Is Art Harun is prepared to demonstrate his courage of conviction and put his post of Speaker on the line?
The Speaker, Azhar Azizan Harun is in a pretty pickle.
One of the hottest properties on the social media is a 2015 talk show video titled “Art of the Matter: How to Overthrow a Government (Legally)”, where Azhar or Art Harun said a no confidence motion, “by convention or constitutional practice, not by law”, must be the first item of parliamentary business.
However, as Speaker, Azhar has maintained that under the parliamentary Standing Orders, any non-government business can only leap over government business if it receives backing from a minister.
Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had sought assurance from Azhar in a letter dated Sept. 25 that the Speaker will allow a no-confidence motion to go to the floor, stressing that the refusal to do so would be a disservice to the Federal Constitution.
Tengku Razaleigh argued: “The no-confidence motion is very important for several constitutional reasons, including the legitimacy of the current government under the leadership of the prime minister. If the motion is supported by a majority of MPs, then the next constitutional step is to present this to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
“Without the confidence of the Dewan Rakyat, the prime minister has no right to claim legitimacy to the position and avoiding this reality is in bad faith and is a lie against the Constitution.”
Azhar has maintained as Speaker that Standing Order 15 is pertinent as it says government business shall have precedence over private members’ business and that the government business shall be set down as the government thinks fit which is completely opposite to his stand in 2015.
Has Art Harun changed?
I think the issue is whether Art Harun is prepared to demonstrate his courage of conviction and put the post of Speaker on the line, as he is likely to be removed as Speaker if he acts contrary to the interests of the present powers-that-be.
If Art Harun has the courage of his conviction and is prepared to put the post of Speaker on the line, he can act under Standing Order 90 on the suspension of Standing Orders, which reads:
90. (1) Except with the consent of Tuan Yang di-Pertua, the House shall not proceed upon any Bill, amendment, motion or petition which, in the opinion of Tuan Yang di-Pertua, would suspend the Standing Orders of the House or any of them.
(2) A question, the object or effect of which may be to suspend any Standing Orders of the House, shall be proposed only either after notice given, or with the consent of Tuan Yang di-Pertua who shall immediately without debate put the question.
As the President of the Malaysian Bar, Salim Bashir, has written in “Constitution must be followed even in times of crises”:
“The question that arises now is how a lack of confidence is to be measured and to be expressed. One of the primary options is by way of voting on the floor of the House. While the speaker of the House decides on the order of business of the House, a motion of no confidence filed by members of Parliament (MPs) under Standing Orders 26 and 27 after 14 days of notice, ought to be given priority by virtue of convention. Such a motion is implicit to Article 43(4) of the Constitution, which provides for a situation if and when a prime minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the House.”
As the former Perak Speaker, Ngeh Koo Ham said:
“The Standing Orders cannot regulate or control matters provided in the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of our land.
“A motion of no-confidence against a prime minister must not be treated as a private member’s business, subservient to government business, but a matter determining whether the government should still be the government of the day.”
The Speaker can act under SO 90(1) to give consent for a no confidence motion to be the first item of parliamentary business although it would suspend the Standing Orders, and on the first day of Parliament, allow a motion to suspend any Standing Orders of the House by the mover of the no confidence motion, and put the question immediately without debate.
Azhar must, however, be prepared to be Speaker of Parliament for a shorter term than the previous Speaker, Mohamad Ariff Md Yusoff.
Lim Kit Siang
MP for Iskandar Puteri