Perak crisis far from over

Comment by BARADAN KUPPUSAMY, The Star

THE unanimous decision of the Federal Court on Thursday to rule that the three Perak assemblymen, whose Feb 5 defection brought down the Pakatan Rakyat government, remain assemblymen paves the way for a possible resolution of the constitutional crisis in the state and a return to normalcy.

The balance in the state assembly was hung with both sides having 28 assemblymen each.

But the Federal Court decision has resolved that political stalemate, giving the Barisan Nasional a precious three-seat majority in the 59-seat state assembly.

With that, the three defectors – former Parti Keadilan Rakyat assemblymen Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang) and Mohd Osman Jailu (Changkat Jering), and former DAP assemblyman Hew Yit Foong (Jelapang) – who declared themselves “friendly” to the Barisan, will vote with it in the assembly.

The Pakatan through their speaker V. Sivakumar had suspended the three and the six Barisan Nasional exco-members during the crisis that followed the collapse of the Pakatan government in the hope of scuttling the takeover and forcing a fresh state election.

But they failed because the Perak palace accepted the three defectors as bona fide members allied with the Barisan and thus part of a new majority.

The Sultan proceeded to swear in Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as the new Mentri Besar of Perak on Feb 5 but there was no vote of confidence in the assembly to show all that the new government enjoys a majority.

That major flaw can now be rectified.

With 31 assemblymen on his side Dr Zambry can now safely call for a state assembly sitting and gain legitimacy through a confidence vote.

There is some urgency in the situation because a sitting must be legally held before May 13, that is, six months after the last sitting in November, 2008.

Two weeks notice of a sitting must be given to all representatives and this means an assembly sitting is most likely to be held later this month.

If the Barisan submits to a vote of confidence and it is carried, it would go a long way to resolving the legitimacy issue surrounding the Dr Zambry-led Government.

However, Thursday’s Federal Court decision does not altogether resolve all the issues – legal and political – that surrounds the crisis because other ambiguities and lacuna remain unresolved, according to Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan.

“We are unhappy with the Federal Court decision because it takes away powers from elected officials and gives it to appointed officials to decide on a vacancy or not,” Ragunath said.

“Nevertheless, the decision on Thursday means that the three assemblymen can now walk into the assembly and take their seats … unless the Federal Court decision is reviewed,” he said.

He said that despite the decision, uncertainties remain, especially over the status of Dr Zambry and the seven exco members who were suspended by Sivakumar in February for accepting their appointments as executives by the palace.

In addition, there are also other cases pending in the courts, including one over who is the rightful Mentri Besar of Perak – Dr Zambry or Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin, the newly-elected Bukit Gantang MP.

“These issues need to be clarified before an assembly can be convened,” said Ragunath.

The Federal Court is scheduled to hear on Monday the application by Dr Zambry and his exco challenging their suspensions by Sivakumar and if they win, it opens the way for them to also take their places in the upcoming assembly sitting.

The exco members are already performing their duties without much hindrance but if they lose on Monday it would throw the state into another painful constitutional crisis.

For some people, the issue is simple.

They reject the Perak power grab saying it was unfair and improper, a view confirmed by Nizar’s victory on Tuesday.

The vote, however, failed to resolve the constitutional predicament the state is trapped in unless, in some view, the assembly is dissolved and a fresh mandate sought.

But that scenario seems unlike now that, with the three Barisan-friendly representatives, the Barisan enjoys a slim majority.

The climax, however, is when the assembly convenes later this month where the Barisan, even with the three-seat majority, has to contend with a hostile Speaker in Sivakumar who has shown a readiness to use the powers of his office, rightly or wrongly, to defend the interest of the Pakatan Rakyat.