Tag Archives: rule of law

Take a leaf out of the UK’s book to choose a PM

The United Kingdom is in the midst of a race to elect the next prime minister after incumbent prime minister Boris Johnson resigned on July 7. What makes it an event to take note of here in Malaysia is that — unlike in Malaysia — the prime minister’s resignation was NOT followed by a period of political instability.

Johnson resigned as a result of a wave of resignations from his Cabinet and government which triggered a series of events that led to the loss of support of his party for his premiership. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also resigned when he realised that he had lost the support of his then party, Bersatu, which had engineered an alliance that included Umno leaders Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib Razak who are facing corruption charges in court.

When a prime minister loses the support of his party or the voters who elected him/her, he/she should resign. That is democracy.

The political instability that followed Tun Mahathir’s resignation is still reverberating through the country while the UK is going through its change of prime minister calmly through an organised, orderly process of electing the next prime minister. That begs the question as to why Malaysian politicians failed to ensure political stability when a prime minister resigned.

There are several factors to take note of to explain this dismal failure in political accountability. Firstly, in the UK government, there wasn’t any predator politician or a cohort of them waiting in the wings to seize the opportunity offered by the resignation of a prime minister to advance their own agendas.

The prime minister resigned but his party or coalition remains the elected government. When Johnson resigned, his Cabinet fell as well but he and his Cabinet remain in government until a new prime minister is elected. That is the democratic convention in a parliamentary democracy-cum-constitutional monarchy.

Johnson’s party, the Conservative Party, is recognised as the elected government and no one attempts to seize the opportunity the instability of a transition offered to force himself or herself and his or her team into government; that’s a coup. The mandate of the people is respected and left untouched while the resigning prime minister’s party undertakes the responsibility of electing the next prime minister.

But, did that happen in Malaysia? No, Malaysian politicians disrespected the mandate of the people and installed themselves as the government as if it were their right, blissfully ignorant of the fact that they were not following democratic conventions and that that is not the rule of law!

Secondly, how did Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin become prime minister? Did his party nominate him? What was the process according to the party’s constitution? Was the process of nominating a prime minister described in the party’s constitution? Or, did he assume as party president that position was automatically his, and his supporters in the party went along with it? Perhaps, it was decided at a meeting of his top party leaders but was there a proper nomination and election process?

UK’s Conservative Party has a clear and orderly process with a committee that oversees the election of a prime minister when the incumbent resigns. They go through rounds of election by the party’s elected MPs until the candidate with the highest vote in the final round emerges as the prime minister-elect, which, in the current situation, is expected to be announced in early September. It’s a long and tedious process and no one rushes it, with the interim prime minister and his Cabinet running the government until then.

In Malaysia, prospective prime ministers unilaterally announced they are the chosen candidates of their parties. Muhyiddin never claimed it but through a series of political pacts, he became prime minister. Without following democratic conventions he named Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister and Muhyiddin’s legacy of an illegitimate government continues.

Tun Mahathir has said his party wants him to be the next prime minister if his new party, Pejuang, wins the next general election. PKR president has announced that he would reduce petrol prices if he becomes PM. It’s a political party’s right to name its candidate for the premiership. But is it an arbitrary decision or a name that emerges at the end of a nomination or election process?

Political parties need to spell out clearly in their constitutions the process of how to choose a prime minister. It then becomes clear to the public that the majority in the party chose the candidate and it is a choice that must be respected.

The only party that has a clear nomination and election process is Umno. It is Umno’s tradition that the president becomes the prime minister if Umno or an Umno-led coalition wins. How Sabri became the prime minister is a break from tradition. Again it was an arbitrary decision made by Muhyiddin and the country — like everything after the Sheraton Moves — was stuck with an unelected choice!

While the UK’s Conservative Party is choosing its next prime minister, Parliament gets ready for a vote of confidence. Again this is the democratic convention. A government must prove to the people it has a majority and the only way to show it is through a vote of confidence/no-confidence. This is not a negotiable issue and the British Parliament practices it without debate.

Did the Malay-majority government led by Muhyiddin follow this fundamental principle of the rule by a majority which is the basis of any democracy? Definitely no. What followed was simply to use their positions and pacts to ensure they remained in government. The current so-called “Malay-majority” government needs to ask itself if it followed the rule of law or bent it to keep itself in government.

A third factor to note is the role of the Queen. The Queen has not breathed a word about the political changes taking place in her realm. She does not intervene but leaves it to the politicians to resolve the issues on their own. The politicians know their role. They don’t involve the Queen. According to a recent BBC report, once the Conservative Party has chosen the next prime minister, he/she will be invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen who — on the advice of the ruling party — appoints a new prime minister.

