Lawyers: AG’s remark about no confidence vote is against democracy

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Attorney-General Idrus Harun should have not suggested that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob does not need to face a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat, legal experts said.

They said that seeking a motion of confidence is part of a democratic process and does not diminish the power of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong under the Federal Constitution.

Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla said that Idrus’ suggestion implied that there is a conflict of interest between the prime minister (PM) and the attorney-general (AG).

“His suggestion is not right and is against the rule of law. He cannot make suggestions that seem to precede the government,” Haniff said.

Azhar Mahfof/The Star

“In this matter, the King himself had said that anyone who was appointed as the PM must undergo a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat and by having the vote of confidence, it does not erode the power of the King although his Majesty had agreed to Ismail’s appointment as the PM.

“The AG must be fair in his statement and must not take sides,” Haniff added.

Yesterday, Idrus said Ismail need not undergo a vote of confidence as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is already satisfied with his majority in Parliament.

The king had an audience with 114 out of 220 MPs on August 19 to confirm their statutory declarations in support of Ismail, Idrus said.

The Bera MP took his oath of office as PM on August 21.

The AG said that since Ismail had been made the country’s ninth prime minister in accordance with processes stated in the federal constitution, there is no need for a confidence vote.

Lawyer Kee Hui Yee said Ismail needs to prove his majority as it is in line with the spirit of democracy.

She explained that although the constitution does not require such a motion to be tabled in Parliament, it is one of the ways to end a political crisis.

“Part of the AG’s role is to advise the government on the laws with regard to the administration of the country, but I do not agree with the comments he made about (a) vote of confidence (not being) required.

“He needs to prove it and the people have the right to know whether Ismail truly commands the confidence of the house.

“It is to show and convince the public you have enough support,” she said.

In a press statement by Istana Negara on August 18, the King decreed that whoever became the new prime minister ought to face a vote of confidence in Parliament. This was also communicated to the representatives of political parties on August 17, when the King had an audience with the respective party heads.

Opposition leaders have also echoed the sentiment that Ismail should face a confidence vote.

Lawyers New Sin Yew and Asheeq Ali Sethi Alivi agree that the AG was correct in saying that there is no requirement in the constitution for the PM to prove his majority in Parliament through a vote of confidence, and that it was sufficient that the majority was proven via the interviews with the Agong.

However, Ismail should put any doubt about the command of his majority in Parliament to the test.

“(The) Agong’s decree previously had stressed on the importance of proving the majority via a vote in Parliament. As a matter of respect to the YDPA, the vote of confidence should be done,” said Asheeq.

Asheeq added that by doing so, Ismail will set a good precedent.

“The vote of confidence will only strengthen the PM if he really has the numbers. Conducting it would be a great advantage for himself, also a good precedent for the betterment of democracy in Malaysia,” he said.

The Dewan Rakyat was to have its first meeting of a new term on September 6, but this was postponed to September 13 after Ismail took office.

The constitution does not specify voting as the method of determining a prime minister’s support in the Dewan Rakyat, but it would be seen as a move in favour of transparency and clarity in view of Ismail’s slim majority.

Ismail’s predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, was supposed to face a confidence vote this month due to his wavering majority. Muhyiddin had then appealed for the opposition’s support in return for certain reforms. His offer was however rejected, which prompted his resignation and paved the way for Ismail to become the new prime minister. – TMI