Seamless, orderly transfer of power to Wan Azizah

– Tommy Thomas
The Malaysian Insider
21 August 2014

The unanimous decision of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition to support Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the next Menteri Besar of Selangor means that she will be able to secure 43 votes in a confidence motion in the 56-member Selangor State Legislative Assembly.

One cannot imagine a clearer case of a candidate commanding the confidence of the majority of the Assembly.Yet, there is much disinformation clouding the matter.

Perhaps the best way to provide clarity is to consider previous Barisan Nasional (BN) precedents, particularly at the Federal level.

The Federal Constitution and the 13 State Constitutions follow the Westminister system of parliamentary democracy with regard to the appointment of the Prime Minister and the Menteri Besar, whether after a general election or between elections.

The relevant provisions are Articles 40(2) and 43 of the Federal Constitution which are mirrored in Articles 12, 16 and 18 in the Perak Constitution and Articles 51, 53 and 55 of the Selangor Constitution. They are substantially similar.

The first opportunity for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to exercise discretion to appoint a prime minister of Malaysia outside elections occurred in 1976 with the death of the second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak.

The political reality in 1976 was that although the federal government comprised members of all the BN coalition component parties, the dominant political party was Umno. Its deputy president, Tun Hussein Onn was the deputy prime minister.

The transfer of power to Hussein Onn was orderly and seamless. There was no question of the constitutional monarch asking the BN coalition to put forward another candidate to Hussein Onn; nor was there any need for a general election.

Similar orderly transfers of power occurred in 1981 when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister, in 2003 when Tun Abdullah Badawi became prime minister, and in 2009 when Datuk Seri Najib Razak became prime minister.

In each case, the incumbent resigned from office. Yet in none of the three episodes did the Agong ask for two candidates, and general elections were never an option.

So by established political reality and constitutional convention, when Pakatan puts forward Dr Wan Azizah as their leader in Selangor with the support of 43 members in a 56-member House, a transfer of power should occur, as has happened in this country on countless occasions.

It should be equally orderly and seamless. It is certainly not a crisis situation. Nor is there an emergency. It is just an illustration of a political coalition wishing to change its leader in mid-stream: a common enough occurrence in democracy which Umno has done many times.

It must never be forgotten that in Selangor, Pakatan secured over 1 million votes representing more than 60% of the total votes cast, well over the 52% popular vote that it had received nationally. For these voters, so long as Pakatan remains the governing coalition, the personality of the menteri besar is very much a secondary issue. Dr Wan Azizah would certainly be supported by the vast majority of this electorate.

Finally, even at the state level, the recent episode in Perak is instructive. The 31-28 Pakatan majority in 2008 became a 31-28 BN majority in 2009 when three assemblymen switched allegiance. Datuk Seri Nizar Jamalludin, as the menteri besar who lost support of the majority, sought dissolution of the Assembly, which was refused by the Sultan of Perak. BN’s nominee, Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir, was sworn in as the new menteri besar. The BN coalition governed the state comfortably for the remaining 4 years.

If elections were refused when an incoming menteri besar (Zambry) was leading a coalition with a margin of 31-28, what more when an incoming menteri besar (Dr Wan Azizah) will be leading a coalition with a margin of 43-13. Only stability will ensue. Accordingly, Dr Wan Azizah should be sworn in as menteri besar as soon as possible. – August 21, 2014.

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