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Hello Insta-readers. If it gets too confusing, it is – try Wikipedia. The matter isn’t who was originally right, but rather who wrought the most damage.

For lighter stuff, check out this video!

And a last bit before you begin, Barisan Nasional (National Front, a fitting name) controls the federal government, and have since independence. Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) controls five states… or four, depending on where you stand. They are the federal opposition in authoritarian Malaysia.

The last blow to the constitution took place just minutes ago in Perak – the Perak State Assembly Speaker was ejected out of the State Assembly, allowing Barisan Nasional to place their new Speaker in his ill-gotten seat. For those not in the know (i.e. my non-Malaysian readers), essentially what happen was that in late January and early February, three assemblymen from the ruling Pakatan Rakyat became independents “friendly to Barisan Nasional”, after spending sometime missing. Two of them were charged on 26 January with corruption, a charge that mysteriously got dropped after the switch.

The Speaker declared those seats vacant, using undated, signed resignation letters from the assemblymen (or ADUN). The Election Commission disagreed and decided the seats weren’t vacant. The Sultan called the 28 Barisan Nasional assemblymen plus the three defectors to meet with him, and then decided that the Mentri Besar (Chief Minister) has lost the confidence of the Assembly, compelling the Mentri Besar to resign. He refused and the constitutional crisis blew out of proportion.

The question here isn’t whether or not the Sultan acted unconstitutionally (I’m not sure – but he did violated the spirit of Westminster convention by not dissolving the State Assembly at the request of the Mentri Besar). What happen next was the Barisan Nasional, the unpopular usurpers (why else would they want to avoid state elections by all means?) escalating the constitutional crisis by eroding and permanently damaging the institutions of democracy in Malaysia. (A better summary here).

Lets look at the casualties:

End of separation of powers: the Courts decided to hear and make an ruling on the State Assembly proceedings despite the fact that the Federal Constitution specifically prohibits this. Interestingly enough, the Courts still have not recognised the 3 March 2009 sitting as illegal, therefore Zambry and his six “executive councillors” are still legally suspended from the State Assembly.
Death of the courts’ legitimacy: A junior Judiciary Commissioner, who would be elevated to be a High Court Judge based on an “evaluation” of his work (thus you see his incentives) was given such a important constitutional case. He made a huge mockery of the constitution by denying Sivakumar (the Speaker) his legal representatives – instead forcing him to be legally represented by the opposing side (the Perak “state government”).
Abuse of police powers: The police have gone out of their way to act in Barisan Nasional’s favour – such as ejecting the Speaker out of the House. This includes the rash of arrests in Ipoh of people eating in restaurants wearing black shirts (fashion police, heh). This includes kidnapping a certain Monash University lecturer and extending his remand without charges.
Perversion of the civil service: The civil service in Perak showed their loyalty to Barisan Nasional by specifically ignoring orders by then-indisputable constitutional and elected office holders – including closing the State Assembly on 3 March 2009.
Erosion of democratic institutions: when the Speaker declared the State Assembly seats of the crossovers vacant, due to signed, undated letters, it wasn’t the Elections Commission competency or responsibility to ascertain the validity of the resignation letters. If the resignation letters have no legal weight, the aggrieved assemblymen could have gotten a stay at the Courts and keep their seats while the courts (who actually have the authority and competency to do this) deliberate. Instead, Barisan Nasional ended all pretenses of the Elections Commission’s neutrality.

On the other hand, BN did the opposition PR a huge favour. PR is made up of three parties – Parti Keadilan Rakyat or PKR (People’s Justice Party), secular, social democratic, Chinese-dominant Democratic Action Party or DAP, and Islamist Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or PAS (Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party).

Despite the fact DAP won the higher number of seats in Perak last year, PAS was given the post of chief minister (the Sultan favoured him, and constitutionally, only a Malay-Muslim could be chief minister). Nizar proved to be a very competent administrator and leader, and his popularity rose – particularly among non-Muslims. And with the coup in Perak, non-Muslims rallied around Nizar, sending him to Parliament in Kuala Lumpur at the Bukit Gantang by-election.

PAS has moderated itself significantly since 2008, and in June, would probably see a rise of the “Erdogun” wing in PAS – liberal Islamists who prefer to cooperate with other opposition parties instead of the ruling Malay-Muslim UMNO (the kingpin of the BN coalition). A year and a half ago, nobody, not even Anwar Ibrahim himself, would have predicted such rapport between DAP and PAS, and the liberalization of PAS.



  1. I think that Malaysia is fast disintegrating as a nation for better or for worse.
    Cultural racism has been the dirge of the country in which economic bases within certain communities who by their feudal culture have been inculcating their supremacy has a clever and successful business community. In the process they run down other communities, they pay their way around problems, then accuse the administration of being corrupt. They run the underworld and are the cause for many crimes in which the hungry man is used to carry out illegal activities on the front line, then when the time comes to pay them for the work done, this white collar gangsters contact their police cronies to carry out a shooting clean up of these front liners who really come from the poverty lines of Malaysian society and are usually of another race.

  2. The political crisis has deeper implications for the whole of Malaysian society. On one had the Barisan Nasional has lost its bearings under the pretext of the Malay Dilemma-Hence the division and erosion of a united Malaysia began. In one aspect it is important to have a balanced leadership rather than a radical leadership. UMNO must convince the nation where their philosophy lies. From the past 20 years or so UMNO has shed its balance and self respect. UMNO needs to do some real soul searching and decide its future direction. The fact remains that Malaysia is Multi-cultural, Multi-racial and Multi-religious. The nations must be saved from two Main detractors (1) Chauvinism and (2) Fanaticism.

  3. It’s sad to read this, not least because I had been thinking of visiting Malaysia over the next couple of months. I wonder how/if this will influence Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia (especially its illegal emigrants to Malaysia), and southern Thailand.

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3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] RISHYAKARAN on Malaysia’s constitutional crisis. Ending separation of crisis, politicization of the civil service, erosion of democratic […]

  2. […] any case, Rajan’s “The End of Malaysian Constitutionalism”is an even better and shorter summary. Mine breaks 2000 words. But his article caters to those […]

  3. […] intiattive over political office, and the electoral commission refused to hold by-elections despite letters of resignation of two […]

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