The LoyarBurok Book Review: “Perak: A State Of Crisis” – A Candle-Light Vigil To Democracy

Perak: A State Of Crisis poster

The book launches 1212 at 4pm. Meet the protagonists (politicians, contributors, writers and lawyers[LB]) at the LoyarBurokking session. Here, read a review of the book to understand why you shouldn’t be missing the launch.

As time passes, some will cite Winston Churchill’s famous maxim about democracy being “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried” as apologia for the events that unfolded in the Perak Legislative Assembly in early 2009.

It is the ugly truth about politics that its battles are won not only through ballot boxes but also legitimately through backroom manoeuvring and bargaining. All is fair as the nether creatures of realpolitik – party-hopping and money politics – are set loose on the democratic principles and idealism that colour our votes. It is after all an eternal fight born of our flawed human condition to lust insatiably for power and wealth, and as a consequence of that, our necessary resistance to the tyranny and despotism such lust breeds.

And it is somewhere between the rocky terrain of these two opposing ends, in the domain of our laws and philosophies that the constitutional crisis of Perak was sparked following the dramatic resignation of three Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers. It plunged the State’s political system into paralysis as the Sultan of Perak became embroiled too in the impasse, leading subsequently to his controversial decisions to dismiss the PR Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Nizar Jamaluddin and appointing in his stead Dato’ Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir of the Barisan Nasional (BN) faction.

What came next was a litany of battles, some played out in the media and some, the pivotal parts, in the highest courts. As ordinary Malaysians struggled to make sense of the complex legal issues, lawyers and jurists began writing their takes on the crisis.

PERAK: A STATE OF CRISIS is a collection of 20 of these insightful essays that were first published on LoyarBurok.com by well-known lawyers such as Amer Hamzah Arshad, Art Harun, Cheang Lek Choy, Edmund Bon and Shanmuga K (a few of whom were part of the legal team representing MB Nizar) and eminent jurists such as retired Court of Appeal Justice Dato’ NH Chan and law academics Drs Shad Saleem Faruqi, Andrew Harding and Kevin YL Tan, the bulk of which were written contemporaneously with the unfolding of events in 2009, giving a ringside blow-by-blow running legal commentary of what was happening inside the Perak Legislative Assembly, courtrooms, and even the Royal Palace.

The perspectives and sentiments of the writers run the gamut, from LoyarBurok’s trademark measured irreverence in Amer Hamzah’s piece, “Perak Constitutional Crisis: Wake Up And Smell The Carcass” on the Court of Appeal’s perceived bias and determination in returning Zambry to the seat of power, to Art Harun’s elegant riposte to a scathing email sent by an attachment student of Hafarizam Harun (one of the counsel for the BN), in “The Perak Crisis – My Rebuttal To Lord Lester’s Opinion” where he (Art Harun) methodically dismantles Hafarizam’s legal opinion on Nizar’s dismissal but not before pummelling the attachment student down to size.

In NH Chan’s two-parter “Gobbledegook And Regurgitation Galore In The 2 Written Judgments Of The Court Of Appeal In Zambry v Nizar”, the reader is invited to sit on the tiered stands of a dissection theatre as the judgments of the 3 Court of Appeal judges are presented, still warm and alive, but slowly cut open in an elaborate vivisection performed to study the anatomy of the judges’ minds.

The separate essays by Drs Shad Saleem Faruqi, Andrew Harding and Kevin YL Tan delve deeper into the relevant provisions of the Perak Constitution and examine the various legal arguments surrounding the crisis. For example, in Dr Shad’s “The 2009 Constitutional Turmoil In Perak: A Look Back” he discusses amongst many other points, the apparent lacuna in the Constitution (posed by the absence of any sanction to impose on an MB who refuses to tender the resignation of the Executive Council after losing the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly and having his request for dissolution refused by the Sultan), and argues that Sultan Azlan Shah had, despite widespread criticism of His Royal Highness’ decision to dismiss Nizar, acted correctly within his constitutional powers to end the impasse.

These opinions cover not only the episode surrounding Nizar’s dismissal but also the legality of then Speaker V. Sivakumar’s actions in both the Assembly and the Privileges Committee in accepting the purported resignation letters of the three PR lawmakers, and later suspending the newly appointed MB Zambry and his Executive Council.

What happened in Perak in 2009 was not the first time that a State leader’s dismissal sparked a constitutional crisis. It has happened before: the 1966 Sarawak constitutional crisis involving then Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan’s ouster by the Governor assisted by the Federal Government’s Proclamation of a state of emergency in Sarawak under the Federal Constitution and a similar imposition of emergency powers in the 1977 Kelantan constitutional crisis involving then MB Besar Mohamad Nasir.

What is unique this time are the efforts of so many legal commentators to record and analyse the many facets of the crisis. This book stands at the forefront of those efforts, excellently summarising a very complex subject and providing a fascinating read to not just lawyers and law students but also to anyone who has ever worried about the state of our country especially in the aftermath of the 2008 general elections. It is without doubt the definitive textbook and research primer on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis.

But more than that, every page of this book is a candle-light vigil to democracy and the events in Perak; a constant reminder that nothing about democracy is timeless. Nothing about it is set in stone.

What we forget and what we choose to remember will determine how democracy develops in our country.

Adrian is a lawyer residing in Sarawak. He believes in ghosts, fairies and talking simians with mind-controlling abilities but not Religion because Faith is mostly unreliable in the face of reason and evidence. Coincidentally, he is also a self-avowed hypocrite with chronic writer’s block who dreams of writing in search of his voice. Follow his attempts to write at ReadingMonk.com and his tweets on @Reading_Monk.

[LB] Collectively, members of the legal team who acted in various cases and capacities for Nizar and Sivakumar throughout the Perak Crisis were: Sulaiman b. Abdullah, Tommy Thomas, Nga Hock Cheh, Philip Koh Tong Ngee, Ambiga Sreenevasan, Chan Kok Keong, Mohamad Asri b. Othman, Ranjit Singh s/o Harbinder Singh, Razlan Hadri b. Zulkifli, Mohamed Hanipa bin Maidin, Augustine a/l Anthony, Leong Cheok Keng, Mohammad Yunus bin Mohd @ Ahmad Ali, Edmund Bon Tai Soon, Yap Boon Hau, Amer Hamzah Arshad, Mahaletchumi Balakrishnan, Zulqarnain bin Lukman, Cheong Sek Kwan, Joanne Leong Pooi Yaen, Jason Tay Yew Chong, Grace Wong Phui Mun, Abigail Lim Ern Tze and Ngoi Evon.

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Adrian Chew is a lawyer, writer and TMI columnist. A member of the LoyarBurok masthead, he also leads the crack editorial team behind the "Monkeysuit Protocol" column for August Man Magazine. He is an advocate for reading and the written word. His articles and book reviews can be read at ReadingMonk.com and Culturazzi.org. He tweets as @ReadingMonk on Twitter.

Posted on 9 December 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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