What’s wrong with Prime Minister Muhyiddin?

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Any move to declare an emergency will be perceived as a regressive approach on the rule of law and parliamentary democracy - Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

If Parliament could express how it felt after what transpired on the morning of 13 July, it would have cringed in shame, Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan writes.

On 13 July 2020, Malaysia made history, though not a good one. A Speaker of Parliament who was highly respected by all political persuasions got booted out of Parliament, the move defying all logic and sense.

This sacking will be remembered for many generations to come and become an issue that will be discussed by parliamentarians in various chambers throughout the world, especially those that practise the Westminster parliamentary system. It will be debated as well, in institutions of higher learning and become an important topic involving law and political studies.

That’s because of the stand taken by PM Muhyiddin Yassin and his men, arguing that with the change of government, they too needed their own Speaker to serve their own aspiration and direction.

So they changed the Speaker, a move that was viewed as reprehensible, unethical, offensive, irrational and insulting to the dignity, integrity and the sanctity of our Parliament – for never in history has a sitting Speaker been removed to create a vacancy. It was done so dishonourably, simply for ‘having a new candidate’ of their choice, that it triggered the acrimony that followed.

Two things come quickly to mind. 

One, there was no resignation; incapacity was not the reason; there was no disqualification, death or a fresh parliamentary sitting after a general election to warrant this decision.

Two, a proper procedure must be followed in installing a new Speaker whenever a vacancy occurs.

To justify the removal, the government’s resort to the provision in the Constitution [Article 57 (2)(c)] that says “if at any time the House so resolves” remained unconvincing.

Ironically, the vote that was taken in the house was not ‘to declare a vacancy’ but to actually vote for the previous Speaker to vacate his seat without any reason furnished. Having done that, no declaration of a vacancy followed. Worse, the new Speaker was not even voted in.

By right, the procedure to follow should have been this:

  1. Officially declare a vacancy exists
  2. In the absence of a Speaker, the business of Parliament should have been suspended for two weeks to facilitate the calling for nominations
  3. Receive nominations 
  4. Elect the Speaker

None of these was done. Hence, what transpired was nothing but a sham. Ignoring all these procedures, Muhyiddin invited the new Speaker to take his place, and Azhar Harun, unashamedly, assumed the Speaker’s chair.

The whole scene was as if the opponent was tied up and bashed up, and then claiming, the fight was won fairly. This is what the Perikatan Nasional government did to the Opposition. The PN government did not have the gumption to offer a level playing field to the Opposition.

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When values and principles were being trampled upon, the first to pretend to be blind, deaf and dumb were those from Pas. So much for upholding Islamic values! They, instead, chose to become implicit in yet another treachery to our parliamentary democracy.

For a lay person, what happened in the august house that morning was that – to put it crudely and bluntly – our Standing Orders, our Constitution and Westminster conventions were all violated on the floor of Parliament for all the world to see.

Azhar Harun is a lawyer whose hobby was to talk about national reforms. Yet apparently, he had no qualms in becoming a tool of the very government that came to power through treachery. He took the podium as if he had earned it and nonchalantly began running the business of the House. Within minutes, he was already chasing out an opposition leader.

By the way, why did Azhar Harun, if indeed he was serious about reforms, leave the Election Commission? That’s where the root of all evil in Malaysian politics is to be found. Without free and fair elections or a level playing field, even an idiot will know what quality of MPs will get elected to Parliament and become ministers.

People can’t help thinking that Azhar resigned as Election Commission chair to enable BN-Umno to dismantle and obliterate all electoral reforms that would have made it difficult for them to crawl back to power in the next general election, which is expected very soon. Azhar, by accepting the Speaker’s post, had actually helped facilitate this possibility.

Didn’t Azhar know that Mohamed Ariff Md Yusoff was already doing a terrific job as effective and impartial Speaker who had kick-started various reforms? This is probably the first time in parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world that a Speaker is removed for doing a good job.

It is very obvious that Speaker Mohamed Ariff probably would not have been sacked if he had not accepted the no-confidence motion tabled by Dr Mahathir Mohamad against Muhyiddin. That was his undoing.

Meanwhile, social media is abuzz with theories about what Azhar Harun and his brother Idrus Harun, the Attorney General, could be up to. So far former Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman and Najib Razak’s stepson Riza Aziz have walked free. What next?

Netizens suspect Azhar was cherry-picked to hold fort and deflect the onslaught by the opposition if something drastic happens in the courts.

Forget not Mahathir’s claims that PM Muhyiddin will be forced to make sure that all Umno kleptocrats now being charged in courts will go scot free. Failing that, the mere loss of just two seats is enough to make Muhyiddin’s government fall instantly.

Mahathir was our Prime Minister for 24 years. He sure knows what the prime minister can do to the rule of law and maybe even the functioning of the judiciary. We are already seeing police harassment and persecution of NGO and opposition leaders, aren’t we?

