As the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has signed the Transparency International-Malaysia’s Election Integrity Pledge on Feb. 20 to observe the principles of integrity, ethical conduct, accountability, transparency and good governance in the 13th General Elections, he must uphold and recognise the concept and conventions of caretaker government when Parliament is dissolved or at the end of the five-year term of Parliament.
Najib has delared that he wants to make Malaysia “the best democracy in the world”. If he is serious, it is beholden upon him to observe the best practices of mature and better-functioning democracies in other parts of the world, one of which is the concept and conventions on caretaker governments.
A caretaker government provision recognises that on the dissolution of Parliament, the day-to-day business of government must continue on ordinary matters of administration to allow for the normal operations of all government departments, but a Caretaker Government is limited and precluded from making major policy decisions or appointments.
In Australia, for instance, five broad principles have been spelt out in its Caretaker Government Conventions, viz:
*Major policy decisions. The Government will cease taking major policy decisions except on urgent matters and then only after formal consultation with the Opposition.
*Significant appointments. The Government will cease making major appointments of public officials, but may make acting or short-term appointments.
*Major contracts or undertakings. The Government will avoid entering major contracts or undertakings during the caretaker period. If it is not possible to defer the commitment until after the caretaker period, for legal, commercial or other reasons, a minister could consult the Opposition, or agencies could deal with the contractor and ensure that contracts include clauses providing for termination in the event of an incoming government not wishing to proceed. Similar provisions cover tendering.
*International negotiations and visits. The Government ordinarily seeks to defer such major international negotiations, or adopts observer status, until the end of the caretaker period.
*Avoiding public service involvement in election activities. The public service adopts a neutral stance while continuing to advise the Government.
In another two days is the fifth anniversary of the historic “308 political tsunami” of the 12th General Elections, a watershed in Malaysian electoral history which saw Pakatan Rakyat victory in Penang, Kedah, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan.
The five-year term of Parliament, however, is not calculatede from the previous general elections on March 8, 2008 but from the first meeting of the 12th Parliament on 28th April 2008.
This means that Najib can drag out dissoution of Parliament for another 50 days, but by midnight of 27th April 2008, the 12th Parliament stands automatically dissolved without the necessity for any formal dissolution by the Prime Minister, even without any need to seek an audience with the Yang di Pertuan Agong.
However, as the Negri Sembilan State Assembly will be automatically dissolved on March 26 (as its first meeting was on March 27, 2008), it would be most odd and a most adverse reflection on Najib’s leadership if Parliament continues to be in existence but a Barisan Nasional-controlled State Assembly has already been dissolved.
For this reason, I expect the 12th Parliament to be dissolved by March 26 with general elections held within 60 days to elect the 13th Parliament as well as for the various State Assemblies.
Is Najib prepared to accept the concept and conventions of a caretaker government when Parliament is dissolved, as for the firs time in the 56-year of the nation, there is a possibility that there could be an alternation of federal power, with Pakatan Rakyat replacing Barisan Nasional in Putrajaya, and the appointment of a new Prime Minister who is not from UMNO/Barisan Nasional?
I would even go one step further and argue that from Friday, March 8, 2013 which marks the fifth anniversary of the last general elections, public and political morality demands that Najib should regard himself as a caretaker Prime Minister and his Cabinet a Caretaker Cabinet, and that they should not make any major or substantive decisions whether concerning policy, appointments, contractual obligations or abuse and misuse of the public service, whether personnel, resources and public funds without consultation with the Opposition.
In this period of caretaker government, the caretaker Prime Minister and the caretaker Cabinet should consult with Pakatan Rakyat leaders on issues of major national import – for instance, the handling of the Sabah Sulu crisis which affect the national sovereignty and the security, safety and welfare of thje people of Sabah and security forces personnel.
As Najib is morally a caretaker Prime Minister after March 8, I urge him to brief and consult with Pakatan Rakyat leaders on the Sabah Sulu crisis.
(Media Conference Statement in Plentong, Johore Baru on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 10 am)