End in sight in battle for Perak

With their suspensions now lifted, BN will have a slim three-seat majority in the 59-seat assembly, enough to convene an assembly before the May 13 deadline and take a confidence vote to give its administration the legitimacy it now lacks.

By Baradan Kuppusamy, The Malaysian Insider

With Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Zambry Abd Kadir’s victory in court today, the tussle for control of the state is now reaching its final lap.

Despite the Federal Court’s ruling today which effectively declared null and void Speaker V. Sivakumar’s suspension from the legislature of Zambry and his six executive councillors, the state assembly must meet by May 13 to avoid an automatic dissolution.

The tussle for power in Perak between the Pakatan Rakyat and the Barisan Nasional now rests on whether the state assembly sits before May 13.

A state assembly sitting must be held on or before that day, which is exactly six months after the last sitting in November 2008.

If BN fails to convene an assembly by that time the state assembly is automatically dissolved and fresh state elections must be held within 60 days.

The PR alliance, which lost the Perak government on Feb 5 after three of its assemblymen defected to become BN-friendly independents, is racing against time to scuttle any moves to convene the assembly.

And the battleground is the courts.

The PR strategy is to exploit the rules and procedures of the courts to delay or stonewall decisions, at least until the May 13 deadline expires and the assembly stands dissolved automatically.

The BN strategy is to prevent the delays, demand for immediate hearings and hopefully have the decisions go their way.

A key issue is the suspension of the three defectors and the seven BN men by Sivakumar.

With their suspensions now lifted, BN will have a slim three-seat majority in the 59-seat assembly, enough to convene an assembly before the May 13 deadline and take a confidence vote to give its administration the legitimacy it now lacks.

This is provided the three defectors and all Umno and the sole MCA assemblymen stay true to BN when a confidence vote is taken by secret ballot.

The PR alliance suffered a defeat when the Federal Court ruled last Thursday that the three Perak assemblymen, whose Feb 5 defection brought down the government, remain assemblymen and have not resigned.

With that decision the three defectors — Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang), Mohd Osman Jailu (Changkat Jering) and Hee Yit Foong (Jelapang) — can vote with BN in the assembly.

The Sultan appointed Zambry the new mentri besar on Feb 5 but there was no confidence vote in the assembly to show that the new government enjoys a majority.

That major flaw can now be rectified.

With 31 assemblymen, Zambry can now call for a state assembly sitting and hopefully gain legitimacy through a confidence vote.

Two weeks’ notice of a sitting must also be given to all representatives and this means an assembly sitting is most likely later this month or early May.

However the Federal Court decision does not altogether resolve all the issues — legal and political — that surround the crisis because other matters remain unresolved, according to Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan.

“We are very 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 of the court’s ruling last week that it was the Election Commission and not the Speaker who had the right to decide on vacancies in the legislative assembly.

“Nevertheless the decision last week means that the three assemblymen can now walk into the assembly and take their seats,” he said.

But he pointed out that there are also other cases pending in the courts including one over who is the rightful mentri besar of Perak — Zambry or Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin, the newly elected Bukit Gantang MP.

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

For some people the issue is not so simple and the crisis can only be resolved by way of a fresh state election.

They reject the Perak power grab, saying it was unfair and improper, a view which was apparently confirmed by Nizar’s victory last week at the polls in Bukit Gantang.

The vote for Nizar however has failed to resolve the constitutional predicament the state is trapped in.

The climax of the tussle now unraveling in the courts is when the state assembly convenes.

BN will have 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 PR alliance.

Considering the urgency of the situation for BN, the first item on the agenda of the upcoming assembly will likely be the removal of the Speaker and the appointment of someone friendly to them.

This would probably be the DAP defector Hee Yit Fong, who is now deputy speaker but has always desired to be Speaker and enjoy the perks and benefits of the office.