Malaysia opposition rebukes AG’s suggestion that Ismail Sabri need not table confidence motion in parliament
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia opposition lawmakers have criticised the attorney-general after he suggested that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob need not table a confidence motion in parliament, despite an earlier decree by the king that he should do so as soon as possible.
Over the weekend, Attorney-General Idris Harun noted that if Mr Ismail Sabri’s legitimacy still needed to be tested by any party apart from the king, it would mean the absolute power of the ruler could be overridden.
“And this is not in line with the Federal Constitution,” he said in a statement, referring to how the king had named Mr Ismail Sabri as prime minister after meeting 114 out of 220 MPs on Aug 19 to verify their support for the Bera MP.
Mr Idris’s suggestion was rebuked by the opposition. Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) presidential council wrote in a statement on Sunday (Sep 5) that the attorney-general’s suggestion could be deemed treasonous as it was contrary to the order given by the king to party leaders on Aug 17.
A statement by the national palace issued on Aug 18, prior to Mr Ismail Sabri’s appointment, stated that the next prime minister should table a confidence motion in the parliament as soon as possible. It also urged all parties to work as a team.
“His Majesty's statement was also supported by His Majesty the Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and the need for a motion of confidence has been agreed by all party leaders.
“It is important to remember that the AG was present, witnessed and even heard His Majesty's words during this session,” said PH’s statement, according to a report by the Star.
The statement added: “The presidential council considers that the statement of the AG on behalf of the government is very rude, violates the spirit of the Federal Constitution, and even violates the order and is also traitorous against His Majesty.”
In a blog post on Monday, Democratic Action Party (DAP) veteran Lim Kit Siang wrote that the prime minister would be making a mistake in accepting the attorney-general’s advice.
“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong had decreed on Aug 18 that the new prime minister must seek a vote of confidence in parliament as soon as possible to determine his legitimacy, that MPs should work together to focus on the COVID-19 response and economic recovery and that ‘the winner does not win everything while the loser does not lose everything,’” he wrote.
“It would be most unfortunate that it is the new prime minister who is jeopardising the government and the opposition reaching a confidence-supply-reform understanding in accordance with the decree of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,” said Mr Lim.
Weighing in on the issue, Perak opposition chief Abdul Aziz Bari reportedly argued that while a confidence vote to prove the support for the prime minister is not mandatory, such a move has been done “traditionally”.
He noted that a confidence motion was tabled when former prime ministers Hussein Onn and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took power.
The DAP vice-chairman also said that although the practice is not stated in the Federal Constitution, it is not prohibited by any constitutional provision.
“More importantly, it is closer to the spirit of the Constitution. Thus, it can be said that it is a practice or tradition that must be continued. In a situation of a thin and questionable majority, the motion of confidence for Ismail Sabri should be continued,” he said in a statement that was reported by the Star.
Mr Ismail Sabri’s rise to power came amid political turbulence in Putrajaya. Formerly a senior minister in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government led by Mr Muhyiddin Yassin, he was promoted to deputy prime minister on Jul 7 when the United Malays National Organisation was threatening to pull out of PN.
After Mr Muhyiddin resigned, slightly more than half of the 220 MPs in Malaysia named Mr Ismail Sabri as their candidate of choice to be the next prime minister. He was sworn in on Aug 21.
Three leaders from PH were subsequently invited to meet the prime minister.
A joint statement issued after the meeting stated that they have reached consensus on parliament’s role, good governance, judiciary independence and institutional reforms in the context of “Malaysian family”, a concept introduced by Mr Ismail Sabri to promote inclusivity across religious, racial and ethnic boundaries.
Mr Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, also said then that PH will not “complicate” the confidence vote for Mr Ismail Sabri if the government introduces “pro-people” programmes in its COVID-19 management.
Malaysia’s next parliament meeting has been postponed by a week to Sep 13. Some opposition leaders took to social media to highlight that the confidence motion was not included in the meeting agenda.
Mr Lim, the DAP veteran, described the absence of the confidence vote as a “glaring omission”.