Not a must for Najib to test support among MPs, say lawyers


(The Malaysian Insider) – With Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak confident of support for his leadership from the top leaders of his party, Umno, would he want to seek a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat to prove he has the backing of elected representatives and, thus, the people?

There is no necessity for him to do so, constitutional lawyers say, despite a challenge from DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang to do so, as the Backbenchers Club has already pledged full support for him amid strident attacks on Najib’s leadership by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The legal experts said there was also no precedent in a Westminster system when a prime minister had of his own volition sought a confidence vote midway during his term.

It would also very much depend on the speaker of the Dewan Rakyat or lower house to allow a vote of no-confidence by the opposition against Najib, they added.

Moreover, given present political developments, it was doubtful if the entire opposition bloc would support such a move as the Islamist party PAS, a component member of Pakatan Rakyat (PR), is trying to woo Barisan Nasional (BN) into passing a private member’s bill to amend a federal law that will allow hudud or the Islamic penal code to be enforced in Kelantan.

Lawyer Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said legally, a prime minister could seek a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat but that was not a necessity.

“It can be done but I cannot recall of a precedent in a parliamentary democracy.

“But in our case, it is unnecessary because the BN Backbenchers Club (Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad) has pledged full support for Najib to remain as prime minister,” said Sri Ram, a former Federal Court judge.

Sri Ram said there was only one occasion in 1976 when the head of a state – former Selangor menteri besar Datuk Harun Idris – lost such a vote that was brought by assemblymen from his own coalition.

“The motion was allowed to go through by the speaker of the house,” he said, adding that Harun had also fallen foul of the national leadership.

The opposition could also initiate such vote but with 89 MPs at its disposal, it was highly impossible to remove Najib unless they obtained support from BN MPs.

Sri Ram was commenting on a statement by Lim, who challenged Najib to prove his support from elected representatives by seeking a motion of confidence when the Dewan Rakyat re-convenes on Monday.

This comes after the Umno Supreme Council on Monday night reaffirmed its support for Najib as the party president, following criticism, including calls for his resignation over his leadership, policies, alleged lavish personal spending, and especially his brainchild, the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) strategic investment fund.

Various Umno leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, had issued critical statements against 1MDB and called for answers and accountability, but in the end, there was no call for Najib to step down by Supreme Council members as some were expecting.

The president of Umno, as the leading ruling party in the BN coalition, also becomes the prime minister.

Lim, who has been a federal lawmaker since 1969 except for a period from 1999 to 2004, said there had never been a precedent of a no-confidence motion in the Malaysian Parliament in the past 56 years.

However, there is a precedent for a “vote of confidence” motion on the prime minister, which was moved in the Dewan Rakyat on January 27, 1976, by then Tun Hussein Onn when he became Malaysia’s third prime minister after the death of his predecessor, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.

Lawyer Dominic Putucheary said usually a vote of no-confidence would come from the opposition bench and such a motion needs a minimum 14-day notice to the speaker.

“It is up to the speaker to put up the motion. If he exercises his discretion in the interest of the nation rather than being political, then such a vote should be tested,” said Putucheary, a former BN MP.

“Unless the speaker obliges, the motion will not see the light of the day and there will be no debate.”

Lawyer Chan Kok Keong said there was no reason for Najib to go through a confidence motion because he was appointed prime minister soon after the 13th general election and the Agong had been satisfied that he had the support of the majority of lawmakers.