KUALA LUMPUR, March 6
Barisan Nasional lawmaker and former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has added his voice to a growing chorus of Malaysians demanding fresh elections in Perak to resolve its month-long political impasse.
“I think that constitutional rule in Perak has collapsed and the only way to rectify the situation is to go back to the people,” Tengku Razaleigh told BT in an exclusive interview yesterday. “That would be the appropriate thing for the Ruler to do.”
The reference is to Sultan Azlan Shah, the state's monarch who, on Feb 2, rejected a request by Perak's then Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin — of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance — to dissolve the state's assembly and pave the way for fresh polls.
Nizar made the request after his government was toppled when three of his representatives defected to become independents supportive of the Barisan Nasional.
Sultan Azlan decided that, to his mind, the BN held the majority in the assembly (31-28) and so appointed Datuk Zambry Kadir from the dominant Umno as the state's new menteri besar.
Things have got worse since. On Tuesday, assembly Speaker V. Sivakumar called for an emergency sitting of the assembly but was barred by the civil service and the police. Undeterred, he convened the meeting under a tree.
The House's meeting which was boycotted by all BN representatives decided — unanimously — that Nizar commanded the confidence of the House and that he should request the Sultan for the assembly's dissolution — again!
Meanwhile, BN reps had rushed to court which gave them an injunction prohibiting Sivakumar from holding further meetings. But it isn't clear if the meeting under the tree was invalid — if it was, the order would have had to be retrospective which is unheard of. That implied that Zambry was, indeed, suspended and that the state had drifted into a constitutional black hole.
Both the BN and the opposition have vowed fresh court cases but the problem may not be easily resolved. Most of the calls for fresh polls — except for anonymous commentators on Internet websites — generally tip-toe around the episode's background for fear of offending either the Sultan or the BN
Tengku Razaleigh didn't have any such compunction. To be sure, he has the gravitas to carry off such a statement — some quarters might consider it lese-majeste — because he is a royal himself, being the uncle of the Sultan of Kelantan. In addition, he is an elder statesman of Umno, having narrowly lost its presidency in 1987 to former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by a scant 44 votes.
Why did he think elections weren't called? “The chances are that we (the BN) will lose badly in Perak,” said the Kelantan prince. “That seems to be why they are reluctant to have the Sultan dissolve the assembly.”
“This is not good and I fear for the future,” continued Tengku Razaleigh. “I have no claim for the throne anywhere so I can be frank but I would like to see the monarchy strong. It's unfortunate that it happened the way it did in Perak. But still it depends on what he (the Sultan) will do next.”
For Tengku Razaleigh, the solution is simple. “The rakyat (people) of Perak are his subjects,” he said, referring to Perak's monarch. “So in the end, he has to side with his people.”
In fact, Tengku Razaleigh thinks that Umno should take the lead in the matter. “Umno should be magnanimous and be the first to call for elections,” he noted. “It would be an elegant solution and it would certainly save the Ruler further embarrassment.”
“It may not be good for Barisan but we have no choice,” he said. “We can't go on with this impasse.” — Business Times Singapore