the only available instrument left for the people to elect a government of their choice through their elected representatives.

Critics can claim that the federal constitution says nothing about a confidence vote with regard to a mid-term takeover of a government. Article 43 (2)(a) of the federal constitution states that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House”.

The Agong “in his judgment” based on the statutory declarations (SD) of 114 MPs rightly appointed Ismail as prime minister. It is also correct for the Agong to swear in the Cabinet based on Article 4(6) which states: “Before a Minister exercises the functions of his office he shall take and subscribe in the presence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong the oath of office and allegiance and the oath of secrecy set out in the Sixth Schedule”.

This far, the steps taken by the Agong are correct since no where is it stated here that the appointed PM must face a no confidence vote as suggested by some constitutional experts.

However, between the appointment of the PM and his/her swearing in, no time frame is specified, which suggests there is room for MPs to devise a procedure where after the Agong’s appointment of the PM, the latter faces a confidence vote in the spirit of democracy and if the latter wins, the swearing in can proceed.

This would ensure that the Dewan Rakyat has irrefutable records that the appointed PM won or lost the confidence vote and that position can’t change as MPs who sign SDs might in a vote in the Dewan Rakyat. In this way, the legitimacy of the appointed PM will no longer be in question and if at all the Opposition strives to remove him/her, it would not be because of the legitimacy issue but because of the performance of the PM and his/her Cabinet.

A procedure or precedent must be set now to deter MPs from undermining a legitimately elected government if they can’t face a confidence vote to prove their majority.

In Ismail’s case, it is very unlikely that he will lose a confidence vote — unless by an unexpected twist of fate! Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has declared that the Opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) will not “complicate” things. What he means by that we don’t know, but Anwar lost yet another golden opportunity to take over the government when he failed to get the support of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) on his very strong and secure 105 Opposition votes.

It was the second time he lost the chance to become PM. The first was last year when he sent a message out to the Opposition MPs to NOT vote against the Budget. If the Budget was not passed, Muhyiddin’s government would have fallen and Anwar might be PM today!

So, Ismail has nothing to worry about in facing a confidence vote. The Opposition is faltering; he might win it. He will lose it only if Anwar clearly demonstrates his leadership abilities and works out a fair and permissible power-sharing deal with GPS.

So, it is puzzling why Ismail hasn’t announced yet that he will be introducing a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat — unless, of course, he isn’t confident of his majority. All the more reason why he should face it and MPs should demand it!

Even if not spelt out in Article 43, a confidence vote is the final step in proving an appointed PM’s majority and we should set the precedent now to introduce it in accordance with the spirit and intent of the parliamentary democracy we practise and the federal constitution.

It’s the people’s hope that Ismail will set the precedent.

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