Rule of law will prevail in Muhyiddin-Mahathir dispute

Politics was on lockdown for the past two months and that is a long time in this country where politics is a national lifestyle.

The Movement Control Order that started on March 18 benefited us, the environment and the political lockdown brought some sanity. However, that will soon end with the upcoming parliamentary sitting on May 18.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, I am foolishly hoping that some form of intelligence will finally surface among our politicians and the rakyat as far as the political games are concerned.

That politicians have started warming up is evident in their political moves. Perikatan Nasional will be tested in Parliament soon.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal wrote to Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof seeking a motion of confidence in favour of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and that he be appointed prime minister again. This motion was rightly rejected by the Speaker.

At the same time, Dr Mahathir sought to move a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. This request was accepted.

I was asked why Shafie’s motion was rejected but the one by Dr Mahathir accepted. I was also asked if this whole episode is for real or just a game.

I must admit it is easier to respond to a legal question that one involving politics.

Muhyiddin was appointed Prime Minister by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong pursuant to Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution which reads: “The Cabinet shall be appointed as follows, that is to say: (a) the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representatives who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House”.

The Agong, as required by the Constitution, had formed his judgment that Muhyiddin was likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs. In fact, our Agong went a step further by interviewing the MPs to ascertain for himself whether or not Muhyiddin had the confidence of the majority.

Following the outcome of that interview session, Muhyiddin was appointed the 8th Prime Minister of Malaysia and as such is valid. Can this now be challenged?

In our system of parliamentary democracy and laws, the appointment of a prime minister can always be challenged in Parliament itself.

Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution foresees the possibility that a prime minister may cease to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs. He may have had the confidence of the majority at one time but not anymore.

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There could be many reasons why a sitting prime minister may lose the confidence of the majority of the MPs. These include political, health, social and loss of international respect.

Article 43(4) clearly allows this cessation of no confidence in the sitting prime minister to be expressed by the MPs. This can be done by requesting a motion of no confidence to be passed in Parliament against the prime minister.

If this motion is accepted by the speaker, debated by the MPs and voted upon, the outcome of the vote will be the determinant.

In this context, Dr Mahathir’s request for the motion of no confidence against the prime minister is consistent with the provisions of the Constitution, provided of course that the request complies with the relevant parliamentary rules and regulations.

On the other hand, any request to pass a motion of confidence in favour of some other member other than the sitting prime minister is clearly against the provisions of the constitution.

As I stated earlier, Muhyiddin was appointed by the Agong under Article 43(2)(a). Hence, to pass a motion of confidence in someone else other than Muhyiddin would not only be unconstitutional but, in my humble opinion, an affront to the power of the Agong which has been properly exercised by His Majesty.

Assuming that a majority vote of no confidence is passed in Parliament, what happens next?

The legal process kicks in. Pursuant to Article 43(4), Muhyiddin will have to tender the resignation of the Cabinet. The Agong then has to determine who is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs and appoint that person as the new prime minister.

Muhyiddin’s other choice is to request the Agong to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for a general election. However, the Ruler can refuse this request pursuant to Article 40 (2)(b) of the Federal Constitution.

If this happens, the Agong will go back to looking for an MP who, in his judgment, has the confidence of the majority.

The above are all the legal possibilities to see how this latest political game plays out.

Some political analysts I spoke to are of the view that this Mahathir-Muhyiddin dispute is nothing but a drama woven by the grand old master to achieve precisely the government that is in place now. Others say otherwise.

To me, the truth will surface by judging the seriousness and the extent to which a legal challenge is mounted. Whatever the politicians may plan, the country has changed since May 2018. The rule of law is uppermost in the minds of the rakyat. Even institutions and civil servants will not want to risk supporting any political move which is not consistent with the rule of law.

Hence, the political manoeuvring will be curtailed by the boundaries of the rule of law. That is certainly the new “political normal”.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.