What's next for our MPs: Wait for the confidence vote in Parliament or band together and appoint a PM-designate now?

A man watches a live telecast of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's speech in Kuala Lumpur August 4, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A man watches a live telecast of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's speech in Kuala Lumpur August 4, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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IPOH, Aug 8 — Does Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin still enjoy the confidence of the majority in Parliament? He says yes and will prove it when Parliament reconvenes in September. 

Muhyiddin insisted he had the required majority support from lawmakers, in the form of statutory declarations (SDs), to continue as the prime minister, after a few Umno MPs had withdrawn their support for Perikatan Nasional (PN) and him as the prime minister. 

Perak Opposition leader Abdul Aziz Bari said Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin only remains as prime minister now because the Opposition bloc in Parliament did not have a designated prime minister despite commanding the majority.

Aziz Bari said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has to exercise his discretion by selecting the biggest group of MPs in the Dewan Rakyat with a designated candidate for the prime minister’s post.

“The scenario in Parliament now is that PN only has 103 MPs but they have a prime minister.

“The problem with the balance 117 MPs is that they only say ‘No’ to PN, but with no prime minister designate. 

“Though we know 89 MPs (Pakatan Harapan) from this 117 agree to have Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the prime minister,” he said.

Aziz Bari said that the most practical way to solve the deadlock is for the 117 MPs to declare their support for Anwar, who is also the PKR president, as prime minister. 

“Otherwise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has no choice but to retain Muhyiddin because he’s constitutionally under duty to have a government to advise him at all times,” he said.

The Tebing Tinggi assemblyman said that if the 117 MPs can agree on a prime minister designate, then it is game over for Muhyiddin.

“Essentially the moment such a scenario appears, the King’s discretion no longer exists. This is because the discretionary power only exists when there’s doubt resulting from the composition of MPs in the Dewan Rakyat.

“Such is the idea behind Article 40 (2) of the Federal Constitution. The notion of discretion here can’t be understood literally. 

“We must bear in mind our Constitution is a democratic constitution and Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a constitutional monarch. He can’t apply personal preference in the appointment process. 

“The main consideration should be the formation of a stable government,” he explained. 

He also said that the matter can’t be solved with a general election due to the current Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

“We have about 20 months to go before the present five-year term ends in 2023. 

“Therefore, the only way to have a new and stable government is through the present Parliament, which is forming the government through the existing MPs,” he said. 

In the meantime, some constitutional experts say that while the executive authority to appoint the prime minister rests with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong; this must be done within the boundaries of the provisions of the Federal Constitution.

Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, co-chair of the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee, explained the King’s discretion only comes into play under Article 40(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution where there is a hung Parliament or the majority party is locked in a leadership dispute (as may be the case here for Pakatan Harapan) or there is party-hopping that has diminished the majority. 

“To compound this further, the current prime minister did not tender his resignation nor was there a call to dissolve Parliament.

“And perhaps due to the assurance given to the King that the test of majority of the House will be tabled at the next Parliamentary session, it is likely that the King had exercised such discretionary powers to maintain Muhyiddin as the Prime Minister as a temporary measure.

“It is therefore crucial that the vote of confidence be tested when Parliament reconvenes in September so that our system of democracy is given true legitimacy,” she said. 

Lawyer New Sin Yew said that Muhyiddin must resign if he no longer enjoys the confidence of the majority regardless of whether there is currently another MP that has the confidence of the majority of the Dewan Rakyat.

“In light of these circumstances, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has every right to require Muhyiddin to prove that he still enjoys the confidence of the majority of the Dewan Rakyat and that he is still in a position to advise the King. 

“If Muhyiddin concedes that he has lost the confidence of the majority, it is open for him to request the King to dissolve Parliament under Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution. 

“However, the King may decline to do so under Article 40(2) of the Federal Constitution and instead appoint another prime minister in his place,” he explained. 

He also said the SDs have lost all their evidential value in determining support of MPs because many had signed multiple SDs. 

“We know that eight Umno MPs have sent a letter to the Speaker saying they no longer support the prime minister. The Speaker would keep a record on who’s a government backbencher and who’s Opposition backbencher. This is enough to cast doubt on the prime minister’s position.

“Given that the prime minister's position is in serious doubt, waiting one month to test whether he still commands the confidence of the majority is just irresponsible and selfish. 

“It hurts the economy and it allows time for horse trading. An emergency session of Parliament should be called as soon as possible,” he added.

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