Who says it cannot happen here? – The Malaysian Insider

(The Malaysian Insider) – Who says it cannot happen here? A few years ago, Thailand was flying, its economy buzzing, its' assured prime minister harbouring ambitions of becoming the regional strongman and the pesky army firmly confined to the barracks.

That was the postcard perfect Thailand. The real Thailand was churning below the surface. Criminals were being gunned down vigilante style.

Thaksin Shinawatra was running the kingdom as if it were an appendix to his telecommunications empire, sidelining institutions along the way.

Disturbed by Thaksin's growing influence, the Bangkok elite and the military with the blessings of the Thai king moved to clip the wings of the popular Thai premier.

Every institution in the country was mobilized to achieve this end – the constitutional court, the police and the media.

Even after winning the elections, Thaksin's supporters were booted out of government, many argue unconstitutionally, replaced by a government lacking in that precious commodity called legitimacy.

Little wonder that that thousands of his supporters have taken their fight outside the system and to the streets.

They feel disenfranchised and do not for a minute believe that any of the institutions in the country will act justly or have their interest at heart.

Not the King. Not the army. Not the courts. Not Parliament. Not the police.

The red shirts are not the only ones who are going outside the system to seek justice.

It has happened in Egypt, Algeria and other countries where hopelessness and frustration persuades a segment of the population to take matters into their own hands.

Who says it cannot happen here?

PAS secretary-general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar suggested that the Thai scenario could be replicated in Perak and got the usual Barisan Nasional treatment.

Pseudo liberal Datuk Rais Yatim  said that the Pas politician can be charged with sedition for inciting trouble while the man who got the Perak Mentri Besar position on the cheap, mumbled something similar.

But tossing him behind bars is not going to change the reality which is this: Who says it cannot happen here?

To be fair to PAS, despite being on the sidelines of Malaysian politics for decades and suffering  heavily at the polls until 1999, they have operated within the system.

Even when non-Malays rebuffed them in 1999, their politicians did not go out on a witch hunt against Chinese and Indians.

Still, let us not kid ourselves that everything is hunky-dory in Malaysia.

The gini-coefficient or inequality in the distribution of wealth in Malaysia is one of the highest in Asia, providing fertile ground for a class struggle.

And then there are the institutions.  To say that they are suffering from a confidence deficit is an understatement.

Questionable deaths in police custody, rampaging crime in neighbourhoods, corruption in the force and being used by ruling party politicians to do their dirty work has soiled the image of the police force.

Then there is the institution of the constitutional monarch.

When the monarch stays above politics and when he acts as the honest broker, he is a unifier.

When he is viewed as a partisan in a power grab or when his actions perpetuate an injustice, then he becomes part of the decaying system.

Surveys have confirmed what many Malaysians think about Sultan Azlan Shah's decision not to dissolve the state assembly and allow for fresh elections following the defection of three Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers.

Yes, several thousand Opposition supporters demonstrated outside the palace gates in Kuala Kangsar in February just before Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir was installed as the new MB. But that was an isolated incident.

Pakatan Rakyat leaders chose the legislative and legal route to resolve the Perak crisis. Because an avenue was still open to them, they operated within the system.

Speaker V Sivakumar accepted the unsigned letters of resignation from the three and declared their seats vacant.

Sitting as the head of the committee of privileges, he also suspended Zambry and six other BN assemblymen.

In the eyes of Pakatan Rakyat leaders and constitutional lawyers, what Sivakumar did was well within his powers.

When the trio and Zambry and friends went to court to nullify Sivakumar's decisions, Pakatan Rakyat were confident that the courts would throw out the cases on the clearly established point that the judiciary should not interfere in the decisions of the legislature.

This point is spelt out clearly in the Federal Constitution and has been upheld not one but five time by courts in Malaysia.

This same principle, under which the doctrine of separation of powers rests, is protected by the courts in Britain, India, Singapore, Australia and the United States.

But the five-man Federal Court which heard the Perak issues last week and this week have decided to chart their own course.

Last week they ruled that it is the Election Commission which can declare a seat vacant in the legislature – a decision which allows the three defectors to take their place in the assembly.

Today, they ruled that Sivakumar was wrong in suspending Zambry and the other BN lawmakers.

The upshot of both decisions is that when the assembly sits next, the BN will have enough lawmakers to remove Sivakumar as the speaker of the Perak assembly.

They have also set a precedent – allowing the courts to interfere in legislative affairs and puncturing the doctrine of separation of powers.

How they reached these two decisions in the face of overwhelming authority here and abroad are anyone's guess?

Constitutional lawyers are stumped but they believe that all is not lost.

They note that court decisions in several Commonwealth countries indicate clearly that the legislature does not have to submit itself to a decision of the courts.

So Sivakumar and the Pakatan Rakyat gang can treat the Federal Court's decision as a paper judgment.

But Malaysians watching the sordid power grab called the Perak crisis know that this is really the last stand.

When this final avenue of seeking justice and fair play disappears, what then?

That is why only the misguided will rejoice at the sight of Malaysia's institutions hollowing out and being unable to offer comfort and refuge to the man in the street.

Look what has happened in Thailand.

Who says it cannot happen here?