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Umno forgot to ‘kidnap’ the speaker

FEB 28 — One tends to make a mistake when doing something in a hurry. That was what happened to Umno. The unholy haste to topple the PR government in Perak has now landed the party in uncharted waters. The side effect is a constitutional impasse.

It all started when Umno forgot about the speaker. Greedy with power, Umno overlooked the importance of the speaker. Their focus was mainly directed to the three former Pakatan state assemblymen. What they failed to realise is that without the speaker on their side they would be facing the greatest obstacle to convene the assembly.

In a non-military coup, the role of speaker is extremely significant. Failure to take into account the role of the speaker is seriously fatal. Now Umno has felt the pinch due to its own ignorance on the role of the speaker.

Umno might have thought that the speaker had nothing to do with the process of ousting Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, thus toppling the legitimate PR government. Thus they concentrated their effort elsewhere. They mainly focused on how to convince the Sultan of Perak to force Nizar’s resignation.

What Umno failed to realise is that the speaker is not akin to Umno’s permanent chairman (pengerusi tetap). If Umno holds that view the party definitely has committed a very serious and grave error. Any government which follows a Westminster model should know very well how important the role of a speaker is particularly when there is an attempt to overthrow a government via a vote of no confidence. In a political coup like what happened in Perak the speaker is a kingpin.

When the speaker started to exert his power and flex his muscles i.e by suspending Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir and his six exco members, Umno began to concede its foolhardiness. Zambry had to turn to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for assistance. The latter however prescribed a wrong medicine by advising Zambry to lodge a police report. One wonders what business the police have when the matter involves the speaker’s prerogative and constitutional interpretation. Never in history has the police been brought in to investigate the speaker’s power. The constitutional turmoil is beyond the purview of the police domain.

Zambry, I believe, knew very well it was a sheer stupidity to bring the police in. However he and other Umno members have grown up with an embedded culture of blind loyalty to their leaders. It was immaterial, as far as Zambry is concerned, whether Pak Lah gave correct or wrong advice with regard to lodging a police report. Umno’s motto: whenever the higher up says we have to follow blindly. Thus the emergence of 19 reports against V. Sivakumar, the speaker.

If Abdullah had taken pains to get proper legal advice, he surely would have known about the existence of the following laws dealing with the immunity of the speaker, namely the Legislative Assembly (Privileges) Enactment 1959 and Article 72 of the Federal Constitution respectively. These two laws protect the speaker from any civil suit and criminal prosecution whenever he discharges his official duty.

It is submitted that the issue whether the decision of the speaker was legally correct or not does not arise in this matter. The laws,enacted by the BN government, conferred him immunity. The speaker’s decision, unless set aside or quashed by a court of law, was legally valid and binding on Zambry and his six exco members. Non-compliance with the decision of the legitimate speaker is at Zambry’s own peril.

It is axiomatic that almost all countries in the world including Third World countries confer immunity to the speakers of Parliament or the state assembly. There are a plethora of decided cases which show that the speaker’s powers cannot be challenged in any court of law. As far as the court is concerned, the power of the speaker is non-justiciable. It is better to share the following authority with Umno.

In James Eki Mopio vs Speaker of Parliament [1977] PNGLR 420, the case concerned the appointment of Michael Somare as the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea following the general election. James Eki Mopio, the plaintiff, who was a member of the National Parliament, contended that the requirements of s142(4) of the Constitution were not complied with, and on that ground sought a declaration that the appointment of the prime minister was null and void and that a new election of prime minister should have been ordered..

Section 142(4) of the Constitution provides as follows: “(4) If the Parliament is not in session when a Prime Minister is to be appointed, the Speaker shall immediately call a meeting of the Parliament, and the question of the appointment shall be the first matter for consideration, after any formal business and any nomination of a Governor-General or appointment of a Speaker, on the next sitting day.”

Mopio contended that that section went further than to prescribe the order of business for the next sitting day after the meeting of Parliament had been called, and required that the election of the prime minister was to be conducted on the day following the appointment of the speaker. Mopio also submitted that the section was mandatory and not merely directory so that non-compliance would have the effect in law of invalidating the appointment.

After Mopio outlined his case , a preliminary objection was taken by Pokwari Kale on behalf of the speaker that what Mopio was seeking to do was to litigate before the court the question whether a procedure prescribed for the Parliament had been complied with, and that such a question, there being no special provision in a constitutional law to the contrary, was non-justiciable — Constitution, s. 134. So far as Mopio’s reliance on a breach of the Standing Orders was concerned, Kale submitted that as such orders concerned the order and conduct of Parliament’s business and proceedings that matter also was non-justiciable. (Constitution, ss. 133, 134)

The Supreme Court, in dismissing the suit filed by Mopio, held that the matters concerned with the conduct of the business of Parliament and its procedure. Accordingly as the issues before the court involved the question whether that procedure had been complied with, and also the exercise of the freedom of proceedings of Parliament and the functions and duties of the speaker, the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the case .

Zambry now realises that lodging a police report was not a wise move. Such a move made him a laughing stock. He has to switch to another viable option. Thus came the idea of consulting the QC. Money is not a problem to him. For Pakatan leaders engaging a QC is a reflection of a colonial mentality plus a waste of money. However since when Umno really cares about spending a huge sum of money for its political survival?

What is interesting about this Perak fiasco is that despite the collapse of the PR government the office of Pakatan’s speaker remains intact. And the most fascinating fact is that even the Sultan has no power to remove the speaker. He was appointed by the state assembly, thus the removal must also come from the latter unless he resigns or no longer holds office as an assemblyman.

Since the speaker has not lost his office it follows that he still possesses very vast powers in so far as the business of state assembly is concerned. He has inter alia very wide powers to suspend any state assemblymen as he did to Zambry and the six BN exco members. As far as the “three stooges” (don’t tell me you don’t know who they are) are concerned they are no longer assemblymen. The speaker has already made a ruling that their resignations were valid and constitutional under Article 35 of Perak’s Constitution. Even if they consider themselves assemblymen they only represent the Elections Commission and not the rakyat of their respective constituency.

Umno may be proud that the Sultan has backed it in ousting the Pakatan government of Perak. But what transpires now seems to suggest that the life of the BN government is hinging now on the speaker of the PR government which it unjustifiably ousted via undemocratic means.

By Mohamed Hanipa Maidin is the Pas legal adviser.


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