Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Ex-CJ says palace acted outside constitution, giving perception of interference in politics

Former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad lists instances in the past year which he says show that the palace went beyond its constitutional powers.

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A former chief justice says the Yang di-Pertuan Agong acted outside the constitutional framework in the events of the past year leading to the resignation of Muyhiddin Yassin, adding that a series of actions by the palace could also be construed as political interference.

Abdul Hamid Mohamad also questioned the need for Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah to call other Malay rulers to deliberate on matters such as the government’s recommendation for a state of virus emergency last year, as well as on the imminent appointment of Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister last month.

“The constitution does not provide the rulers any role in the appointment of the prime minister. At the very least, it can be said that the meeting was unnecessary.

“On the other hand, by calling the meeting, it gave the impression that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was unable to make a decision on his own,” Hamid, who retired as chief justice in 2008 after more than 50 years of service in the judiciary, said in a lengthy 11-page analysis on the political crisis of the past year.

Hamid said the events of 2020 and 2021 where the palace resisted the advice of the government of the day could complicate simple legal matters.

Former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad.

“It was made worse when the rulers not only did not follow advice, where the constitution provides they have to do so, but acted outside the constitution and decreed something contradictory, let alone something of a political nature, which was used by the opposition for their own ends.

“So, rightly or wrongly, it seemed the ruler was on one side and the government on the other,” he said.

Hamid cited several media statements issued by Istana Negara, saying they gave an impression of palace interference in politics.

He said this included the Agong’s initial call last month for a confidence vote to reaffirm the support for the person whom he would name as prime minister.

‘Agong’s job stops at naming the PM’

Hamid said the rigorous checks and other processes on which the palace had embarked before finally naming Ismail also went against the constitutional provision bestowed on the Agong to appoint a prime minister “from among the members of the Dewan Rakyat who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs”.

Hamid said the Agong’s task was complete once he had named the prime minister

“It is not His Majesty’s responsibility to ensure that the person he has appointed truly has the support of the majority of MPs, or still has their support.”

He said in the same spirit, the Agong should not have asked Ismail to hold a vote of confidence.

“The prime minister is appointed by the Agong. Why does the Agong want the prime minister to prove that the appointment made by him is valid?”

Before naming Ismail as prime minister, the palace had met with political party chiefs where the Agong reportedly urged them to work together and ensure political stability in Malaysia’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following this, Istana Negara urged all 220 MPs to submit signed declarations on their choice of prime minister. The palace also summoned individual MPs to reaffirm their choice in person.

On Aug 20, Sultan Abdullah invited fellow Malay rulers to a special meeting, just hours before Ismail was confirmed as prime minister.

Last weekend, Attorney-General (AG) Idrus Harun said a confidence vote in Ismail was not needed as it could undermine the Agong’s authority. The statement triggered fresh accusations of “derhaka” (treason) from opposition leaders against the AG.

It was recently revealed that the palace had said a Dewan Rakyat vote was no longer necessary.

AG didn’t have to explain

Hamid said the episode showed how statements from the Agong could be exploited by politicians for their own benefit.

He also said it was not the business of the AG to respond, as it was a political debate.

“My first piece of advice is that where necessary, he should learn to say ‘no’ to politicians,” he said, adding that the AG would be seen as defending the government on a politicised issue that does not need his involvement.

Hamid said those who questioned the legitimacy of Ismail’s appointment could take the matter to court, while those who are not convinced of his support from MPs could bring a no-confidence motion in the Dewan Rakyat.

“The burden of proof is on the shoulders of the accuser,” he said, adding that it was not the government’s duty to prove it has the majority.

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