A group of civil society organisations, including Bersih, has called on Attorney-General Idrus Harun to give his public view on the Federal Constitution requiring Parliament to convene six months from the previous sitting.
This was after Idrus publicly said the reconvening of Parliament was a decision for the cabinet and not at the discretion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who had called for a sitting “as soon as possible”.
The government had planned to convene Parliament in September or October, despite the ruler’s position.
The NGOs said the clarification was necessary as there are different interpretations of Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution.
The article states that the Agong shall summon Parliament and shall not allow six months to elapse between the last sitting in one session and the date appointed for the first meeting in the next session.
“We urge the attorney-general to make public his advice to the cabinet on the consequences of failing to reconvene Parliament and the state legislatures within six months after their last sitting day, and whether reconvening these legislative bodies after Aug 1 when the emergency period expires would result in the automatic dissolution of Parliament and the state legislatures,” the NGOs said.
The last Parliament sitting ended on Dec 29 last year. The six-month rule does not apply during the emergency period.
However, the question is whether the clock was “frozen” on the day the emergency was enforced or whether the clock continued to tick during the emergency, requiring Parliament to be convened just before the emergency expires in August to overcome the six-month requirement.
“To avoid the potential of an automatic dissolution, therefore, Parliament and the state legislatures should be convened on or by Aug 1.
“Another interpretation is that the constitutional six-month maximum interval is suspended midway on Jan 11 when the emergency commenced, and the remaining five months will start to run from Aug 2 once the emergency period expires,” they said.
The NGOs added given the lack of legal clarity, it would be better to err on the safe side and to convene Parliament before Aug 1.
“Urgently convening Parliament and state legislative assemblies is crucial at this time given the need to address the Covid-19 pandemic, the weakening economy, and to provide for greater political stability towards addressing necessary reforms. A snap election is the last thing the country needs now when daily new cases still run above 5,000,” they said.
The statement was jointly issued by Bersih, Bait al Amanah, Engage, Ideas, Pusat Komas, Reform and Undi18.
The NGOs said they understood that Idrus was in a difficult position, as he had to advise both the Agong and the government.
“The attorney-general is duty-bound to advise both the cabinet and His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which he would not be able to do if the duties, preferences, and interests of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration and that of the constitutional monarch diverge,” they added.
However, they said the Agong, in line with Article 130 of the Federal Constitution, may also seek advice from the Federal Court.
Meanwhile, lawyer New Sin Yew rebuffed the notion that Parliament can be dissolved after six months without sitting.
“This is not true. Under Article 55 of the Federal Constitution, dissolution only happens upon (1) advice of the prime minister; (2) expiry of the five-year term,” he tweeted this morning.
New said under the Federal Constitution, Parliament cannot be dissolved simply because it did not sit for six months.
“The same goes for state legislative assemblies by virtue of Article 71 of the Federal Constitution (which are) read with the Eighth Schedule of the Federal Constitution,” he added.
Yesterday, the lawyer took a swipe at Pakatan Harapan for “misconstruing” the law to fit the federal opposition’s desired outcome of reconvening Parliament.
Speaking to Malaysiakini, New said he too wants Parliament to sit again but not at the expense of established constitutional principles.
“Point is, we shouldn’t drag the Agong into our mess. Speak to your MPs, your state assemblypersons, your local politicians, and tell them to end the emergency and lobby for Parliament to reconvene. If they don’t, speak to everyone you know to kick them out.
“To those who continue to defend the misguided notion that the Agong may summon Parliament without the advice of the prime minister, Article 40(2) of the Federal Constitution provides matters which His Majesty may act in his discretion.
“Summoning of Parliament is not one such matter,” he said.
Constitutional law expert Shad Saleem Faruqi said under Article 150(3) of the Federal Constitution, a proclamation of emergency and emergency ordinances can be annulled through Parliament.
Debating and voting on the proclamation and ordinances after the emergency expires on Aug 1, he added, would render such efforts academic.
“In my view, the emergency proclamation should be laid before Parliament before the emergency ends.
“There is no point in laying something with the view to scrutinising it once it has already come to an end. Why go get a divorce after a spouse has already died? It is too late, isn’t it?” Shad told Malaysiakini.