Constitutional crisis on the cards- Sundaily

Constitutional crisis on the cards

By: (Wed, 05 Jan 2011)
ARE we going to see a Barisan Nasional takeover of Selangor a la Perak? Many Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers think so following the appointment of Mohd Khusrin Munawi as state secretary.

Ousted Perak Mentri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin has gone as far as to advise the Selangor government to do all that is “humanly possible” to prevent Khusrin from taking on this position.

The state secretary is a strategic post. By many accounts, he’s the second most powerful official in the state. Yet, in some states (those that were the Federated Malay states of Selangor, Pahang, Negri Sembilan and Perak), he is not appointed by the state government but by the federal government via the Public Services Commission.

This is not a problem when the federal and state governments are formed by the same party. But that’s not the case in Selangor and it looks like a constitutional crisis is in the cards. The state government refuses to accept the appointment but the federal government refuses to back down. To further complicate things, the royalty is also embroiled in this matter after the federal government got the sultan of Selangor to agree to the appointment.

Certain PR leaders like DAP’s Lim Kit Siang are saying that choosing a candidate the state government so strenuously objects to is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the state constitution.

Lim argues that although there is no mention in the state constitution on the role of the mentri besar in the appointment of the state secretary, the chief secretary to the (federal) government should take great care to appoint someone whom the state government could work with.

“The chief secretary, who has been delegated the constitutional task to make the appointment, should be mindful of the different political coalitions running the federal and Selangor state governments and the importance of ensuring an appointee who could work as a bridge-builder or at least not seen as inimical to the Selangor state government interests vis-à-vis the federal government,” Lim said.

Others, like DAP’s Lau Weng San and Karpal Singh are saying there is also a legal basis for rejecting Khusrin. Lau argues that the Selangor palace’s confirmation has no “constitutional basis” as the state secretary was answerable to the mentri besar and not the sultan.

Karpal is focusing on the swearing-in ceremony tomorrow before the sultan. He says this is unlawful because the state constitution dictates that the oath of office has to be done in front of the mentri besar, not the sultan.

“It could lead into a constitutional crisis because it is not in line with the state constitution … but I hope this does not happen, that is why the sultan must be extra careful before going through with this,” Karpal said, adding cautiously that the “act” of the sultan can be taken up in a court of law.

Selangor Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim does not mince his words in accusing the chief secretary to the government of trying to sabotage the state with the appointment of Khusrin.

Khalid has indicated that he has the option of rejecting Khusrin by refusing to allow him to take the oath of secrecy. So, although technically, Khusrin might be state secretary in name, in practice he would not be allowed to attend state exco meetings or be privy to state secrets.

One way to resolve this situation is for the federal government to put forth a new candidate that the state government finds acceptable. That’s not likely to happen though. What’s likely to happen is a constitutional crisis, which has to be settled in court.

It might be messy, it probably will be long and drawn out, and it certainly has its risks. As constitutional law expert Aziz Bari has noted, court rulings since the 2008 general election have shown a clear pattern of favouring the government. However, there doesn’t seem to be any other way out of it. Besides, as Aziz has also noted, “The law, as it stands, favours MB Khalid and the Selangor Pakatan administration.”

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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