A. Written Judgement of Justice Md Raus Sharif:
The Court of Appeal's ruling of the case was made on May 22. Justice Md Raus Sharif dated his 49-page judgement as of June 2, but he only released it today (June 25).
- Sultan Azlan Shah was right in NOT dissolving the Perak State Legislative Assembly in February because it was barely one year old
- In order for a dissolution of the assembly to take effect under Article 36(2) of the Perak State Constitution as requested by the then mentri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, the assembly must be in the conclusion of the five-year term when a general election is contemplated.
- Nizar had applied the WRONG provision when requesting for the dissolution of the assembly. Article 36 of the Perak Constitution was only a general provision empowering the sultan to prorogue or dissolve the assembly after the conclusion of the five-year term.
- Nizar should have instead requested for dissolution of the assembly under Article 16(6) which states that if the mentri besar loses the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly, then, unless at his request of the sultan, dissolves the assembly, he shall tender the resignation of the Executive Council.
- The question of Perak having two mentris besar did NOT arise because Article 16(6) demands that once the mentri besar was made to know that he had lost the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly, he should take the honourable way out by tendering his resignation.
- If the mentri besar REFUSES or does NOT tender his resignation and the resignation of the Executive Council, as had happened in this case, the fact remains that the Executive Council is dissolved (which include the mentri besar) on account of the mentri besar losing the confidence of the majority of the members of the legislative assembly. Therefore, it was UNNECESSARY for the sultan to remove Nizar and the other members of the Executive Council
- Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir’s appointment as the mentri besar to succeed Nizar was made according to the Perak Constitution and established democratic practice and convention.
- The Sultan of Perak in exercise of his royal prerogative under Article 16(2) of the Perak State Constitution is at liberty to appoint another mentri besar to replace Nizar
- The Sultan, however, must appoint someone who has the command and the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly and in this case, there was no doubt that Zambry had the majority support of 31 members out of 59 members of the assembly.
- The circumstances in the present case clearly shows that on February 5, Nizar no longer had the confidence of the majority of members of the assembly. There were signed letters from 31 members pledging support to Barisan Nasional which were presented to the Sultan
- Article 16(6) does NOT express MANDATORY requirement that there must be a motion of no confidence passed by the assembly against a mentri besar before he ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members.
- The fact that a mentri besar ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly can be established by OTHER means. It CANNOT solely be confined to the vote taken in the assembly.
- Nizar MUST tender his resignation once he lost the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly and when sultan refused his request to dissolve the assembly.
- His (Nizar) refusal to tender his resignation and the resignation of the Executive Council was not merely a breach of convention and undemocratic but more importantly, it contravened the clear mandatory constitutional command under Article 16(6) of the Perak Constitution and therefore unconstitutional.
- Since he had ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the assembly, it is IMPLICIT that on his REFUSAL to tender the resignation, the Executive Council is thereby dissolved and the office of the mentri besar vacated.
- The sultan’s power to dismiss the mentri besar was IMPLICIT in the event the mentri besar refuses to resign although he has ceased to command the confidence of the majority and the sultan withholds his request to dissolve the assembly.The situation confronting His Royal Highness in the state of Perak was one such situation,
- The Sultan in that critical situation RIGHTLY exercised his constitutional powers provided under the State Constitution, which exercise was without any doubt, SOLELY for the best interest of the people of Perak.
The three Court of Appeal judges had on May 22 ruled that Zambry was the legitimate mentri besar of Perak, reversing an earlier High Court decision in Nizar’s favour.
The Federal Court is to hear Nizar’s application for leave to appeal on July 9 and 10
Brief Background of the Case
Nizar, 52, was appointed Perak mentri besar on March 17 last year after the DAP-Parti Keadilan Rakyat-Pas alliance won 31 seats in the state assembly in 12th general election.
Less than a year later, they lost three members who declared themselves independent and lent support for Barisan Nasional (BN) that then had 28 seats in the assembly after a representative who had jumped ship earlier made an about turn.
Sultan Azlan Shah then asked Nizar to step down and swore in Zambry after finding that BN had the majority in the state assembly. Following this, Nizar initiated the legal action to seek a declaration he is the rightful mentri besar and an injunction to bar Zambry from discharging his duties.
