PASOC is now available at most MPH, Borders and Times bookstores through LoyarBaca’s distributors, GerakBudaya. Get yours at those bookstores or here. The book is into its first reprint (second impression) after having all 1000 copies distributed in 5 days after its mega 1212 launch.
Malaysians have short memories. It was not too long ago that the Perak crisis took place, inducing great disbelief and anger amongst many. But time heals all things, and there’s nothing that good public relations cannot gloss over. Indeed, what happened in Perak almost two years ago may have just faded slowly in our minds – the stark reality of how powers can be so easily misused in the wrong hands – without having been reminded once again through this most valuable and timely book by LoyarBurok‘s publishing arm, LoyarBaca.
Reading “Perak: A State of Crisis” in one sitting is reliving the past – those few months in 2009 during which the Pakatan Rakyat government in Perak was so disgracefully usurped from its position to be replaced by the “new” Barisan Nasional government. The book, a compilation of 20 articles, many of which were written for the LoyarBurok blawg (www.LoyarBurok.com) itself throughout the unfolding of the crisis, walks you through the scenes as if you were there, conjuring up images of what happened at the State Assembly and its compound, the Perak Palace, the famous tree and the courtroom. The well-documented timeline is also helpful to traverse through the incidents as they took place.
Contributors to the book are a combination of lawyers, a former judge and academic experts in the law, hence their approach of the incident through legal lenses. However, far from making use of legal jargon the rest of us are so unaccustomed to, they explain the issues surrounding the Perak crisis and the reasons they have so taken those positions based on the Perak Constitution and judicial precedent in a style easily understood by laypersons, methodical and step-by-step as their profession so requires.
In short, the incident that precipitated this constitutional crisis was the resignation of three State Assemblypersons from their respective parties [one from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and two from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), both parties within the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition government] to become Independent Legislators, changing the balance of numbers in the State Assembly with PR and BN having 28 seats each in the 59-seat Assembly. This then set upon a series of events that eventually toppled the democratically elected PR state government with the Sultan of Perak deeming Nizar Jamaluddin to have lost the confidence of the State Assembly thereby appointing Zambry Abdul Kadir as the new Menteri Besar. More than six court cases ensued.
Most authors make repeated reference to Article 16(6) of the Perak State Constitution as this is central: “If the Menteri Besar ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly, then, unless at his request His Royal Highness dissolves the Legislative Assembly, he shall tender the resignation of the Executive Council.”
The salient points raised and addressed in the book, which were also litigated on in the courts, are as follows:
1. Who determines that the Menteri Besar has ceased to command the confidence of the majority in the Legislative Assembly?
2. What are relevant matters in assessing whether the Menteri Besar still commands the confidence of the majority in the Legislative Assembly?
3. Can the Head of State determine that the Menteri Besar has lost the confidence of the majority in the Legislative Assembly in a way other than by a vote on the floor of the Assembly?
4. Can the Head of State refuse the request of the Menteri Besar to dissolve the Legislative Assembly, and following this, dismiss the Executive Council when the Menteri Besar refuses to tender the resignation of the Executive Council?
5. Can the Head of State appoint a new Menteri Besar if he judges that the present Menteri Besar has lost the confidence of the majority in the Legislative Assembly and does not resign?
Lawyers Art Harun, Kevin YL Tan and former judge NH Chan are the most prolific writers, providing lengthy pieces which cover necessary ground in replying to the questions above, elaborations and conclusions of which are too long to cover in this piece. Other contributors provide their perspectives on particular areas of the crisis, with lawyer Shanmuga K for example discussing whether the Perak Speaker can appoint private lawyers and concludes that the law allows for this. The book ends with three concluding remarks, by Kevin YL Tan, constitutional law academic Shad Saleem Faruqi and jurist on constitutional law Andrew Harding.
It is interesting to note the variances of opinion between the three experts – Shad Saleem Faruqi’s especially differs from the others. He is the only writer to note that the Speaker Sivakumar publicly stated he would not allow the three Independent Assemblypersons to enter the State Assembly, hence making it impossible for them to participate in the vote to determine confidence in the Menteri Besar. He is also the only writer to say that Article 16(6) of the Perak Constitution is open-ended about how confidence of the majority of the Menteri Besar is to be determined. While other writers in the book believe this is only determinable by the floor of the Assembly in session itself, Faruqi states that the clause talks of the “confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly” and not the confidence of the Assembly, and that “the action of members acting individually may count”. The consensus among all authors though is that the series of actions or inaction were politically tinged and the best way to restore order would have been through dissolution of the State Assembly and for fresh elections to be held.
One thing is clear about all that took place: the concerted effort by the various institutions to bring about the PR state government’s downfall. The judiciary, the police, the Election Commission and the civil service, all supposedly independent institutions, showed their adherence to the political powers that be. The most appalling picture of Speaker Sivakumar being physically dragged from his seat is the face of humiliation. How is it possible that the BN government cares not for its international reputation in an exercise of brute power such as this?
The book’s greatest significance is ultimately the ability to re-invoke our sentiments – both emotional and intellectual – that accompanied the Perak crisis of 2009. It is a wake-up call (again) that matters of political governance and administration affect all layers and walks of society. That it was edited by a corporate lawyer (as opposed to a human rights one), given a foreword by the Chief Executive of a policy think-tank, with information supplied by journalists encapsulates the point that politics is something everyone must be concerned with as it affects us all. It is also interesting to note the compilation includes selected comments from the articles when they were first posted online, which reflects the sort of dynamic interaction and exchange that now takes place within the legal and public policy community. It is a must-read for anyone interested in political discourse, constitutional law, human rights and public policy.
The Perak case is significant to all Malaysians, as its implications are far-reaching not just for other state governments but also at the national level, especially as discussion is underway on the relationship between the civil service-royalty-political parties in the state of Selangor presently. Finally, Andrew Harding’s conclusion in the book rings true: “The people will decide”. This holds even more weight as the next General Elections loom ahead, with talk of it to be held as early as this year.
Will the Perak voters remember? Only the polls will tell.
Tricia is a Research Officer at the Selangor Chief Minister’s office. She is former Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI). She is qualified in Econometrics and holds a Master of Science in Research Methodology from the University of Warwick, UK. She was formerly Regional Co-ordinator for Asia at Revenue Watch Institute, a non-profit international organisation focusing on revenue transparency of the extractive industry. Her comments have appeared in The Economist and International Herald Tribune. She is a regular columnist at the Penang Economic Monthly, and is on the Monash University Business School Advisory Board and Centre for Public Policy Studies’ Advisory Panel. She is Editor of the book “The Road to Reform: Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor”.