In which direction do we revise our teaching of so crucial a notion that strikes at the heart of a democracy – the right of a party to choose its own to lead the government, wonders Gurdial Singh Nijar.
In a remarkable twist to the Selangor menteri besar saga, a person who was not named by any party has been chosen as the MB.
Indeed, this person even swore a statutory declaration in support of his party’s choice – implying that another person, and not he, had majority support.
Some have asked that the sultan’s choice be respected, as indeed it almost invariably is and should be.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with his 22 years’ experience as prime minister in always naming a single person as MB who is never rejected suggested that the choice be respected.
Others have said this would change the fundamental construct of the powers vested in a constitutional monarch.
Whichever view prevails, as university law teachers we are in a quandary.
We have always lectured that the role of a constitutional monarch is primarily formal and residual.
In the context of the MB appointment, His Royal Highness must necessarily choose the leader of the party selected by the majority party – meaning the major party or parties in a coalition or “political alliance” (as Pakatan Rakyat was categorised in the Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin case).
Sultan of Perak Raja Azlan Shah, who once held the highest post in our judiciary, said so in an article and we cited this as affirmative authority.
The Federal Court in Nizar v Zambry said so – and again we cited this, albeit not without reflection as to the novel mode of selection.
Several leading books from the country from whence our constitutional model was drawn said so – and we quoted these copiously.
Now all our teaching of these fundamental notions of constitutional law has been rendered otiose.
Of course, changes are to be welcomed – for the law and its practices cannot remain static.
They must, of force, move with the times.
But in which direction do we revise our teaching of so crucial a notion that strikes at the heart of a democracy – the right of a party to choose its own to lead the government?
It does appear that a single swipe has felled principles held dear and touted by constitutional authorities on the power of constitutional monarchs.
Are we now to accept this, and uncritically?
Raja Azlan Shah in noting the important role of rulers said “at times their actions are difficult to justify”.
So in this case, help us out, please – with some (indeed any) semblance of an explanation for this radical departure from basal rules, so as to better understand the wisdom of this final solution.
Then we will gladly refresh our lecture notes – replete with new quotes from new authorities.
Gurdial Singh Nijar is a professor at the Law Faculty, University of Malaya