Sunday, September 14, 2008

What will Anwar do to become PM?

What will Anwar do to become PM?
By Shannon Teoh

SEPT 15 ~ Over the past week PKR leaders have been nothing but evasive when it came to the question of defections and whether they will take power by tomorrow.

Answering the same questions for the umpteenth time a few days ago, PKR information chief Tian Chua would only say: "The issue does not arise. Barisan Nasional is collapsing.

"What we are talking about is opening a window of opportunity for MPs and parties to think outside the mode."

So the question is: will Barisan Nasional MPs cross over or not?

Journalists and the public at large have been trying to figure this out ever since opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim first made the bold declaration soon after the March general election that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance would take power by Sept 16.

Or has the question of "morality" and "ethics" continuously posed by detractors forced a change of tack?

Early on, even PR leaders such as DAP chairman Karpal Singh called defections a betrayal of voters' trust.

PKR strategist Saifuddin Nasution insisted on Friday afternoon that "we never talked about defections, merely support-.

What he appears to be suggesting is PR is not lobbying for BN MPs to cross over but to show support for Anwar to form the new government.

Anwar has been getting more evasive over Sept 16 and the deadline is now being repackaged as the "beginning of a transformation-.

The official line from PKR is that Sept 16 will kick-start a change of government with only technical matters to be resolved after.

Saifuddin said it was also possible that BN or Umno MPs need not leave their party and simply told us to "study the Constitution and think outside the box-.

According to Article 43 (2) of the Federal Constitution, it is stated that "the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representatives who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House-.

The three key words here are judgment, confidence and majority. Party allegiance is not mentioned.

According to Saifuddin's reasoning, MPs need to only give Anwar their "confidence" in forming a new administration. Since no defections are actually taking place, PR can spin it into a matter of "conscience" rather than "power-grabbing-.

Constitutional experts told The Malaysian Insider that hypothetically, if an MP can prove he has the backing of the majority regardless of party membership, he can be appointed prime minister by the King. This is because neither the Constitution nor the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat make mention of parties and coalitions.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a practising constitutional lawyer, said that any method that convinces the King that someone has the confidence of the majority will be sufficient. The most common would be a vote of confidence or no-confidence.

"But, say, next week, 56 MPs from BN say they are with Anwar, or he produces statutory declarations to that effect, then arguably, Anwar has the confidence of his 81 PR MPs and also the 56. But it is blurred and unprecedented and I don't think it's viable," he said due to the implications and practicalities of party politics.

He did state however that whatever the method of expressing their withdrawal of support for the Abdullah-led administration, they could exit BN and declare themselves independents who back Anwar.

"Practically though, the King would have to order fresh elections," he said.

Although a successful vote of no-confidence, as was attempted by the opposition and pushed for by BN's Sabah Progressive Party earlier this year can signal the resignation of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, it does not necessarily mean Anwar will take over just yet. He would have to show that he commands the majority.

But if BN disintegrates due to a variety of reasons ~ infighting within Umno, pullouts by Gerakan and/or other components, a no-confidence vote - as suggested by Chua, then Anwar could ostensibly tell the King he has the largest non-fractious bloc without a single MP actually leaving his or her party.

"Majority here means the biggest single group. Most of the time it refers to the simple majority, but if there are more than two groups of MPs then the leader of the biggest one shall be appointed PM," explained Prof Abdul Aziz Bari, a constitutional academician from the International Islamic University.

"Our Constitution does not discriminate against the so-called minority government and it is at the discretion of the King and not subject to judicial review," he added.

It would be most likely, however, that Abdullah and the King would dissolve Parliament should it become unclear as to who actually commands it.

But given the ongoing momentum in PR's favour, a snap election would be just what it needs to cement the end of one of the world's longest-surviving governments.

PKR vice-president R. Sivarasa has already said that fresh elections would be held within six months to a year of PR gaining control of Parliament.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that Anwar need only find a way to prove that he has the confidence of more MPs than anyone else for him to finally become PM.

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