Fresh polls in Perak may be only way out

By Baradan Kuppusamy (The Malaysian Insider)

Pakatan Rakyat is left hamstrung and with few or no options after the Election Commission ruled that it will not hold by-elections for the Behrang and Changkat Jering state seats in Perak.

PR can challenge the decision in court or dissolve the state assembly and go for fresh elections 11 months after the first on March 8 last year and let the people vote to resolve the issue.

But going to court is an unattractive proposition and dissolving the assembly, although attractive, is out of its hands.

After losing heavily on March 8, 2008 and after suffering defeats in two recent by-elections and with a party election and power transition around the corner, Umno/BN appears all set against any elections for now.

The Umno/BN reluctance for elections is also compounded by the fact that the public mood is still against it and for various reasons, as results of recent opinion surveys show.

Therefore it was a boon when the Election Commission, very rightly, held that by-elections would not be held because the use of undated resignation letters has been previously ruled invalid by the Supreme Court.

The problem with such letters is that they are undated at the time of signing and later on somebody else inserts the dates, usually on the instruction of the top party leader, and dispatches them to the speaker, an action that makes a mockery of the democratic process.

It also borders on the criminal as had been argued in court previously.

Notwithstanding what the politicians are saying, legal opinion is overwhelmingly towards regarding such letters as invalid so even if PR does go to court, the political crisis would not be resolved.

With the two PR excos — Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Mohd Osman Jailu — all but flown the coop — politically and legally — it seems pointless to go to court to argue that pre-signed resignation letters are valid, unless it is to buy time.

Even DAP national chairman and lawyer Karpal Singh was quoted yesterday as saying it would be counter-productive to go to court to challenge the EC's decision since there was already a precedent.

"The EC has gone through the legality of the authority and based on this, it is right," he had said.

Besides a court suit is time consuming even if it is an application for a order of mandamus to compel the Election Commission to hold the by-elections.

The orders can be appealed all the way to the Federal Court.

If a trial takes place it would also embarrassingly lift the veil on the "who, what, why, when and how" of the pre-signed, undated resignation letters.

Not only on those done by PKR but also by the DAP which is said to include a clause requiring signatories to pay RM1 million in damages if they switch camps.

"It would also expose the potentially damaging question of who inserted the dates on the undated letters and how these letters were transmitted to the Speaker V. Sivakumar who has variously said it was faxed or delivered to him," said a lawyer who declined to be named.

Going to court could open a can of worms.

The only options left for the PR coalition is to dissolve the state assembly and call for fresh elections, in which case it stands to win and with a bigger majority to end the political crisis once and for all.

"We don't have any other option," Perak exco member and senior lawyer A. Sivanesan told The Malaysian Insider.

"We must return to the people and get a new mandate to resolve the crisis and we are confident based on our performance in the last 10 months that the voters will return us with a bigger majority," he said.

"I don't see how else this crisis can be resolved in a fair and democratic manner," he said, adding the people of Perak are upset and angry with the PKR duo who jumped ship, and are ready to punish any and all defectors.

The situation is however critical for PR because the defection of the two PKR men could only be the tip of the iceberg.

As had happened in Sabah in the 1990s, defection starts as a trickle before bursting into a flood.

At the moment Umno is hugely preoccupied and has little energy to handle defections let alone by-elections or a fresh state election, giving PR a precious few months to breathe and get its act together.

The key question for PR is: can it succeed in getting the state assembly dissolved for fresh elections, defeat its political enemies and return to power?

Sadly it is a question PR on its own cannot decide.

For this it needs the consent of the palace.

Indications are the palace is not keen to put the people through another expensive and potentially divisive round of elections just 10 months after the March 8 general election.

Again, going by precedent the palace would prefer all political parties sitting in the assembly to negotiate and achieve a political settlement instead of another round of bruising elections especially with the economy heading downhill and jobs getting scarce.

If palace reluctance for dissolution of the state assembly pans out, PR will have to carry on on a razor-thin, one-seat majority like Pas had in Kelantan between 2004 and 2008.

But PR had better pray its remaining 30 state assemblymen remain loyal for the long term.

The key to winning political loyalty is to pick people of integrity and high ethical values as candidates and not undated pre-signed resignation letters.