Dilemma over law and tradition in Perak

(The Straits Times) – The stand-off between Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin and the Sultan Azlan Shah boils down to a squabble over a strict interpretation of the state Constitution and tradition, experts say.

Yesterday, the Sultan rejected Nizar's request to dissolve the state assembly and call for snap polls. The Menteri Besar has refused to accept that and plans an appeal. Legally, though, the Sultan has every right to do what he did.

The state Constitution gives the monarch the final say and his decision cannot be overruled. In short, without his consent, the state assembly cannot be dissolved.

But traditionally, the Sultan does not overrule the government of the day, political science lecturer James Chin told The Straits Times.

Sultan Azlan, who is a lawyer by training, himself wrote in a 2004 book on the Constitutional monarchy in which he commented on the sultan's power.

“His role is purely formal,” he wrote.

The Sultan does not have the legal power to force the Menteri Besar to resign, the way he tried to yesterday.

Last night, veteran Umno leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah released a statement commenting on the situation unfolding in Perak.

In it, he said that Nizar is lawfully the Menteri Besar until he resigns of his own accord, or is removed by a vote of no-confidence in a formal sitting of the assembly.

“The Constitution makes no provision for his removal by any other means, including by petitions or instructions from any other authority,” he wrote.

Yet, because Malaysia's sultans wield considerable moral authority, it is rare to see their decisions being publicly disputed.

Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, a former United Nations special rapporteur for judicial independence, told Agence France-Presse that “a constitutional crisis is brewing” in the country.

The Barisan Nasional government is already proceeding as if it has regained control of Perak. Chin said that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition might file a lawsuit challenging the validity of the new government.