READERS' COMMENTS: Read here for more
- They just have to find some grounds no matter how stupid it is. if there were strong grounds, it wouldn't take them more than 1 month to provide the written judgement. Compared to the High Court judge, 4 days were just needed. Stupid or not stupid, they have done their job well in the eyes of the govt of the day. I wonder if it is PR as the federal govt, how will they rule for similar case?
Frankly, if I am a foreign investor, I have to think twice before putting my dollars in this country with the judiciary in such shambles.
- Wish to reiterate that Raus’s interpretation of Art.36(2) is hogwash and plain stupidity. According to him as reported in the press, that article is for MB to request for dissolution when the Assembly has concluded its 5 yr term and contemplating a GE.
This is kindergarten stuff by Raus, a Malaysian Court of Appeal judge. It shows the standard of our judges. If the Assembly has concluded its 5 yr term, then there is no point of asking for a dissolution. It automatically dissolves itself.
I don’t know whether there is a similar article in the Perak Constitution as found in other States. Under Art. 55(3) of the Fed Constitution, it is stated that Parliament, unless sooner dissolved shall continue for 5yrs from the date of 1st meeting, and shall then stand dissolved. When it concluded its 5yr period it is automatically dissolved and you don’t seek a dissolution.
A dissolution is only sought under that Article before the Assembly/Parliament had concluded its 5 yr period. It can range from one day after the sitting and a day bf 5 yrs.
On reaching 5 yrs, it automatically dissolves. I think even a standard 6 pupil can understand this lah. What a Judge we have.
- I am eagerly looking forward to read our learned friend NH Chan’s comments on the Court of Appeal judgments. After all the comments on the judgments, I wonder whether the judges concerned are feeling shameful or not. Dear Mr. NH Chan, please give your comments soonest.
(The following article was published BEFORE the Court of Appeal made public its written judgment today)
“The Sultan has no explicit power to dismiss an MB under the Perak Constitution”,The Sultan’s Constitutional Powers: A Comment
Professor Kevin YL Tan
(Prof Kevin Tan has taught constitutional law for over 20 years. He currently holds Adjunct Professorships at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
He is co-author (with Thio Li-ann) of the leading constitutional law textbook “Constitutional Law in Malaysia and Singapore” widely used as standard reading material in universities; “Introduction to Singapore’s Constitution” and numerous articles on constitutional law in Singapore, Malaysia and the region.)
Excerpts: Read here for more
On 11 May 2009, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that as there had been no vote of confidence on the floor of the LA, Nizar remained the rightful MB of Perak.
Zambry appealed against this decision and on 22 May, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision and declared that Zambry had been rightfully appointed as MB. At the time of this article going to press, the Court of Appeal has yet to deliver the grounds for that decision.
Even so, Nizar’s lawyers filed an application for leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal decision 19 June 2009. This application is scheduled for hearing on 9-10 July.
Issues Raised by the High Court Decision
As the High Court’s decision is the only one available, this commentary relates to this judgment. The key issues in this case are whether HRH Sultan Azlan Shah:
a. could dismiss the Executive Council when Nizar refused to tender the Council’s resignation after the Sultan refused to his request to dissolve the LA;Ambit of Article 16(6)
b. was constitutionally empowered to appoint Zambry the new MB when Nizar refused to tender the resignation of the Executive Council; and
c. had a discretion to determine if Nizar had lost the confidence of the majority of members of the LA in any other way than by a vote on the floor of the Assembly.
The key to answering these questions is Article 16 (6) of the Perak Constitution which provides:
If the Menteri Besar ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly, then, unless at his request His Royal Highness dissolves the Legislative Assembly, he shall tender the resignation of the Executive Council.
The High Court Judge, Dato’ Abdul Aziz J, adopted the “golden rule of interpretation” requiring a court to give the words of the Constitution a plain and ordinary reading if the words are unambiguous.
Finding that Article 16(6) of the Perak Constitution “contains no ambiguity whatsoever”, Abdul Aziz J held that the Sultan had no power to dismiss Nizar; neither was he allowed to deem the office of MB vacant when Nizar refused to resign.
To do so, he added, would be to do “violence to the language” of Article 16(6).
