Perak in constitutional limbo

(Business Times Singapore) KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — The Perak state assembly was adjourned indefinitely after a shambolic start with the Regent having to wait six hours to declare open the proceedings amid unruly scenes in the House: near-scuffles among lawmakers, shouting, and the unceremonious ejection of speaker V. Sivakumar from the chamber by plainclothes policemen.

Ipoh was locked down by the police who cordoned off the assembly premises. In the process, scores of people including opposition lawmakers were detained by the police.

The problem essentially hinges on the fact that neither coalition — the opposition Pakatan Rakyat nor the Barisan Nasional — recognises each other’s authority. Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin, the former mentri besar from Pakatan, continues to claim that he remains mentri besar although the state’s monarch appointed Barisan’s Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir in his place.

Meanwhile, Sivakumar, a Pakatan lawmaker, insists he is still speaker although the Barisan claims to have appointed its representative Datuk R. Ganesan to the chair.

In many ways, the situation in Perak mirrors the increasingly fractious nature of Malaysian national politics.

But the state’s case is even more untenable with more and more people concluding that the state is ungovernable and the situation can only be resolved through fresh polls. The latest to call for such a move was BN’s Tan Sri Dr Abdul Hamid Pawanteh, the Senate President and a former chief minister of northern Perlis state.

The Perak situation is complicated by the fact that the Pakatan lawmakers also refuse to accept a recent Federal Court decision that went against them on the grounds that the courts have no business interfering with the legislative based on the doctrine of separation of powers.

Last month, the Federal Court decreed that Sivakumar did not have the power to suspend the Zambry and six other Barisan lawmakers from the state assembly. That decision, in the eyes of the Barisan, legitimised their claim to power and paved the way for yesterday’s sitting.

Perak has been in constitutional limbo since February 6. On that day, Sultan Azlan Shah, the state’s monarch, ruled out fresh polls and recognised Barisan as the government after three oppositionists resigned their respective parties to become “independents” supportive of the BN. The crossovers effectively toppled the opposition Pakatan government.

Even so, the then Mentri Besar Nizar refused to resign and, indeed, still claims to be the state’s legitimate leader. To compound the matter, Sivakumar reduced the BN’s numbers in the assembly by suspending the seven men on “disciplinary” grounds.

Yesterday’s sitting was a farce and unprecedented in Malaysian parliamentary democracy. Dr Zambry repeatedly tried to table a motion to remove Sivakumar as speaker but was repeatedly rebuffed by the speaker.

In the end, Ganesan was installed as the “legitimate” speaker at one end of the House but shouting and pushing occurred when he attempted to take Sivakumar’s chair. This led to the physical ejection of Sivakumar from the house.

Some semblance of order was restored after the regent Raja Nazrin Shah arrived at 3 pm, some six hours later than planned, to open the assembly. He spoke privately to the Pakatan leaders who then ordered all their assemblymen into the chamber for the Regent’s speech.

Raja Nazrin’s speech, however, avoided any mention of the constitutional brouhaha in his state. Instead, he spoke about the economy, the stimulus package, even swine flu.