Did we follow a similar process? No. Instead, our politicians went racing to the palace to show proof of majority, and, somehow, Muhyiddin, got installed as prime minister although he didn’t prove he had the numbers.

The point is that the party chooses the prime ministerial candidate who then goes to Parliament — not to the king or the royals — to face a confidence vote to prove that the candidate has the support of the majority of the House. When that is demonstrated for the public to see, the invitation comes from Buckingham Palace to meet the Parliament-approved candidate who is then appointed prime minister on the advice of the party.

Malaysian politicians need to understand that all political issues involving the people must be resolved among themselves and finalised in Parliament. They should have enough confidence in themselves to resolve all political crises by themselves without seeking the help of the king or sultans. Then, we won’t have a case of an unmandated menteri besar or one who receives fancy shoes from royals!

Malaysian politicians have to understand how parliamentary democracy-cum-constitutional monarchy works and there is no better example to consider than the people who first set it up — the British.

Hopefully, Malaysian politicians are following the UK PM race and learning how to conduct themselves as responsible self-respecting politicians. If they can’t learn and correct themselves, then, it is crystal clear that they should not be reelected.

Just consider what happened in the past two years: abuse of power through double standards, intimidating political policing, an Attorney-General’s Chambers that allowed out-of-court settlements involving politicians, a Dewan Rakyat Speaker who has failed to understand that his overriding responsibility is to ensure the independence of the House and not to protect the government, poor governance, weak efforts at recovery and bungling incompetence. Only the judiciary remains an uncompromised institution.

The country can’t afford further decline at the hands of this batch of leaders. Only the people can stop them by voting them out and voting in leaders who know what the rule of law is and uphold it. Otherwise, we will be freely offering garlands to monkeys.

Why we are in this sad state …

Of late, politicians have been referring to the king’s role in selecting the date for a general election. Both Padang Rengas MP Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz (Umno) and DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang have said that it is the king who has the final say on the date.

Both are correct, however, it is the prime minister who first suggests the date or dates and, under the constitution, the king has to act on the advice of the prime minister. If at all these politicians and others want to influence the decision in selecting the date for the general election, it is the prime minister who needs to be won over. The king should be left out of the discussion.

The king’s role is clearly spelled out in the constitution and if he doesn’t know what that is he can easily consult with the Attorney-General to whom he has full access. Politicians do not have to crack their heads about the king or the sultans or royals about what they should do. The latter should be left out of all political discussions and negotiations because the constitution is very clear that the king and sultans are above politics.

But Malaysian politicians do not seem to practise it. I have said this earlier and I will repeat it here. Malaysian politicians prefer to wheel and deal rather than act according to the rule of law.

Johor is a fine example. Umno won with a super majority in the state but it is powerless even to get its own candidate for the position of menteri besar. The Johor Sultan overruled and selected his own candidate. With a super majority, Umno could have insisted on its candidate on the strength of the mandate the people gave it. With an Umno vice president as the prime minister (Ismail Sabri Yaakob), it could have brought the force of law to bear. But that didn’t happen.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi met with the Sultan and while we don’t know what actually transpired, Umno’s candidate was sidelined in favour of the Sultan’s. What can only be concluded is that the mandate of the people was sacrificed for the Sultan’s influence.

The important question to ask is whether the issue would have been resolved if Umno had followed the rule of law instead of “talking with” the Sultan. The reason why Umno, despite its majority, is powerless in Johor is because it courted the palace for political support. So, did PKR and the DAP in the Johor elections. As a result, the palace can assert its influence over the state government.

Would this have happened if politicians kept the royals out of politics? If politicians do not have any dealings with the king and sultans except what is permitted under the law, the royals won’t be involved in politics. They can only be involved in politics if politicians court them.

If politicians steered clear of wheeling and dealing outside the ambit of the law, we would also not be in the state Malaysia is in now. There would have been no Altantuya case, no IMDB, no Sheraton Moves, no Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister and no Ismail Sabri as the current prime minister!

The reason why we have an unelected illicit government legitimised by the opposition through the signing of the Memorandum of Understdanding is because Malaysian politicians prefer to wheel and deal and form pacts rather than follow the rule of law.

Stability for them is when no one in the pact upsets the boat. They don’t seem to understand that enforcing the rule of law automatically ensures stability because nobody can go against it; it’s the law. It’s the rule of law that ensures political stability not an agreement between scheming cohorts.

If government MPs don’t know how to operate according to democratic conventions and the rule of law, it is the Opposition’s job to hold them to the rule of law. But the opposition MPs too prefer to make pacts rather than enforce the rule of law, re: the MoU!

