PASOC is now available at most MPH, Borders and Times bookstores through LoyarBaca’s distributors, GerakBudaya. Get yours at those bookstores or here. The book’s first reprint (second impression) is due to be released in the next few days.
Sarawak, 1966. Sabah, 1985. Perak, 2009.
These crises have defined and redefined the culture of Malaysian politics, constitutional law, and the perception of Malaysian citizens of themselves and their state. While such once-in-a-generation events are catastrophic to the rule of law as well as political integrity, as LoyarBaca’s first publication, Perak: A State Of Crisis suggests, being thoroughly informed on and educated about the hows and whys of the Crisis can be cathartic and liberating. If we remain ignorant of these important events, how can we achieve our raison d’etre as an independent people in this post-colonial world, as reflected in editor Audrey Quay’s challenge in the book’s preface: “… it is time to unshackle further. To reject still-existing classism, discrimination, and oppression.”
To say that the Perak Crisis was merely a political and a constitutional crisis would not do justice; rather, the whole episode could be, and has been widely perceived by both laypersons and legal practitioners to be a farce, a drama, a comedy of errors. Deliberately or not, this book heightens the farcical atmosphere of the Crisis with its “Dramatis Personae” and “Perak Crisis Timeline” in the beginning, which help readers make sense of political dishonesty, alleged judicial improprieties and ugly passions that were being fought out in the open.
While the book claims to be “an attempt to capture the Perak Crisis in print”, and boldly proclaims that the book “will help ensure that no similar neglect [of documentation] (as with Sabah and Sarawak) will repeat itself after Perak”, it is not a disinterested account or analysis. Rather, most chapter contributors such as retired judge NH Chan, Singaporean legal scholar Kevin YL Tan and Edmund Bon were at the very heart of the debate on the LoyarBurok blawg in the heat of the Crisis. Their shrill criticisms against the federal appellate courts and the Perak state bureaucracy on the handling of the Crisis create graphic accounts of unconstitutional and illegal actions and inactions, which will upset any reader’s natural sense of justice. This book is not easy reading.
The events leading up to the Crisis are well-known, and thus I will not recapitulate them in this review. However, the specific and relevant legal questions are not as well-known, or they are muddled amidst the hue and cry by the populace during the Crisis. This book, due to the preponderance of lawyers and legal scholars among the contributors, addresses this lacunae that exist in the minds of the populace. From perceptions of judicial bias (Edmund Bon), to an analysis of the appellate court injunction against the Assembly proceedings under the Democracy Tree near the Legislative Assembly (Art Harun), to a blow-by-blow account of the flaws of the High and Federal Court judgments in Nizar v Zambry (the case that was the heart of the Crisis), among others (NH Chan), provide an organised insight into the legal mess created by the events of the Crisis. It is important to remember that the Crisis constitutes six separate court cases (Nizar v Zambry, 3 ADUNs v Sivakumar, Zambry & 6 BN EXCOs v Sivakumar, Sivakumar v Ganesan, Sivakumar v State Secretary, Sivakumar v EC & 3 ADUNs), four of which having been already disposed by the appellate courts at the time of print!
Unfortunately, it is easy to get lost in the legal advocacy of the contributors, which is evident in NH Chan’s decrying of several High and Federal Court judgments as “gobbledegook”. Further, there is no input from anyone from the “Barisan Nasional side” in this book, which might provide readers a different perspective of what happened. This lack of an alternative perspective of events can be seen in the extensive and positive analysis of the High Court judgment on Nizar v Zambry in which the court affirmed Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as the legitimate Menteri Besar or MB, and almost universal condemnation of all other judgments which conveniently were helpful to the Barisan Nasional side. Only Shad Saleem Faruqi, the Malaysian constitutional law expert at Universiti Teknologi Mara provided a close alternative point of view in his concluding remarks, in which he argued that, among others, the Sultan did the right thing by determining whether Nizar had lost confidence in the Legislative Assembly in light of the extremely difficult choices faced by the Sultan during the Crisis.
Nonetheless, all contributors provided excellent legal commentary that also captured the perceived incompetence or bias of the courts. Kevin Tan in his concise concluding remarks stated that there were basically two questions during the fiasco which were addressed by the Federal Court in the Nizar v Zambry case: (i) Is the Sultan constitutionally empowered to refuse a request by the Menteri Besar to dissolve the Legislative Assembly? (ii) Is the Sultan constitutionally empowered to determine whether the Menteri Besar who had made the request for dissolution, had lost the confidence of the majority of the members in the Legislative Assembly without a formal vote on the floor of the Assembly? The Federal Court answered in the affirmative on both counts, which is constitutionally questionable as was advocated by other contributors like NH Chan.
An imperfect record of the Perak Crisis, but nevertheless a necessary reading for all conscientious Malaysians keen on preserving liberty and democracy. A useful tool, perhaps, in proactively combating the looming constitutional crisis in Selangor, 2010?
Raymond is a Fulbright Scholar to Cornell University, pursuing a Master of Public Administration and focusing on International Development Studies. He holds a Bachelor of Law from Osaka University, Japan, specialising in Public International Law. He has years of experience in legal and policy research, journalism and education. Among others, he had spent time working as a Teaching Assistant in Public International Law at Osaka University, a researcher on international political economy at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), and an intern in the Rule of Law Unit at the United Nations Secretariat, New York. Among his publications are “The Paulson Plan and its Implications”, RSIS Commentaries No.106, pp. 1-3, October 2008.