Thursday, May 21, 2009

Challenge the Speaker... and Constitution, by default

By Jeff Ooi

Gobind Singh Deo is the MP for Puchong, the constituency where I used to stay and have a house in. Yesterday, I took time off to accompany him to the Kuala Lumpur High Court, where he filed a suit against the Dewan Rakyat Speaker and three others over his 12-month suspension as MP. He is seeking a declaration that the suspension is null and void, and unconstitutional.

If I remember correctly, this is the first time an MP has filed a suit against the Speaker, and to challenge a decision made by the Chair during Parliament proceedings in Malaysia. Gobind's suit against the Speaker is very interesting because, win or lose, he will put the Federal Constitution to test. The Constitution is like a double-edged sword. Mess it around and it cuts both ways.

The difference is, while Gobind is an individual vested with his Constitutional rights -- just like you and me -- but the government of the day will get irreversibly damaged whether it loses or wins in this case. Don't forget, the federal government has a larger stake to risk in Perak, and the Constitution being the sacrificial lamb for partisan politics is being barbecue-ed, slowly moving from medium rare to well-done. Malaysia will get charbroiled in the end. It cuts both ways

Let me help you with some contexts to understand the significance of Gobind's suit. Recently, the Federal Court -- the apex court in Malaysia -- created a precedent that had deconstructed the convention of Separation of Powers in several decisions taken pertaining to the current constitutional crisis in Perak. The Judiciary is now seen to be interfering into and lording over the Legislative, while the favoured party appeared to be the Executive, the federal government of the day.

In essence, the Federal Court decisions demonstrated that it has over-ruled the decisions of a state assembly and its Speaker, which by extension corresponds to decisions made in the Dewan Rakyat and by its Speaker.

Gobind, on the other hand, is testing if the Constitution does not carry double standards and seek the Courts to similarly over-rule the decision of the Dewan Rakyat and its Speaker that he claimed had done him injustice -- suspended from the Dewan Rakyat and stripped of his status, privileges and perks as an MP for one year.

The net effect of whichever the verdict will be, however, will demonstrate whether the Separation of Powers had been pilfered with, and parliamentary democracy had died in Malaysia.

The collapse of the Separation of Powers -- where Judiciary gangs up with Executive to strangle Legislative, or in any other permutations of two versus one -- will pronounce the death of parliamentary democracy.

For your information, N.H. Chan is a retired judge from the Court of Appeals, Param Cumarasamy is a former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and a past president of the Malaysian Bar Council..


Gobind's Suit

Gobind filed the writ of summons at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Registry at noon yesterday. He named as defendants the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Dewan Rakyat secretary and the Government.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker's Decision in Contention

On March 16, Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia suspended Gobind from his “duties as a Member of Parliament for 12 months” for alleging that then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was involved in a murder case and for being in contempt of the House. The suspension came after the Dewan voted for a motion against the DAP MP.

Gobind's Claims

Gobind claimed his suspension was unconstitutional as he was not allowed to defend himself when the motion was approved and that it had contravened equality provisions in the Federal Constitution.

He told the Press yesterday: “You will note that I was not suspended from the Dewan Rakyat but I have been suspended as an MP, so it goes beyond the suspension from attending sittings in the Dewan Rakyat.”

He added that he wanted a ruling from the court on what actions Parliament could take against MPs. Among the other reliefs he is seeking is a declaration that he is entitled to the remuneration and other benefits granted to him under the Constitution. With the decision taken by the Speaker, Gobind, as the "crucified" MP, stands to lose more than RM157,000 in perks and allowances.

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