The solution to the current non-performing and non-delivering government is a general election. Under the rule of law, the people must be given the choice to choose their leaders. But the fragmented Opposition doesn’t want one because it can’t unite. And it can’t set aside personal agenda for the sake of the greater good. If it can, it earns the right to govern.

Like the judiciary, leaders must do the right thing

It was heartening to see the judiciary fearlessly push back the efforts of some quarters to undermine its integrity, following the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC’s) statement to start investigations on Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, who had convicted and sentenced former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his RM42 million SRC International case when he was a High Court judge.

Speaking at the swearing-in of a new batch of High Court judges at the Palace of Justice on Wednesday, Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said the criticisms leveled at the judiciary had gone overboard.

While saying that judges are not “immune to public criticism and accountability”, it does not mean “that it is open to citizens including politicians to level unfounded and scurrilous attacks against the Judiciary or a particular judge to further their own end”.

She then said: “It is important to emphasise that the Judiciary is the last line of defence in a constitutional democracy and there must never be a suspicion that the Judiciary is captured.”

And she added: “In other words, there can be no interference in the judiciary if we judges do not allow that to happen,” she said to standing ovation.

At last, we have a national institution that is asserting and reinforcing the fundamental principles on which it was built — independence, integrity and the rule of law. It is a characteristic that all national institutions and politicians must emulate!

I believe it is this characteristic demonstrated by the Chief Justice to fight against the fiercest of criticisms by simply doing the right thing, which is following the rule of law, that will save Malaysia.

In the current political climate, it is the courage and will to do the right thing — rather than the expedient thing — that will help us stem the tide of corruption that threatens to sweep over us.

To get out of the political gridlock that politicians are caught in, what is required is the courageous will to do the right thing. Politicians know what is the right thing to do. If they don’t do it, it invariably is because expediency overrules. Look where that has brought us to.

The people want to see politicians doing the right thing. Even if it means severing links with those who are manipulating the political climate, or losing a much-desired position like the premiership!

Do the expedient thing and even if one wins for the moment it will backfire in the end. Do the right thing and even if one loses something, for now, the people will see it and it may come back to work in one’s favour in the future, perhaps, even in the immediate future. It takes courage to take the risk of doing the right thing; the reward is eventual resolution.

Isn’t that what we are all looking forward to? Soon?

Capitol riot, PN leaders and the rule of law

The riot at the US Capitol when President Donald Trump’s supporters breached security and entered the building has besmirched the reputation of western democracies which have always prided themselves on their non-violent adherence to the rule of law — no doubt. Yet, despite the initial chaos and melee, eventually, the rule of law was restored.

The supporters were egged on by Trump to gather at the rally as he made unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen from him although he had lost both the popular and electoral votes. The rally was meant to be a last-ditch effort to prevent Democratic candidate Joe Biden from being confirmed as the presidential election winner by the US Congress.

At some time during the rally, the crowd surged and pushed past the security officers who retreated, followed by the crowd who entered the building. One person was shot and killed and three others died of medical emergencies during the seige.

It was mayhem but the leaders didn’t fail the nation nor the democratic processed. The election was held, the votes were counted and recounted and congressmen met at the Capitol to confirm President-elect Biden as the winner. And when the siege happened, the National Guard was called, the Capitol building was secured, and a number of Democrats started calling for Trump to resign. A day later several Republicans in Trump’s own staff handed in their resignation. And Trump finally announced he would ensure a smooth and orderly transition of power to Biden. The rule of law upheld.

A democratic tradition does not mean that everything will go by the book. People being human will do all sorts of things but good leaders — not necessarily great leaders — are those who will adhere to the rule of law. In the Capitol siege, in the end, there was resolution because the leaders, including Trump, followed the rule of law. And political stability was restored.

Here in Malaysia, we have Sheraton Moves, Sabah moves, dismissal of all 46 corruption charges against a former chief minister, failure to face a no-confidence vote in Parliament, sacking of an elected Speaker, the appointment of an unelected Speaker, vote-buying, MP-buying …  Where on earth is the rule of law?

The Prihatin Nasional (PN) claims to be a caring coalition but it does what it likes and calls it the new normal. What we are seeing in the PN is simply a law unto themselves.

Look at its coalition partner Umno who has been threatening to leave the PN since the Sabah elections when they didn’t get the Sabah chief minister’s post. It had on two occasions in the past, working with Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim, threatened to pull out of PN but it never materialised. Now it plans to discuss the cutting of ties with Bersatu, the small party which insists on leading the PN government, at its general assembly on Jan 31.

Will it materialise or, like always, at crunch time, they quietly back out after kicking up a fuss and creating a storm of hot air? Bersatu president and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will maintain a strategic silence and wait to see if it actually happens. If it doesn’t happen, he escapes by the skin of his teeth!

