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Friday, May 22, 2009

Quotes that illuminate the Perak impasse

KUALA LUMPUR, May 22, 2009 — malaysiainsider

What people say in the heat of the moment can sometimes be so deep, so cutting and so illuminating.

After the Court of Appeal unanimously overturned a High Court judgment and ruled that Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir was the rightful mentri besar of Perak, both sides had much to say.

The Malaysian Insider examines some of the more colourful quotes.

  • Lawyer Sulaiman Abdullah was stunned after hearing the unanimous decision. He offered this gem dripping with sarcasm: “We have extraordinary judges with extraordinary ability.”

It is a rare day anywhere when a losing party walks out of court with a pearly smile and magnanimity. In Malaysia, it is almost never heard of, no thanks to the cloud of suspicion which has hung over the judiciary since the sacking of the judges in 1988.

Judge-fixing, elevation of less competent judges, suspect judgments and the tawdry V. K. Lingam video clip affair have all combined to strip this important institution of the one ingredient it needs so badly to function – credibility.

So even before Justices Ab Rauf Shariff, Zainun Ali and Ahmad Maarop delivered their judgment today, the cynics already wrote off Nizar’s chances of getting a good hearing. The cynics argued that High Court Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim’s decision in favour of Nizar was a one-off, an aberration.

How did we get to this point where public trust in institutions has reached abysmal levels? How did we get to the point where even the man on the street thinks nothing of mocking the “Hakim”?

Maybe we just had too many days like today.

The Court of Appeal today decided that when Nizar was granted an audience by the Sultan of Perak, he had lost the confidence of the majority of the assembly, and the Malay Ruler was spot on in asking him to step down.

The court added that there was no express provision for a vote of confidence to be taken in the state assembly. The Justices appeared to rely on a statement made by Justice Abdul Kadir Sulaiman in the Amir Kahar case (1995).

“The evidence that a chief minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority members of the Assembly … is not only available from the votes taken in the Assembly. There is nothing in the Constitution which can be construed as requiring that the test of confidence must be by a vote taken in the Assembly itself. That fact can be evidenced by other extraneous sources….”

This paragraph was relied on by the Justices to support their decision that there was no necessity to go to the assembly to test whether Nizar commanded the confidence of the majority of the assembly. In this instance, the Sultan acting on evidence by other extraneous sources, was right to reach the conclusion that Nizar had lost the confidence of the assembly.

The big problem with relying on this statement by Abdul Kadir Sulaiman is that it was a comment made in passing. It formed the obiter dicta in the case, or a remark by the judge which does not form part of the court’s decision. The obiter dicta are not the subject of the judicial decision.

Perhaps that is the reason why Sulaiman Abdullah noted that Malaysia has “extraordinary judges with extraordinary ability.”

  • Pakatan Rakyat defector Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi said that his decision to back Barisan Nasional (BN) was justified. “They kicked me out, saying that I had resigned my seat. So I had to find a government that will support me,” said the Behrang assemblyman.

He urged the public to accept the court’s ruling. “If they respect the rule of law, then the government will definitely be stable,” said the lawmaker, who is eminently qualified to speak about the law and dispense advise.

He and his fellow defector Osman Jailu know a thing or two about the inside of a courtroom, having been charged with corruption last year. Jamaluddin has always tried to paint himself as the wronged party, the lawmaker who had little choice but to defect because he was on the verge of being kicked out.

The lawmaker who had lost confidence in Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin because Nizar seemed to be under the thumb of the DAP.

But his disappearance for several days prior to the defection, his sheepish demeanour after resurfacing in Putrajaya and absence of remorse for deceiving his constituents exposed him for what he is – a politician driven by self-interest and little else.

His comment after the Court of Appeal decision (saying that he was vindicated by the ruling) only confirms that self-preservation was his only motivation for defecting.

  • BN’s lawyer Datuk Hafarizam Harun was jubilant after the Court of Appeal decision, declaring: “the right to choose the mentri besar and prime minister is the ultimate right of the sultan.”

Wow! That is a powerful statement with serious consequences for a parliamentary democracy. So does the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong have the power to choose who should lead Malaysia?

Can the Agong after learning that several BN lawmakers have crossed over to the Pakatan Rakyat ask Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to stand down?

Surely not.

Is Malaysia a constitutional monarchy or an absolute monarchy? The Court of Appeal’s decision today tilts Malaysia towards the latter, towards a return to more feudalistic days.

The decision vests the Malay Rulers more power than what is outlined in the Federal Constitution.

Several weeks ago, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said: “I don’t think anyone wants a return to feudalism. Going back to feudalism will be a big mistake. The system we have has worked very well for us until the present case in Perak.”

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