Friends who watch the foreign TV news channel have asked me whether Malaysia will be able to follow the example of South Korea in the current leadership crisis found in that country.
In the case of South Korea, their lawmakers recently voted overwhelmingly in Parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye over an influence-peddling and corruption scandal. If successful, it will set the stage for her to become the country’s first elected leader to be expelled from office in disgrace.
The impeachment motion was carried by a 234-56 margin in a secret ballot in parliament, meaning that at least more than 60 of Park’s own conservative Saenuri Party members backed removing her.
The votes of at least 200 members of the 300-seat chamber were needed for the motion to pass.
The Constitutional Court must now decide whether to uphold the motion, a process that could take up to 180 days.
“I solemnly accept the voice of the parliament and the people and sincerely hope this confusion is soundly resolved,” Park said at a meeting with her cabinet, adding that she would comply with the court’s proceedings as well as an investigation by a special prosecutor.
Although I am not an expert on parliamentary systems, I think that this option or related ones should be explored by our parliamentarians in bringing closure to the 1MDB and personal bank donation scandals that have plagued the Prime Minister and our country.
It is necessary to point out that there are important similarities in the two cases of leadership crisis in South Korea and Malaysia. Both involve allegations of corruption and abuse of power. Both have seen peaceful crowds rally in support of action to remove their heads of state. Both have also seen their heads of state resist demands that they step down.
According to Wikipedia, a motion of no confidence (alternatively vote of no confidence, no-confidence motion, or (unsuccessful) confidence motion is a statement or vote that a person or persons in a position of responsibility (government, managerial, etc.) is no longer deemed fit to hold that position: perhaps because they are inadequate in some respect, are failing to carry out obligations, or are making decisions that other members feel are detrimental.
As a parliamentary motion, it demonstrates to the head of state (in our case, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong) that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in (one or more members of) the appointed government.
Wikipedia also notes that a censure motion is different from a no-confidence motion. Depending on the constitution of the body concerned, “No Confidence” may lead to compulsory resignation of the council of ministers or other position-holder(s), whereas “Censure” is meant to show disapproval and does not result in the resignation of ministers. The censure motion can be against an individual minister or a group of ministers, but the no-confidence motion is directed against the entire cabinet. Again, depending on the applicable rules, censure motions may need to state the reasons for the motion while no-confidence motions may not require reasons to be specified.
We all know that earlier in October 2015, a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister which was introduced by opposition leader, Wan Azizah, failed to be debated. We also know that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has argued that the motion of no-confidence vote is totally democratic. According to Dr. Mahathir although Parliament may not have any provision for vote of no-confidence, the Constitution which is the the supreme law of the country, states otherwise.
“Article 43 (4) of the Federal Constitution states if the Prime Minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet”.
Separately, the noted constitutional lawyer, Prof. Shad Saleem Faruki has pointed to numerous instances of Prime Ministers from Commonwealth countries being ousted from their positions by votes of no-confidence.
They include 11 successful votes of no confidence in the UK: Lord North (1782), John Russell (1866), Benjamin Disraeli (1968), Gladstone (1885, 1886), Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (1886, 1892), Archibald Primrose (1895), Baldwin (1924), MacDonald (1924) and Callaghan (1979); and 3 in India: Vishwanath Pratap (1991), Deve Gowda (1997) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999).
He has also noted that in Malaysia, although no federal Prime Minister has ever been forced out of office on such a motion, three such instances at the State level illustrate the vitality of the doctrine. These involved Stephen Kalong Ningkan (Sarawak, 1966); Datuk Harun Idris (Selangor, 1976); and Datuk Mohammad Nasir (Kelantan, 1977).
The conclusion that Prof. Faruki has drawn is crucial for our Parliamentarians to note. He writes that
“despite its role in enforcing responsibility in government, there is much uncertainty that surrounds the Westminster technique of a vote of no confidence.”
I think now is the right time for our Parliamentarians (both BN and Opposition) to debate and if possible take a vote of confidence or no-confidence in the Prime Minister.
And if the Prime Minister is so sure that Parliament and the country are behind him, he should in fact introduce it and allow for a secret ballot!
Otherwise this will be another NEP story – Never Ending Problem!