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LETTER | Azhar, you completely miss the point about recovening Parliament

LETTER | I refer to Dewan Rakyat speaker Azhar Harun's (known to us as 'Art Harun') latest article titled 'Danger of quoting the constitution selectively for political purposes'.

It is a long opinion peppered with legal technicalities. But the message is actually quite simple: “The Executive has the power to suspend Parliament under the Constitution, so I cannot and should not complain. The rest of you probably shouldn’t either”.

With respect, Azhar is completely missing the point here. Can the PM suspend Parliament under the Federal Constitution in these circumstances (pandemic and the PM in danger of losing his majority)? Probably. This issue is still being fought in the courts. But that is not the point.

The real issue is: Should Parliament be suspended by the PM, even in the midst of an emergency?

This is where Azhar has been deafeningly silent, and is the real reason people have criticised and felt extremely disappointed with him.

We were hoping for something substantive on why he thinks Parliament should remain suspended (or should not, for that matter), but alas, all we were left with is this gobbledygook.

Azhar may be powerless under the Constitution to reconvene Parliament, but that does not in any way prevent him from voicing out publicly and pushing for Parliament to reconvene. In fact, I would venture to say that that is the constitutional duty of a speaker as the administrative head of the legislature. The legislature is an equal branch of the government, it is not inferior to that of the executive.

So, why is the head of the legislature not standing up for itself, when it is being punched in the face by the executive, day by day?

Instead, Azhar's deputy Azalina Othman Said had to step in to rightfully call for bipartisan support to reconvene Parliament.

In the UK, the country of origin for our Westminster-style of democracy, the speaker has courageously spoken out against executive interference. When Boris Johnson prorogued (suspended) Parliament to avoid his government from being scrutinised by Parliament on the handling of Brexit, House of Commons speaker John Bercow said that the move was “a constitutional outrage”.

Bercow even went on to say: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop Parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country… At this early stage in his premiership, the prime minister should be seeking to establish rather than undermine his democratic credentials and indeed his commitment to parliamentary democracy.”

The UK Supreme Court eventually declared that the prorogation was unconstitutional, and the UK Parliament was reconvened shortly after.

That leadership, courage and fulfilment of one’s constitutional duty as speaker by Bercow is what people expect from Azhar, and we have been repeatedly disheartened.

At the start of his article, Azhar said that he does not “feel the need for any political posturing or any desire to dive into any political maelstrom for the purpose of thrusting myself into political populism”.

Was it targetted towards Azalina, or towards other Opposition leaders? Either way, I don’t view the call for Parliament, the beating heart of our nation’s democracy, to be reconvened as "political populism” – it is simply called “doing one’s job”.

Maybe, Azhar should start doing his, for a change.

LIM WEI JIET is a lawyer and author of 'Halsbury’s Laws on Constitutional Law'.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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