Parliament must reconvene soon or fall into a constitutional crisis

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Malaysia risks falling into a constitutional crisis if Parliament only sits after Aug 1, after the Emergency Declaration is lifted.

  • A 30-day window considered reasonable for the government to prepare to reconvene Parliament, in line with the phrase “as soon as possible” in the King’s decree
  • Dewan Rakyat should sit at the end of July, before the Emergency is lifted on Aug 1, or no later than Aug 2
  • Should PM refuse to heed the call by the king, this could lead to a “constitutional embarrassment” since the Agong is the head of Parliament
  • Regrettable that the cabinet did not meet in an emergency session to act on the rulers’ decisions and call for a parliamentary meeting on Monday

Lembah Pantai member of Parliament Fahmi Fadzil said the government’s suggestion for Parliament to reconvene in September or October goes against Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution.

This provision stipulates that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can summon Parliament to be in session, and that he is vested by the constitution to summon the house to meet within six months between the last proceeding in the last session, and the date appointed for its first proceeding in the next session.

“We are aware of the Malay Rulers’ stand that there is no reason for the country to remain in a state of emergency after Aug 1.

“We are also aware that today is the 183rd day or six months and one day since Parliament ended on Dec 17, 2020.

“This means, we are facing a violation of Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution,” he said in a statement today.

Fahmi, who is also PKR communications director, said to overcome the matter, the government used Article 14(1)(a) of the Emergency Ordinance (Essential Powers) 2021, which states that for so long as the emergency is in force, the provisions relating to the summoning, proroguing and dissolution of Parliament in the Federal Constitution shall not have effect.

“However, if the state of emergency ends on Aug 1, Article 14(1)(a) no longer applies as the emergency is no longer enforced. Therefore, Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution will apply.

“To prevent a constitutional crisis, Parliament must reconvene no later than Aug 2, not September or October as repeated by (Prime Minister) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department) Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan,” he said.

On Wednesday, Al-Sultan Abdullah expressed the view that Parliament should sit as soon as possible so that the Dewan Rakyat can discuss the allocation of government expenditure to help people and revive the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Separate statements from the king and Malay rulers, following a meeting, concluded that there was no need for the emergency to be extended beyond Aug 1.

The rulers agreed that the vaccination drive should be expedited by reducing bureaucracy to achieve the 80 per cent herd immunity target.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had on June 15 said Parliament can reopen in September or October under the third phase of the government’s new National Recovery Plan, while minister in charge of law and Parliament Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan had on June 16 reiterated that Parliament could reopen by September.

DAP stalwart, Lim Kit Siang, also stressed that Putrajaya’s failure to act on the Conference of Rulers’ advice to reopen federal and state legislatures could trigger a constitutional crisis.

The veteran DAP lawmaker said the cabinet should instead take advantage of the rulers’ decisions to start a new beginning to win the war against Covid-19.

“Malaysians do not want any constitutional crisis in any form but a single-minded focus by every Malaysian, whether in the executive or the legislature, to win the war against the Covid-19 pandemic – and this must remain the nation’s single-minded focus whether it takes one or two years,” the Iskandar Puteri MP said.

FMT

Lim said it is also regrettable that the cabinet did not meet in an emergency session to act on the rulers’ decisions and call for a parliamentary meeting on Monday.

Leading constitutional expert Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said this: “If the king wants to take a strong stand, he can say ‘I want to summon Parliament, so I will issue a direct order for this to happen’.

“It is within his rights (to issue a direct order), as His Majesty is part of Parliament under Article 44 of the Federal Constitution and has overriding powers under Articles 40 (2) as well as 55 in relation to the summoning, proroguing and dissolution of Parliament,” he said.

Shad said should Muhyiddin refuse to heed the call by the king, this could lead to a “constitutional embarrassment” since the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of Parliament.

He said while the king generally had to act on the advice of the prime minister, the monarch was bound by this rule only if the sitting prime minister had the support of the majority of the members of the Dewan Rakyat.

Muhyiddin’s majority in the House is uncertain after reports that several government-friendly members of parliament — such as Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Machang’s Datuk Seri Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub and Gua Musang’s Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah — had retracted support for him.

He has 109 MPs on his side in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat.

If an attempt to table a motion of no confidence against him was a cause of worry for Muhyiddin, Shad said, it was safer for the Pagoh MP to obey the king’s decree for Parliament to sit before the emergency ended on Aug 1.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia constitutional expert Professor Datin Dr Faridah Jalil said a 30-day window was considered reasonable for the government to prepare what was required to enable Parliament to reconvene, in line with the phrase “as soon as possible” in the King’s decree.

“In the context of law, the court has also defined that ‘as soon as possible’ also meant the same with ‘secepat mungkin’ as in the case of Aminah v Superintendent of Prison in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan.

“It is defined as ‘as soon as is reasonable according to the circumstances of a case’. An important yardstick is a reasonable time period to prepare the circumstances and requirements for Parliament to sit.

“In terms of preparations, we know members of Parliament have been vaccinated. Parliamentary officers can also be vaccinated immediately and there is no major issue in terms of Parliament layout, seating arrangement and physical distancing,” she said.

She said if the government acted quickly and efficiently, the reasonable timeframe for Parliament to reconvene is within 30 days.

Another expert, Research Fellow (Law and Constitution) from University of Technology Malaysia, Dr Muhammad Fathi Yusof, was also of the opinion that Parliament should resume during the emergency period.

He suggested for the Prime Minister to set a date for the Dewan Rakyat to sit at the end of July, before the Emergency is lifted on Aug 1.

“As soon as the Parliament sitting is officiated, the government must move specific motions to evaluate the confidence of the Prime Minister in the lower house so any question of support for the government of the day can quickly be resolved.”

Dewan Rakyat Speaker, Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun yesterday said Parliament was ready to reconvene any time in accordance with the Constitution.

He said his principles had not changed, adding that he was ready to continue his duties as speaker.

“As the Dewan Rakyat speaker, my duties involving the Constitution and my commitment to parliamentary democracy remain strong.

“I have stressed this repeatedly that Parliament is ready to sit in all aspects, in line with the Federal Constitution and the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders.”

He dismissed media reports allegedly quoting him as saying that Muhyiddin’s decision to hold a parliamentary sitting in September or October was “rational, acceptable” and “not too late to discuss national crises”.

“I only said that the prime minister had expressed his commitment for Parliament to sit in September and October and that he had informed me of the rationale behind his decision.

“I did not make any conclusion by saying the prime minister’s decision was rational or acceptable or that it won’t be too late. The reports quoting me were untrue.”