Malaysia: Political parties, civil society flame Attorney-General for appearing to sidestep King’s opinion on reconvening Parliament

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Political leaders and civil society groups have criticised the nation’s Attorney-General for what has been perceived as sidestepping the King’s opinion on reconvening Parliament.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah on 16 June expressed the view that Parliament should reconvene “as soon as possible”.

In a public statement on Friday (25 June), A-G Tan Sri Idrus Harun remarked that the King can only act on such matters upon the advice of the Cabinet.

“In line with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s power to summon Parliament to meet, based on the Cabinet’s advice, the meeting dates for the Lower House and Upper House are also determined by the Cabinet,” he said, citing Articles 40(1) and (1A) of the Federal Constitution.

While Article 55(1) empowers the King to call for Parliament to reconvene, the powers vested within the Emergency Ordinances could override such throughout the Emergency period, the A-G added.

Leaders of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition on Sunday said that the A-G’s remarks have “transgressed conventions” and are a form of “ridicule and mockery” toward the King’s decree as well as the views of the Malay Rulers.

“(The A-G’s) remarks have sidelined the spirit of the Federal Constitution and has given the impression that the Attorney-General has similarly sidelined the Malay royal institution to protect a government desiring to retain absolute power without the constraints and limitations of time,” they said.

The joint statement, made by Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim, Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu, and Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, also cited Article 145(2) of the Federal Constitution, which stipulates that it is the duty of the A-G to advise the King or Cabinet on any legal matters.

“It is evident that the Attorney-General should convey his opinion directly to the King and to keep it confidential, and to prevent himself from announcing such an opinion in the public sphere as he has done now,” said the three leaders.

Such public disclosure is tantamount to “a breach of confidentiality” between a lawyer and his client, which renders Tan Sri Idrus “unfit to practice, let alone hold the position of A-G”, the statement read, subsequently calling for his termination over such a “treasonous” act.

Civil society groups, including electoral-related ones such as Bersih 2.0 and Undi18, on Monday sought clarity from the A-G on whether reconvening Parliament after the Emergency is lifted “would result in automatic dissolution of Parliament and state legislatures”.

They said that Tan Sri Idrus’ remarks on Article 55(1) had conveniently avoided a pertinent issue regarding the suspension of Parliament during the Emergency, namely the maximum permissible gap of six months between one Parliamentary session and the next.

Law Minister earlier came under fire for stating King did not specify when Parliament should reconvene

Comptroller of the Royal Household, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, in a statement from the National Palace on 16 June, said that the King recognises Parliament’s role as “an important platform” for elected representatives to discuss various issues of public importance, including the COVID-19 in the country.

“His Majesty is of the opinion that having a stable and solid Government that can effectively manage the COVID-19 pandemic and rehabilitate the nation’s economy is imperative,” the statement read.

Allowing Parliament to reconvene will enable Members of Parliament (MPs) to discuss pressing matters such as the Government’s spending allocation for the purpose of assisting the people, especially those who are currently facing economic hardship as a result of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed because of it.

“After deliberating on the views of political leaders as well as those of the Independent Commission on the Emergency 2021 and experts from Government agencies, His Majesty expressed the view that Parliament sittings must be held as soon as possible,” said the Comptroller.

This is to enable MPs to debate the Emergency Ordinances and the National Recovery Plan, he said.

The Palace’s announcement came after Al-Sultan Abdullah chaired a special meeting with the Council of Rulers on the same date.

De facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan also came under fire previously for stating that the King did not specify when Parliament should reconvene.

Takiyuddin in a discussion with Bicara Harakah said: “His Majesty did not specify any particular date … He said it should be held as soon as possible. So the Prime Minister can announce, for example, that Parliament will reopen in September or October.”

Takiyuddin also said that the number of people to be admitted into the Parliament physical space has to be taken into consideration when deliberating on the reopening of the House.

“You need to take into account the number of people who will be present. A closed area like the Dewan Rakyat could accommodate 222 MPs. But what about the government officers on duty, the heralds for the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and Secretary to the Dewan Rakyat?” He questioned.

Takiyuddin added that members of the public present outside the halls and Parliament staff must also be taken into view when considering whether to allow Parliament to reconvene at this stage.

“We have been informed that every time Parliament convenes, there are at least 1,000 people on the grounds,” he said, noting that such is why only a hybrid Parliament configuration would be feasible at this point.

“This way, we will determine who will attend the sittings as well as the number of MPs attending, among other (criteria). In tandem with Parliamentary rules, the minimum quorum needed for the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara would be 26 MPs and 10 Senators, respectively,” said Takiyuddin.

Legal issues, however, may pose barriers to even a hybrid Parliament configuration.

“The Standing Orders state that attendance by MPs must be physical, and those not in attendance physically cannot vote,” said Takiyuddin. For a hybrid Parliament to be materialised, said Takiyuddin, amendments must be made to the Standing Orders.

“So this hybrid Parliament needs to be studied and prepared for. But I wish to stress that the government remains committed to the democratic process involving Parliament.

“The Prime Minister has stated that the Government will reconvene Parliament once it is confident that standard operating procedures can be met. It is not that we do not wish to reopen Parliament, but it will be done in accordance with the new norms,” Takiyuddin said.

Parliament’s last sitting was held in December last year when Budget 2021 was passed.

The ongoing state of Emergency, said to be lifted on 1 August, was declared in mid-January this year.

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