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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Solve the crisis in Perak

YESTERDAY marked the first time in our history that a State Assembly was convened under a tree in a car park. We are tempted to laugh, or at least to hail it as a questionable milestone in the development of our democracy, but truly we have nothing to smile about.

The situation in Perak has degenerated to the point where an attempt to convene the State Assembly in the State Secretariat had been deemed illegal and the police allegedly threatened members of the assembly with arrest should they have tried to enter their own chamber.

The entire situation lacks legal clarity and both sides have claimed moral and constitutional justification for their actions.

Furthermore, the High Court in Ipoh has ruled that no further sitting of the Assembly can legally be called by the Speaker, but this is perhaps an abrogation of the court’s power both by virtue of the
doctrine of the separation of powers, as well as the contradictory absence of that separation as has been interpreted in a judgement of the Federal Court placing the judiciary beneath the legislature.

In any case, the situation may already be moot if the “car park assembly” is recognised as legitimate: Before the High Court reached its decision, members present had resolved unanimously to dissolve the State Assembly in order to trigger fresh State elections.

As a result, there is (has been, and can be) no effective government until the impasse is brought to a satisfactory conclusion — and time has already run out.

The recent decisions of politicians in Perak have put the people of the State on a path that can now lead only towards conflict, and the longer the stalemate is allowed to persist, the greater the
chance that such conflict will turn violent.

Civil institutions are on the verge of collapse: It is frankly ridiculous that the secretary of the assembly should be allowed to overrule the Speaker, or that the police should prevent elected
representatives from meeting to discuss affairs of State.

Such actions set dangerous precedents in other legislatures around the country, and even in the Federal Parliament which recently saw a group of men preventing the entrance of a wheelchair-bound MP into the Dewan Rakyat — while security officers looked on passively in an unconscionable dereliction of their duties.

Should the Federal government be tempted now to declare a state of emergency in Perak?

No. Any such measure will turn not only the State but the country as a whole into a regional basket-case.

There is a single, simple and abundantly clear path out if this chaos: The mandate to govern must be returned forthwith to the people of Perak. If the Barisan Nasional is confident that it has the
democratic support it needs to govern the State, then it should not fear to seek a new mandate from the people it claims to represent.

Such a mandate will provide it the sorely needed moral justification for the continuance of its rule and will effectively crush any residual hope the Pakatan Rakyat may have of re-forming the State government.

Fresh elections are not only politically expedient, they are the correct course of action for the people of Perak. None but the people have the right to decide their government, and any who would ignore
this, ignores it at his or her own peril.


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