Something is very wrong with the way PM Muhyiddin’s mind works. Brilliance is lacking. But his luck shone when Mahathir resigned. He was not the best candidate. Yet, by fluke, when he suddenly found the PM’s seat within reach, he grabbed it and became the prime minister with the help of those he had soundly condemned in the past.

Muhyiddin’s misdemeanours first came to light, according to Mahathir, when he probably misled the Agong at that material time, with inflated numbers of support to claim the prime minister’s post. The fact remains that, four months later, after having given out 70 cabinet posts, having created two envoys with ministerial status and having appointed dozens of government-linked company chairpersons, he merely garnered only 111 votes to install a new Speaker controversially. His position, it seems, was not all that secure.

Muhyiddin’s second misdemeanour would be in calling for a parliamentary sitting only to hear His Majesty’s royal address without the usual parliamentary business that takes place for fear of a no-confidence motion that was hanging over his neck.

Muhyiddin’s next grand misdemeanour was his approval of almost RM300bn of public money for stimulus packages on the Covid-19 pandemic without parliamentary sanction. Many countries around the world had their Parliament sitting done virtually. But Muhyiddin’s fear of the no-confidence vote prevented him from doing so. His pandemic excuse for not having a full parliamentary session was a bluff.

Indeed, it was urgent to hold a full session of Parliament. It was compelling that with the in-depth debate and discussion of MPs from both sides, a better strategy could have been formulated with appropriate ‘weight and measure’ to better serve the affected and the most vulnerable. There is no better time for our MPs to stand up for our citizenry in need. Not hearing our MPs means not hearing the cries of the people.

Electing a Speaker for Parliament without following the proper procedure and admitting that he needs the Speaker to serve his aspirations and directions is yet another of his misdemeanours.

Forget not that his Majesty the Agong’s realm, besides Islam and ‘Adat Melayu’, extends to the three centres of powers – Parliament, Executive (Government) and the Judiciary. By having control over Parliament, I would argue Muhyiddin has committed a grave travesty against His Majesty’s realm. He reduced Parliament from his (Executive) equal to a lesser agency under his authority.

If the PM can control Parliament, what is to stop him from controlling the Judiciary, the other centre of power that provides checks and balances on the powers of Parliament and the Executive?

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After all, that is the argument PH leaders made in Parliament on the Speaker’s issue. Again, the new government must have their own ‘men’ in high places to serve them. To know how immoral and detrimental a very powerful prime minister could be for the people, look no further. Najib Razak’s era is still fresh in our minds.

It is to avoid such pitfalls I propose that His Majesty the Agong should be provided with an additional Special Advisory Council of, say, five learned people (one each to represent the Agong, Government, Opposition, higher institution dealing in constitutional matters, and a retired Federal Court judge) to help him make better informed decisions without having to rely entirely on the prime minister’s men, who might be biased.

This will overcome the indiscriminate sacking of those occupying high offices such as chief justice, attorney general, Speaker of Parliament, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission head, army chief, inspector general of police and Election Commission chair every time there is a change in government.

These respected officials are supposed to serve the people without fear or favour, uninfluenced by Executive intervention, only to be removed, if they must, by a tribunal sanctioned by His Majesty.

If Parliament could speak and express itself freely, what transpired on the morning of 13 July would make it cringe in shame. Parliament becomes an august House only when it fairly serves the interest of the people; otherwise, it is reduced to a circus.

Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan, a long-time Aliran member, served previously in Bersih 2.0 and the National Water Services Commission. By profession, he is a cargo handling specialist

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Lim Siew Lan
Lim Siew Lan
26 Jul 2020 8.39am

The MOST SICKENING event of the year and century all took place under TSMY’s administrations ie removal of a very well respected and well received speaker as your article wrote which i do not need to repeat in my comment here. Rizal Najib’s stepson walks away scot free during TSMY’s administration and Najib =Pekan MP who is facing trials for the historically shameful wrongdoings on multiple public fund and more gets,to attend parliament sitting.

songpeehoa
songpeehoa
23 Jul 2020 10.53pm

The very basic of Democracy has been trampled in Parliament by removing a capable and honest Speaker for no valid reasons. This disturbed the Public and needs to be corrected. There will be a ‘tsunami’ again in the next Ge for sure.

Steven
Steven
21 Jul 2020 9.40pm

Whoever is in power will always ensure the “right” people are placed in strategic positions.

I am only disappointed in Art Harun although I must add that I am not surprised that he seems to have abandoned whatever principles he had.

In Malaysia, it seems every key player has a price

Art and Idrus are 2 peas in the same pod

Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
21 Jul 2020 6.34pm

Does rrelevanvy matter when done by those in power?