February 8, 2009 – 4:28 am

The Malaysian state of Perak is in a state of flux as it returns to the National Front after some state assembly members left the People’s Alliance. But it is not a people’s victory. Political heavyweight Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah says: “Our taking control without resort to elections would cement the enmity of the very people we should be trying to win back at the next elections.”

Some Barisan Nasional (National Front) leaders are already celebrating our ’seizing power’ in the Perak state government via defections. One major newspaper, taking the matter as settled, is already devoting frontpage coverage to speculation about who will be the new Menteri Besar.

All this has happened because three state assemblymen from the Perak government have left their respective parties to become independents allied to BN, and the Bota state assemblyman has returned to BN.

A few words of caution are in order in this extremely fluid situation.

For constitutional, ethical and political reasons, I think celebrations are premature.

Constitutional points

The Constitution and the role of the Ruler in such crises must be respected.

The defections may or may not topple the government of Perak, but some of us are behaving as if they have instantaneously transferred the government to BN. Defections are not the basis for the formation of a government. Elections are. Governments are formed after citizens have expressed their choice through free and fair elections. Our Constitution specifies a formal process for the formation of a government.

The Ruler is sworn to uphold and protect this constitutional process. From among the elected representatives, the Ruler appoints as his Menteri Besar the individual who in his opinion commands the confidence of the majority in the assembly, or dewan. This choice belongs to him alone, although thereafter the Assembly may reject his choice by a vote of no confidence in the dewan. The Ruler’s powers and those of the legislative assembly act as checks and balances on each other.

The Menteri Besar has sought the Ruler’s consent for the dissolution of the State Legislative Assembly. The decision now rests with the Ruler. If the assembly is not dissolved, Dato’ Seri Nizar Jamaluddin remains as Menteri Besar until he resigns of his own accord, or is removed by a vote of no-confidence in a formal sitting of the assembly. The Constitution makes no provision for his removal by press conferences or newspaper headlines declaring victory.

Ethical and political issues

The ethical and political issues coincide because ethical failures are at the core of our political problem. Umno is in critical condition. Our biggest challenge, both as a party and as the governing party, is to tackle corruption at every level. We are under close public scrutiny in addressing this problem. Unless we implement radical reforms and are seen to be doing so, we are finished politically come next election.

Instead we are now seen to be “winning back” Perak with the crossover of exactly the kind of low calibre individuals, as one commentator has put it, that we should shun.

Contests in a democracy are not a fight for survival in which anything goes. They are competitions to serve.

Two of the assemblymen whose allegiance we have suddenly gained are under investigation for corruption. I was clearly wrong about the integrity of the assemblyman from Bota. His justification for his record-breaking ten day double-hop is an insult to the public’s intelligence and nauseating in its insincerity. It is precisely this kind of open abuse of the public’s trust for the sake of personal gain that causes people to hate Umno.

The farcical circumstances of these defections, complete with mysterious disappearances, sudden reversals, and implausible explanations, show ample signs of illegal inducement. No matter what the truth of the matter, let us not fool ourselves. People will not believe that these crossovers were honest. This mistrust will taint any government formed on the back of these crossovers.

Elections are the sole source of the government’s authority in a democratic society.

In the end we shall have to face elections

If the Ruler decides not to accede to the MB’s request for the dissolution of Parliament, and BN is invited to form a state government on the basis of defections, what more dubious ones, I think it would anger a large section of the Malaysian public.

Our taking control without resort to elections would cement the enmity of the very people we should be trying to win back at the next elections. Come next General Election, they are likely to reject both our state and parliamentary candidates with greater vehemence, and not just in Perak.

Contests in a democracy are not a fight for survival in which anything goes. They are competitions to serve.

BN should reform to improve its ability to serve with distinction. This is a long-term project that requires immediate focus. We do not need the distraction of transient, shaky victories when our task is to upgrade ourselves to win elections again, fair and square.

The is the only sustainable way to win the public back to BN.

Note: The above was posted at

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The Perak constitutional crisis began when a member of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, Datuk Nasarudin Hashim (from Umno), announced on January 25 his decision to leave the party and join the PKR or Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance).

A day later, two state assemblymen from PKR, Jamaluddin Mat Radzi and Mohd Osman Jailu, who were charged with corruption the previous year, abruptly disappeared and could not be contacted. Within four days, both assemblymen declared themselves independent by leaving PKR, and promising loyalty for Barisan Nasional. The election commission, on its part, said that no by-elections would be held for the seats held by Jamaluddin and Osman in spite of pressure from certain quarters.

The deputy speaker from the DAP (a member of the People’s Alliance), Hee Yit Foong, declared herself independent the following day.

On February 5, the Sultan of Perak met Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak together with the three defectors from Pakatan Rakyat and, surprisingly, Datuk Nasarudin Hashim. Datuk Nsasarudin Hashim, on his part, cited that his defection back to Barisan Nasional was intended to create stability in Perak, while the three other defector-MPs also complained of distress from the drama. Najib intended to seek royal consent to form a new government.

On February 6, Zambry Kadir from the National Front was sworn in as the new Menteri Besar of Perak. The People’s Alliance has challenged the legitimacy of Zambry’s new office by stating that Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin still remains the Menteri Besar, as guaranteed by the state constitutional provisions, while Nizar continued his call for a motion of no confidence to be held in a parliamentary seating. Several cases have been filed in the Kuala Lumpur High Court challenging the validity of the new Barisan Nasional government.

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