Maybe, he knows what I suspect, that Umno will not carry through its intention. He is willing to risk instability in order to remain in power. That’s all PN leaders want — power. But how they wield is beside the point.

Take Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan who has publicly declared that the reason for his party’s gripe with Bersatu is due to the latter’s “cruelty” in continuing with the corruption cases involving Umno members. Maslan and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Umno adviser and former prime minister Najib Razak are among a number of Umno members facing criminal charges in court.

“Cruelty?” Don’t only little boys cry “cruelty”, “unkind”, “you’re hurting us” when disciplined and try to weasel their way out of facing the consequences of their actions? Maslan is so wounded that he doesn’t realise he is suggesting executive interference? Bersatu is to be blamed because it invited this party lead by people facing court cases to join the PN. Where on earth is the rule of law? That was sacrificed for the sake of political expediency.

The actions of Bersatu ministers are also suspect. The appointed Speaker refuses to exercise the independence afforded to him under the law to decide on a no-confidence vote unless he gets a directive from the minister. Just recently, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Pejuang’s, and former minister Syed Saddiq’s Malaysian United Democratic Alliance’s (Muda) applications to be registered as political parties were rejected.

Tun said at a press conference that the Registrar of Societies said that Pejuang’s application was in order but it had to be referred to the minister, the Home Minister in this case.

Is this the rule of law? Any Malaysian’s application for registration of a society or party must be approved if it’s in order. A minister can’t reject it for whatever reasons especially when the reasons are not given. That’s denying citizens our right of association.

We want the rule of law, not leaders who are a law to themselves. Such leaders should never be allowed to govern.

The Opposition needs to take up the cry for the rule of law. They are being too quiet. There should be loud demands for the PN government’s resignation. And, responsible ministers in PN’s government must resign on their own volition. They need to put the nation first.

Learn from the US experience.

Mischief-makers upend the rule of law

Of all the current crop of leaders in the country, there is only one from my vantage point as a well-informed citizen I see as having no vested interest. And that is the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. His only vested interest is the good of the nation. Period.

That is not to say that other leaders are not concerned over the good of the nation. They are but many have vested interests and when these come in conflict with the greater good, the human tendency is to protect your interests. But, Tun has none. He has nothing to lose. And that is why he can be trusted.

Like he said, he is a man in a hurry who wants to establish good conventions of governance so that the leaders who follow him abide by the rule of law and have no reason to seek the help of those with vested interests to wheel and deal to stay in power, like the  previous Najib government did.

Wheeling and dealing can take place with associates as long as no law is broken. But, if you are a public official there can be no monetary deals involving public funds. Even if commissions are involved in the tender of government projects, the amount must be clearly specified and the full amount should go into the government coffers and not into anyone’s pocket. Better still, there should be no commission for government tenders!

But, the culture that was openly nurtured under the previous Umno government was to “you help me and I help you and we have a win-win situation where we can also help our supporters by throwing some morsels in their direction in the form of BR1M and such” under the guise of in the name of “race, religion and rulers”. When leaders quote the latter cliched slogan, you know that’s what they mean.

Under Tun’s premiership under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government that culture has been put paid. But disgruntled Umno leaders still think they can elicit the help of vested interests to topple a rightfully elected government and Tun is fully aware of what they are up to and identified the culprits in the current Johor-Putrajaya issue by telling them: “You lost, be quiet!”

Neither Tun nor the PH Cabinet has in any way slighted the rulers. But, some people apparently poked fire and started this rift between the Johor royalty and the federal government. Notice, how quiet they are now, hiding somewhere quietly like mice while others suffer from the fallout? They should just get a job, then they won’t have time for making mischief!

Rulers generally don’t interfere with the running of the state unless approached. Ill-advised and irresponsible politicians who do that would then put them in a spot. Tun fully knows what is going on and he has made it very clear that rulers can’t interfere in the administration of the country and the state. There can’t be two rules or a joint rule.

This is the rule of law that must be respected because that is what the Federal Constitution — the supreme law of the land — states. Rulers and politicians and citizens know what the law says. Much has been written on it and it is public knowledge. Constitutional expert Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, who is a professor with University Malaya, has stated again and again that rulers endorse what the executive decides on.

Tun is the elder statesman. He knows what he is saying. More importantly, he is laying the ground rules for future leaders so that no elected leader will be influenced by vested interests. The rule must be by the people for the people.

The issue isn’t ignorance of the law; it is compliance. If everyone without exception follows the rule of law, there will be political stability. That will eventually lead to economic progress for all, and in our case, it may come sooner rather than later — if the rule of law is upheld by all.