Prime Minister-designate Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s refusal to hold a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat does not inspire confidence that, like his predecessor’s coalition, his coalition is committed to upholding parliamentary democracy enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.
The issue isn’t whether the Agong’s appointment of a prime minister as stated in Article 43(2)(a) of the federal constitution, 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” is illegitimate and unconstitutional. It is neither.
The process of appointment by the Agong is legitimate and constitutional but by itself, without the proof of majority, the process of legitimacy is incomplete because it does not affirm the parliamentary democratic process of demonstrating a majority as demanded by the constitution.
As lawyers and constitutional experts have repeatedly explained proof of majority is necessary and provided for in Article 43(4): “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.”
According to Article 43(2)(a), the Agong appoints a prime minister “who in his judgement is likely (italics, mine) … ” Likely does not mean proof or certainty. Read in the context of Article 43(4), the constitution thus allows scope for proof and certainty to be obtained through a democratic process, which in this case is a confidence vote.
By recognising the Agong’s decision, the Sabri coalition has upheld constitutional monarchy as according to the federal constitution. By refusing to prove the coalition’s majority, the Sabri coalition continues the previous government’s stance of failing to recognise the requirement of the parliamentary democracy we practise according to the federal constitution, of proving a majority.
Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy must be upheld at the same time for the appointment and election of a prime minister to be legitimate and constitutional. One can’t preclude the other. That isn’t constitutional according to the federal constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.
So, we now have an unconstitutional Cabinet and a prime minister who is yet to be sworn in.
To make matters worse, the rights of MPs under the parliamentary democracy we practice have not been duly recognised. The motions that the MPs submitted have been dismissed. It is reported that 15 motions were submitted to remove the Speaker of the House Azhar Harun.
The Speaker should realise that if 15 motions were submitted against him, he does not have the confidence of the house and he should resign. But he doesn’t, beholden to those who put him in that position, and ignoring the independence of the house.
His brother, Idrus Harun, the Attorney General, holds to the narrow interpretation of Article 43(2)(a) that the Agong’s appointment is sufficient for legitimacy according to the constitution, ignoring the spirit and intent of the federal constitution.
When the Cabinet, Attorney General and Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat have such a limited understanding of the constitution and downplay the role of parliamentary democracy, what certainty do the people have that the government will uphold and honour the constitutional rights of the citizens under parliamentary democracy as enshrined in the federal constitution?
That is the reason why this — like the previous Perikatan Nasional (PN) government — is a dangerous government. It interprets the federal constitution to fit its justification to remain in government. That leaves the people unprotected by the constitution and at the mercy of leaders who have the power of government to do as he/she pleases.
This has been proven under the PN government and now under the Sabri coalition. There are open double standards, selective prosecution, questionable dismissal of cases, the appointment of politicians facing criminal charges in court to official positions, and mismanagement of the covid 19 pandemic resulting in soon-to-reach 20,000 deaths. In all of these cases, the people suffer while politicians get off the hook.
We can not have such a government!
Now, secure of a place in the Malay-Muslim majority government, PAS is attempting to introduce legislation aimed at restricting the development of non-Malay religions — again without consideration for the non-Muslim citizens’ constitutional rights.
The Bersatu-led government in Sabah has rejected Putrajaya’s plan to introduce a new law that would restrict the propagation of non-Muslim religions. But Sabahans should not be fooled by the gesture. Bersatu wants Sabah votes in the next general elections and will block PAS which is initiating such laws. But, if Bersatu gets a comfortable majority with PAS’ help, the law will be back on the table!
PAS’ position of influence in the Sabri and previously PN coalitions make the latter cause for concern for non-Muslims. They may be controlled now but they won’t be if by remaining in a governing coalition they acquire power and influence which can be translated into votes in an election. The Malay-Muslim majority can identify with the conservative politics of PAS, Bersatu and Umno and it is very likely these parties will continue to get their support.
Should the Malay-Muslim majority’s politics get messy and out of control, PAS might emerge the strongest party and win the support of the Malay-Muslim majority like the Taliban got control of Afghanistan because the Muslim majority did not oppose.
We can’t wait for such a possibility to happen first before acting to stop it because it would be too late. We have to prevent it from ever happening by depriving PAS and its allies from the one resource that empowers them to entrench control — the power to govern.
The time is now to consider if this Malay-Muslim coalition is good for the future of this nation. All the MPs must decide. Sabah and Sarawak MPs especially must decide if supporting this conservative coalition is in the best interests of Sabahans and Sarwakians.
Sabahans and Sarawakians have to stop whining about the poor treatment they received by past prime ministers. They have to ask themselves now if they are allowing history to forfeit their future.
In the next sitting of the Dewan Rakyat starting on Monday, at the first opportunity they get, the MPs should reject the unelected and unconstitutional Sabri Cabinet. It would be best to do it early and let the process begin in the Dewan Rakyat to elect the next and legitimate prime minister. It would be resolved within days.
We will know by their vote which MPs voted for a progressive Malaysian future where the federal constitution is the supreme law of the land, and who did not. We will leave it to the voters to decide how to handle those who did not.