The learned Judge held that when Nizar requested HRH to dissolve the LA, he had NOT done so with “any reference to any provision in the Perak’s State Constitution” and in the absence of reference to any specific provision in the Constitution, Nizar was thus requesting HRH to exercise his royal prerogative under Article 36(2) which gave HRH a general power to “prorogue or dissolve the Legislative Assembly.”
The Textual Argument
A textual reading of Article 16(6) supports the High Court’s interpretation of this key provision.
Article 16 comes under the heading “The Executive Council” and the relevant provision is the 6th of its 8 sub-clauses.
Though headings, sub-headings and marginal notes do not technically form part of the constitutional text, they help us understand the structure and organisation of the Constitution.
On the face of it, Article 16 is clearly intended to deal specifically with matters relating to the Executive Council and not generalities.
A general request for the dissolution of the LA and the Sultan’s discretion thereof is governed by Article 36(2) read with Article18(2)(b). That means that the Sultan has a general power to dissolve the LA and may act in his discretion in withholding a request for dissolution.
Such a general request for dissolution does NOT fall under Article 16(6) which is to be deployed in a very specific instance. This is immediately discernible when we read it sequentially:
A MB who has already ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly must tender the resignation of the Executive Council, but only if HRH exercises his discretion to refuse to dissolve the Legislative Assembly upon that MB’s request for dissolution.Following from this reading, it is clear that the determination as to whether and when the MB has lost the confidence of the majority of the members of the LA - as opposed to whether the MB was likely to command the confidence of the majority of LA members under Article 162) - is a matter for the Legislative Assembly itself. It is NOT an executive decision.
The Argument from History
Does history support the High Court’s reading of Article 16(6)?
Back in 1956, various representations were made to the Reid Commission on the status and powers of the Sultan and on his power to act.
Back then, debates still raged over what necessary constitutional amendments needed to be made to make the Sultans “constitutional rulers” and whether the MB should hold office at the Sultan’s pleasure.
What is quite clear from the resulting deliberations is that the Commission was determined to ensure that
(a) the organization of government in the states mirrored that of the Federation; andThese concerns led the Commission to set out the meaning of “constitutional ruler” in paragraph 177 of their Report:
(b) the Malay Rulers should no longer preside over their state executive councils and involve themselves in executive decision-making save in very limited instances.
… a constitutional Ruler is a Ruler with limited powers, and the essential limitations are that the Ruler should be bound to accept and act on the advice of the Menteri Besar or Executive Council, and that the Menteri Besar or Executive Council should not hold office at the pleasure of the Ruler or be ultimately responsible to him but should be responsible to a parliamentary assembly and should cease to hold office on ceasing to have the confidence of that assembly. (emphasis added)By the Commission’s reckoning, there was NO intention to give the constitutional ruler a power to dismiss the MB or the Executive Council at will.
Further support can be gleaned from a memorandum on “The State Constitutions” prepared by Sir Ivor Jennings (CO 889/2 p. 156 dated 31 Aug 1956) - certainly the most important and influential member of the Commission - when he noted:
The Rulers will become constitutional monarchs and executive government must be placed under the control, direct or indirect, of the State Councils. It is assumed that the Ruler … would appoint a Menteri Besar … who would have, or hope to obtain, a majority in the State Council. …Historical precedent is consonant with the High Court’s reading of Article 16(6).
It is assumed that the Ruler would have power, on the advice of the Menteri Besar, to dissolve the State Council, but that, like the Queen, he need not accept the advice.
The Ruler would not be empowered to dissolve without advice, though, of course, he could always appoint a new Menteri Besar who was likely so to advise because he had no majority.
The Sultan was entitled to refuse a request to dissolve the LA, be it a general request - for example when early elections are to be called or where the LA is sharply divided over a key policy or the budget - or a specific request under Article 16(6) after the MB has already lost the confidence of the majority of the LA.
Dismissal of the Executive Council
Both the textual and historical arguments support the High Court’s reading of Article 16(6). However, this does not resolve the question as to whether the Sultan was empowered to
(a) declare the office of the MB and Executive Council vacant; andThe Perak Constitution is NOT explicit on this point.
(b) following from that declaration, proceed to appoint a new MB.
What is clear is that the Executive Council is appointed by the Sultan on the advice of the MB.
Although Article 16(7) states that members of the Executive Council hold their office at HRH’s pleasure, Article 18 makes it patently clear that HRH may NOT dismiss them at a whim, but only upon the advice of the MB.
