A fine balance in Perak

From today the PR government in Perak is at the mercy of Hee or any other assemblyman — on both sides of the divide — who has the gumption to exploit the situation and advance themselves — financially, socially and politically.

By Baradan Kuppusamy, The Malaysian Insider

With the Perak state government tottering on the brink, the kingmakers are the Perak palace, in the long-term, and for now a politically estranged woman — DAP's Jelapang representative Hee Yit Foong who, now that the two PKR Exco members have flown the coop, holds the magical one-seat balance in the state assembly.

Whether the PKR duo — Behrang assemblyman Jamaluddin Mat Radzi and Changkat Jering Assemblyman Osman Jailu — defect to Umno or prefer to be called independents, the fact is Pakatan Rakyat cannot rely on them anymore.

With them gone the PR government survives on a one-seat majority in the 59-seat state assembly and was in fact written off yesterday after Hee "disappeared" for over 12 hours, leaving DAP leaders sweating and desperately trying to locate her.

Hee coolly emerged, only to slam DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng for threatening to vacate her seat and force a by-election.

"He should have some confidence in me," Hee said at a midnight press conference at her home. But given the current turmoil, trust and confidence is definitely missing and that is because the katak culture of defections and counter-defections is taking root.

From today the PR government in Perak is at the mercy of Hee or any other assemblyman — on both sides of the divide — who has the gumption to exploit the situation and advance themselves — financially, socially and politically.

Except for how the palace reacts to the crisis, all other issues connected with the turmoil have played out before in Sabah and the courts have ruled on the disputes, even at the highest level, the Supreme Court, now Federal Court.

Therefore there is ample precedent on how this crisis in Perak is likely to unfold.

Switching sides is not a crime under current laws, the Supreme Court had ruled in 1992, in a case involving defections in Kelantan.

Any amendment to state constitutions barring party hopping, as was the case in Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak, was ruled unconstitutional because it is against the freedom of association guaranteed under Article 11 of the federal constitution.

The highest court also ruled that the right to associate goes with the right to disassociate.

Pre-signed resignation letters — a favourite method used by former Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan to stem defections — that was used by Perak Speaker V. Sivakumar yesterday to vacate the Behrang and Changkat Jering seats have been ruled as illegal and void by the Supreme Court.

Besides, within hours after Sivakumar announced that the PKR duo had resigned as assemblymen, the two emerged out of hiding to deny their "resignation".

One even said they were forced to sign the letters "under duress" after the March 8, 2008 general election, immediately raising doubts on the validity of the letters and their signatures on them.

The courts have also ruled before in similar cases that such pre-signed letters that were done "under duress" were void because it is against the right to free association and disassociation.

It is also notable that the two are choosing to remain independent for now, and will argue that they have a right to represent their constituencies.

It is a powerful argument because the law gives the highest value to the will of the people in freely electing their representative and any attempt by any parties to deny that will is immediately struck down as void.

The downside is that the PKR duo would be holding the PR government to ransom by staying on as independents besides making it impossible for the Election Commission to hold by-elections even if the Speaker has declared a vacancy.

Ultimately the issue would end up in a High Court if PKR wants to pursue it, and the decision can be inferred based on precedents already set by the Supreme Court on such matters.

It is clear that Sivakumar, obviously under instruction from the PR coalition, had overplayed his hand by "receiving" the pre-signed letters.

They should have waited at least until today or tomorrow to see how BN plays its hand with the PKR duo before declaring they had "resigned".

The DAP has also ordered all its assemblymen to sign similar "resignation" letters and in addition, defecting representatives have pledged to pay RM1 million in "compensation" to the party.

Hee, if she defects, would have to cough out the amount which DAP leaders hope is a deterrent against defection.

The defections and counter-defections have plunged Perak into a political crisis similar to what had happened in Sabah after Pairin came to power in 1985 and fought to stay on despite numerous defections.

He took various actions to stem the defections — a constitutional amendment, pre-signed letters and even locking up assemblymen in his house — but he still lost in the end due to party hopping, giving rise to the infamous word “katak” entering the political lexicon.

Between now and a permanent settlement of the crisis in Perak, numerous moves and counter-moves will be made by political rivals, all of which will only worsen the chaos.

It's a Catch 22 position for the PR — the PKR duo have fled, the government totters on a one-seat majority and if defections multiply, it could, like Pairin, lose the government to the BN.

The chances of PR holding two by-elections, winning and beefing up its one-seat majority are remote, considering that the law and the court rulings are all stacked up against pre-signed resignation letters.

That leaves it with only one option — head to the palace and get the Sultan to agree to dissolve the state assembly for a fresh election and a fresh mandate — for the second time in a year.

It is an option fraught with uncertainties.