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Thursday, February 5, 2009

> Perak in turmoil - 1

Following Barisan Nasional's announcement that it has the necessary members in the state assembly to form government, the ball is now in Sultan Azlan Shah's court to put an end to the ongoing political turmoil in Perak.

While Perak Menteri Besar Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin was acting within his powers to request the sultan to dissolve the state assembly, the BN too has the right to seek audience with the sultan to inform him of their increased strength in the assembly.

"The key player in this crisis is the sultan," said James Chin who heads the school of arts and social science at the Monash University.

The state constitution is clear in the powers vested in the sultan.

According to Article 16(6), the menteri besar must resign along with his state cabinet if he ceases to enjoy the majority support in the assembly.

Alternately he can request the sultan to dissolve the assembly, paving way for a fresh election.

Najib, in his press conference at Putrajaya this afternoon, referred to this article of the state constitution.

He said that since BN has now got 31 seats against Pakatan's 28 in the 59-seat assembly, it was imperative that Mohd Nizar resigned.

Najib will be meeting the sultan soon - either tonight or tomorrow morning - to formally inform him about the swift in power in the state assembly.

At the same time, Mohd Nizar was acting in accordance with the Perak constitution in seeking an audience with the sultan today - for almost two hours - to press for the dissolution of the assembly.

His response to the media after the meeting - "It is now up to Tuanku" - indicated that the sultan is not about to make a decision on the matter hastily.

In all fairness, the sultan will give an audience to Najib, as the newly appointed BN chief in Perak, to hear what he has to say.

"The sultan should know the law better than any of us, as he was formerly the lord president of the Supreme Court," added Chin.

Until the sultan makes his decision, Mohd Nizar will continue to remain the menteri besar, although it could only be for a short while.

Today's shocking developments meant that the present Pakatan government will have to step down just 10 months after their euphoric victory at the general election.

Many political commentators state that a snap election would bring back Pakatan back to power, and thus the reason for BN to be fighting hard for a quick transition in power.

However Chin said that the sultan's decision not to dissolve the assembly would only result in an unstable government.

This was because a slim majority in the assembly would always open the door for a possible defection in the future, he added.

"In order to secure a stable government, a working majority of at least five is needed," said Chin.

With the defections to BN today, the coalition has a majority of three seats.

The failed Ming Court coup

While many have argued that one effective way to stop defections is by enacting an anti-hopping law, constitutional expert Professor Abdul Aziz Bari disagreed.

"The only way to avoid hopping is to have principled politics and politicians - and the people have a role here," he told Malaysiakini.

The current political turmoil in Perak is not a new phenomenon in Malaysian politics.

During the 1987 turmoil in Sarawak, 28 out of the 48 state representatives plotted in the Ming Court Hotel in Kuala Lumpur to overthrow Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud's government.

The dissenting group of state assemblypersons said they had lost confidence in Taib and asked him to convene a meeting of the state assembly for a vote.

Taib however advised the governor to dissolve the state assembly and called a snap state election, which was won by the Taib faction and he remained the chief minister ever since.

And then there was also the emergency rule declared in Kelantan in 1977 which allowed BN to take over the PAS-ruled state.

While one cannot second guess the sultan, it would nevertheless be timely to be reminded of what the sultan himself wrote in his book Constitutional Monarchy, Rule of Law and Good Governance in 2004.

"Under normal circumstances, it is taken for granted that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong would not withhold his consent to a request for dissolution of parliament. His role is purely formal."

He also added that no sultan or agung had withheld consent to dissolve legislative body, except in Kelantan in 1977.

However with the political power play coming into the picture, it will not be a surprise if the sultan decides to act against his own writing in acceding to Najib's request rather than dissolving the state assembly - Malaysiakini.