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Why are statutory declarations used instead of no-confidence votes?

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In recent times, changes of governments in Malaysia, whether at federal or state levels, were carried out through the signing of so-called statutory declarations by members of Parliament or of state legislative assemblies.

This shows that the role of Parliament and state assemblies (also known as legislatures) in calling for either a vote of confidence or no confidence during legislature sittings has been ignored.

So, shall we call it a change of government or political coup? As the process of changing the governments was not carried out inside the legislature sittings, the governments were toppled from outside by way of a declaration of ‘numbers’, while the statutory declarations were only submitted later. So, it should more accurately be known as a coup because the process of a no-confidence vote did not take place in the legislature sittings.

Take the case of the Perak state government that was toppled in 2009. The Barisan Nasional state assembly members did not send a notice to the state legislative speaker to request for a special sitting to table a motion of no confidence against the then-menteri besar. Instead, these BN assembly members held a private meeting in the state Umno office in Ipoh and declared their ‘numbers’ to the press.

Further, the declaration was made by the Umno Pekan MP Najib Razak, who was not even a Perak assembly member. The state opposition leader from Umno did not make the announcement when it was supposed to be his role to do so.

The same goes for what took place in Putrajaya last February. All MPs who did not want to support the Pakatan Harapan government anymore convened a special meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Petaling Jaya (later known as the Sheraton Move) to declare their ‘numbers’.

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They apparently signed their statutory declarations while having their meal and discussions, instead of providing sufficient notice to the Speaker about tabling a motion of no-confidence to remove PH from the seat of the government.

The same situation took place in Johor and Perak, where the state governments were removed from outside instead of having a no-confidence vote in the state legislatures.

In these moves, MPs and state assembly members turned against the mandated administrations from outside the legislature to topple the federal and state governments to establish new administrations, which were not installed with the people’s mandate.

So no matter how much effort these MPs and state assembly members make, whether by signing their statutory declarations, or swearing new ones, their positions are still seen by many as morally illegitimate, because they did not achieve any victory. What all these elected representatives did was to have their ‘numbers’ declared at the state Umno office, Sheraton Hotel, state BN office or wherever, instead of moving their motions of no confidence in the respective legislatures.

The Statutory Declarations Act 1960 has been misused to gain political mileage, obtain power and sideline the sacred constitutional roles of the federal and state constitutions. Does this mean that those elected representative think these constitutions are obsolete, with no more relevance?

If such moves continue to take place, where is the relevance of Parliament and these state legislative assemblies? Are these institutions still a relevant avenue for MPs and state assembly members to have their votes counted or their voices heard? If the roles of these legislatures as an avenue to determine the direction of our nation and the states are no longer required, then abolish them by amending the constitutions or have the entire system revamped.

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The best solution to prevent such moves in the future is to revamp the federal and state constitutions to have the prime minister, chief ministers and menteris besar directly elected by the people. Federal cabinet ministers and state executive councillors should be appointed from among a pool of reliable technocrats or professionals.

The federal and state legislatures should be tasked with providing full checks and balances; discharging their actions through legislative select committees; and overseeing government ministries, state-owned enterprises, statutory bodies and the state administration’s policy implementation and budgetary activities. MPs and state assembly members who wish to be appointed to the federal or state cabinets must first have their legislature seats vacated to allow a by-election to elect a new representative.

To see such changes through, we must have politicians with strong political will to carry them out if we want Malaysia to progress and move forward. Or else, our nation will move backwards.

Source: WH Cheng’s blog

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