This reading is borne out by the Reid Commission Report that stated (at paragraph 181):
As the Executive Council is to be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly the appointment of its members must lie in the hands of the Mentri Besar and a new Mentri Besar must be free to appoint a new Executive Council in the same way as the Prime Minister appoints his Ministers.So, what happens if an MB, who has lost the confidence of the majority of the LA, refuses to resign his position and that of the Executive Council after the Sultan rejects that MB’s request for a dissolution of the LA?
This result follows from our recommendation that members of the Executive Council should hold office at the pleasure of the Ruler because in appointing or terminating the appointment of a member of the Executive Council the Ruler must act on the advice of the Mentri Besar.
This happened in Kelantan in 1977 when its MB, Datuk Mohamed Nasir refused to resign even though he had lost a formal vote of confidence motion in the Kelantan LA, been sacked by his own party, and had his request for dissolution of the LA refused by the Sultan of Kelantan.
The impasse led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the Federal Government that lasted three months, after which the LA was dissolved for fresh elections.
Alas, this single precedent is NOT particularly instructive. No legal solution was possible and ultimately, the situation was resolved politically by the Sultan dissolving the LA and allowing fresh elections to be called.
Perhaps, all rulers and governors should, as a matter of course, accede to requests by their respective MBs to dissolve the LA for fresh elections to be called unless the ruler has a premonition that a calamity might befall the state if he so acceded.
That way, new mandates are quickly determined and the business of government can proceed once a new leadership is established.
Indeed, the Sultan of Perak supported this view of a ruler’s powers when he was Lord President. In his 1982 essay, “The Role of Constitutional Rulers”, he opined:
… under normal circumstances, it is taken for granted that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong would not withhold his consent to a request for dissolution of Parliament. His role under such a situation is purely formal.This point was picked up by counsel for Nizar and cited with approval by the High Court.
The Sultan has NO explicit power to dismiss an MB under the Perak Constitution. Indeed, neither is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong empowered to dismiss a Prime Minister under the Federal Constitution.
Originally, the Reid Commission had prepared a draft Article 36(2) which, among other things, gave the Yang di-Pertuan Besar power to remove the Prime Minister from office.
However, as the High Court duly noted, the words were changed when the present Article 43(4) was promulgated. This provision is almost word-for-word the same as Article 16 (6) of the Perak Constitution save for the nomenclature used.
We return to the three questions posed at the start of this article.
- If, as the High Court RIGHTLY held, Nizar’s request to dissolve the LA was made under general provisions rather than under Article 16 (6), then HRH had NO power either to declare the office of MB vacant nor to dismiss the members of the Executive Council.
- And since HRH had NO power to declare the office of MB vacant, he was correspondingly prevented from exercising his discretion under Article16 (2) to appoint Zambry as MB and to act on Zambry’s advice to appoint members to the Executive Council.
- The third question posed - whether HRH had a discretion to determine if Nizar had lost the confidence of the majority of LA members - does not arise for consideration on the facts of THIS case.
- The question as to whether or not a show of confidence or support can be demonstrated in any way other than by a formal vote on the floor of the House is moot since HRH is not being asked to exercise his discretion under Article 16(2) to determine support or confidence for the purposes of appointing a new MB.
- Even if HRH was called upon to exercise his discretion on this matter, I would argue that the only way to determine confidence (or otherwise) in any individual as MB is to have a formal vote on the floor of the LA. This is especially crucial in a political system that is not constrained by anti-hopping laws, and which allows assemblymen and assemblywomen to transfer loyalties at a drop of a hat.
- A formal vote will require formalities to be met, membership of political parties to be ascertained, and resignations or change of affiliations registered. Most importantly, it will provide for certainty.
- the MB to state clearly in his request for dissolution, whether his doing so under the general provisions to which Article 36(2) applies or
- because he has lost the confidence of the majority of the LA members under Article 166).
In the meantime, the problem remains.
Two men claim to be the rightful Menteri Besar of Perak and two groups claim to be members of the Executive Council.
As scholars of constitutional law and keen observers of Malaysian politics, we anxiously await the written judgement of the Court of Appeal as eagerly as we await the wisdom of the Federal Court to find a legal solution to an essentially political issue.