‘Lingering’ disconnect between Putrajaya, Istana, may need resolution

‘Lingering’ disconnect between Putrajaya, Istana, may need resolution.

Istana under pressure from the Opposition, shrill social media in particular.

OPINION . . . The Istana has been under “pressure” from an Opposition albeit exercising maximum restraint, and the increasingly shrill social media in particular, ever since Mahathir Mohamad resigned abruptly on Mon 24 Feb last year as the 7th Prime Minister.

The gov’t changed hands on Sun 1 Mar 2020 from Pakatan Harapan (PH) to the new Opposition. This has all the ingredients of a Grecian tragedy. It was PH which had ended the Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 61-year grip on power on Thurs 10 May 2018 when GE14 was held.

Therein lies the roots of the lingering “disconnect” between Putrajaya and the Istana. If Agong isn’t breathing down Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s neck, the Opposition and the social media takes up the slack.

The Prime Minister should know which side his bread is buttered. Let’s keep things in perspective.

In a nutshell, between the Prime Minister as the head of gov’t and the Agong as head of state, the latter wields the executive authority of the Federation under Article 39. Such authority can be delegated by administration — i.e. not to the Prime Minister, Cabinet or any Minister authorised by the Cabinet — but “other persons”. Parliament may by law confer executive functions on them.

Also, the Agong remains the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces, while primarily engaged in external defence, can also assist on internal security matters, without or without martial law.

Since Sun 1 Mar last year, the Istana has noted that PH has never failed to label Muhyiddin Yassin a “backdoor” gov’t and keeps questioning the numbers. PH has enormous support in the social media which has virtually become a bastion of anti-gov’t discussion drowning out the increasingly dwindling number of pro-Muhyiddin supporters.

The Istana walks a fine line. It can’t risk getting caught in the line of fire.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been emboldened by Umno’s open defiance of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) Plus gov’t despite being a member. The Umno Supreme Council has reiterated more than once that it no longer supports Muhyiddin as Prime Minister.

Briefly, BN entered the PN Plus gov’t on Sun 1 Mar last year with 42 MPs including 38 from Umno. The situation has since become somewhat murky. Only 12 Umno MPs and another four BN lawmakers are considered still with the gov’t. Another 26 Umno MPs are in the “unclear” category.

KiniNewsLab, maintained by malaysiakini at newslab.malaysiakini.com, has the latest figures in the “Battle for Putrajaya” . . .

The latest figures uploaded on Tues 27 July shows that Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) has only 50 MPs through three parties viz. Bersatu 31, PAS 18 and Star 1. Bersatu, which won only 13 seats in GE14, has been busy poaching lawmakers from Umno and PKR. The bad blood could not get any worse.

PN’s allies have added 39 seats: GPS 18 seats, BN 16 (Umno 12, MCA 2, MIC 1, PBRS 1), PBS 1 and Independent 1.

There are two vacancies in Parliament. If Muhyiddin can only count on 89 seats, it means that 131 seats are with the Opposition, albeit not as one solid block. PN+ isn’t one solid block either.

PH has as many seats as PN+ i.e. 89 seats including one Independent in Parliament.

The Agong cannot, in law, ignore the figures on the state of the parties in Parliament. Already, the social media has been shouting itself hoarse on the figures.

Muhyiddin doesn’t look good either after calling after calling off the Mon 2 Aug sitting of Parliament which may have seen a no confidence motion against him. It appears that four virus cases were detected, according to Health Dept Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah who isn’t an epidemiologist. Now, the Opposition waits for another two weeks at least before probably deciding the Prime Minister’s fate. Agong can of course act sooner if Muhyiddin doesn’t resign.

Constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi has argued in the media that the Agong can reject advice given under Article 40 by a Prime Minister who doesn’t command the confidence of the majority in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of Parliament. “If the Prime Minister doesn’t have the numbers, he’s not Prime Minister,” opined Shad Faruqi.

It’s an open secret that the relationship between Putrajaya and the Istana has never been quite the same since Sun 1 Mar 2020 when Muhyiddin became M’sia’s 8th Prime Minister. It wasn’t a good start as there were lingering doubts over whether the PM really had the numbers he claimed.

If the Prime Minister had a comfortable majority in Parliament, it’s unlikely the Istana would have issued the statement on Thurs 29 July on the Emergency Ordinances, and Proclamation. The Agong wanted these laws laid before Parliament under Article 150, discussed and debated on whether they should be revoked or annuled.

Annulment means the laws were never valid. That would have opened Pandora’s Box.

Revocation means the laws were valid but, having expired, were no longer so. Under Article 150(7), the Emergency Ordinances would still be in force for another six months.

Again, notwithstanding Article 40, under which the Agong acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Istana has embarked on many initiatives.

The Agong, when push came to shove, virtually went “beyond the call” late last year when he urged support from Opposition lawmakers as well for Muhyiddin’s Budget 2021.

The Prime Minister had no objections when the Agong literally rescued him. The Opposition was unhappy. If the gov’t had the numbers, the Agong would have spared the Opposition an ordeal in Parliament.

Agong met with brother rulers on Wed 16 June and advised the gov’t to reconvene Parliament as soon as possible under Article 55. Much earlier, the Agong said publicly on Wed 24 Feb that Parliament could sit during an Emergency.

On Sun 25 Oct last year, Agong rejected the Prime Minister’s advice on Declaring a State of Emergency. The head of state, after consulting brother sultans, said the pandemic was under control and that there was no need for Emergency.

The gov’t stepped up testing and contact tracing, especially in Opposition-ruled states, more cases turned up and Emergency was finally declared on Tues 12 Jan this year as daily virus cases hovered around 2K.

The expiry of the Emergency sees daily virus cases at 17+ as testing and contact tracing continues to increase. About 98+ per cent of these cases show no symptoms, according to the health authorities.

There are also breakthrough infections i.e. tests showing positive cases among the double dose vaccinated. The Flu-like symptoms are reportedly mild.

Joe Fernandez

+60168012984 (whatsApp before calling)

NOTE: Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez keeps a keen eye on M’sia as a legal scholar (jurist).

Author: fernzthegreat

Joe Fernandez holds a honours degree in management, majoring in economics, and has opted from academia in law to being a jurist. He was trained professionally on the job as a journalist. He's a longtime Borneo watcher, keen on the history and legal aspects of Malaya's presence in Sabah and Sarawak. He teaches the English language privately and has emerged as a subject matter expert in public examination techniques.

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