Perak govt hangs in the balance

Election Commission to decide today if resignation claims valid

PR now holds 32 seats in the 59-seat state assembly to Barisan Nasional's 27. If the two men cross over, it would narrow the current gap to just a one-seat majority.

By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times

THE Perak administration remains in precarious balance, with the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government locked in a stalemate with two of its assemblymen who look set to defect.

State assembly speaker V. Sivakumar yesterday submitted their pre-signed resignation letters to the Election Commission and asked for by-elections to be held to fill the vacant seats.

This came after the two men could not be contacted for more than five days, triggering speculation that they were about to defect.

But yesterday, the two assemblymen disputed statements that they had resigned as assemblymen or quit Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). They claimed they were on medical leave.

A representative for Mr Mohd Osman Jailu, 57, the assemblyman for Changkat Jering, lodged a police report to refute the resignation claim. Mr Jamaluddin Mat Radzi, 52, the assemblyman for Behrang, also denied resigning.

Both men did not turn up at the separate press conferences they had called, but instead had representatives issue statements on their behalf.

The Election Commission has yet to decide if their resignation letters are valid, as it was closed yesterday for Federal Territory Day.

Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said a meeting will be held today to discuss the legal issues.

But its decision may not resolve the crisis, as it could be challenged in court.

Some in the legal fraternity hold the opinion that such resignation letters may not hold up in court. Senior lawyer Shafee Abdullah, who advises Umno, said there are court precedents dating to 1983 that such letters are illegal and void.

But Democratic Action Party (DAP) Perak chief Ngeh Koo Ham, who is a lawyer, insisted the letters are 'true and genuine' because the two assemblymen had admitted to signing them.

The two PKR politicians at the centre of the political brouhaha were both charged last year with corruption in relation to a housing project in Perak. The case is still pending.

With the uncertainty of the political loyalties of the two men in mind, the PR government is attempting to force the two to resign as assemblymen because this would trigger a by-election – and give the opposition coalition a chance to reclaim the seats.

It does not want them to resign as PKR members as this would allow them to hold on to their seats as independents – and thus narrow the PR's hold on the state assembly.

PR now holds 32 seats in the 59-seat state assembly to Barisan Nasional's 27. If the two men cross over, it would narrow the current gap to just a one-seat majority.

PKR Perak chairman Osman Abdul Rahman yesterday insisted that the two are still in the party as they have not submitted resignation letters to PKR.

However, the two assemblymen appear determined to keep open the option of becoming independents. If they are deemed to have resigned from their posts, they will be banned by law from contesting for five years.

The stalemate – which is not likely to break any time soon – adds to a crisis that started brewing soon after PR won the state in the March general election last year, grabbing 31 seats to Barisan Nasional's (BN) 28. The BN was rumoured to have wooed potential defectors at that time, without success.

Yesterday, PKR Ipoh Barat division head Fauzi Muda produced a sworn statement claiming that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had offered him RM50 million (S$21 million) to woo defectors.

He claimed to have met Mr Najib at his Putrajaya residence on March 11 last year, according to news portal Malaysiakini.

Last week, the PR widened its majority when Umno assemblyman Nasarudin Hashim jumped over, in a move that stoked the political temperatures and led to the current stalemate.

Rumours persist that more defections from both sides are on the way.

Ms Hee Yit Fong, from the opposition DAP, was said to be a possible defector after she could not be contacted for hours on Sunday, but she has denied it.

But Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, an Umno assemblyman, insisted there would be no more defections from Umno.

He told The Straits Times that problems in the state Umno had been resolved after Mr Najib took over the party's leadership in the state.

The PR still has one more weapon: If its coalition government in the state looks likely to topple, it can ask the Sultan of Perak to dissolve the state assembly for fresh state elections. The Sultan holds the sole prerogative to decide on the matter.

Observers believe the ongoing crisis in Perak has its roots in a weak PR government. While they credit Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin for managing the coalition politics well, he has been blindsided by internal conflicts within the component parties in PR, they say.

Internal problems in the DAP has fractured the party, while PKR has weak leaders due to weak grassroots support, they add.

What could happen next

THESE are the possible scenarios that could take place in Perak:

  • The Election Commission can either accept or reject the two assemblymen's resignation letters.

    Accepting them will trigger a by-election that must be held within 60 days. If it rejects the letters, the two assemblymen keep their seats.

    Either way, its decision could be challenged in court.

  • If the Election Commission decides that the two men can keep their seats, they can remain with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), quit to become independents or join Umno.

    If they do not quit, PKR has the option of sacking them.

    As independents, they can choose to support either Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional (BN).

    In this scenario, Pakatan will then hold 30 seats to BN's 27 plus two independents.

  • Perak Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin can seek the consent of the Sultan of Perak to dissolve the state assembly and hold fresh state elections. The Sultan has the prerogative to decide on the matter.
  • More defections could take place. If there are defections from Pakatan to BN, it could topple the state government and put it into the hands of BN.

    At this juncture, the Pakatan government can also seek the consent of the Sultan to hold fresh elections.

  • The Sultan also has the prerogative to decide to appoint a new government from the party that holds the new majority in the assembly without holding fresh elections.

    If there are defections from BN to Pakatan, it will widen Pakatan's seat majority, making it less likely that the government will be toppled.


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