The Strategic Move Behind Early Snap Polls

There are rumours circulating that there may be snap polls as early as this year[1] to resolve the political crisis plaguing the country.

The Election Commission (“EC”) chairman, Datuk Azhar bin Azizan @ Harun, has stated that the EC is prepared for such an eventuality.[2]

There are a few reasons why it would be more strategic for the Perikatan Nasional (“PN”) government and/or its coalition partners to call for snap polls this year rather than at a later date.

Reason 1: The likely unfavourable youth vote

Although Parliament has passed a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18,[3] the EC appears to only be able to implement this sometime in June/July 2021.[4]

It cannot be denied that the constitutional amendment required bipartisan effort. Nevertheless, it is largely seen to be a Pakatan Harapan (“PH”) initiative especially since it is a fulfilment of Promise 17 of PH’s 14th General Election (“GE14”) manifesto.[5]

Further, with regard to GE14, the youth vote (namely those aged 40 years old and below) has been largely credited as one of the reasons PH succeeded.[6]

PH, at least at the time of GE14, was largely popular with younger voters. If this is still the case, it would be better for PN to conduct snap polls this year rather than wait for new youth votes (namely of those aged 18 to 20) to be thrown into the mix.

Reason 2: The influx of unpredictable new votes

In March 2017, the then Election Commission chairman stated that there were a total of 4.1 million unregistered voters.[7]

Once the automatic voter registration system comes into force, which is estimated to be sometime in mid-2021,[8] these unregistered voters will become registered and will be entitled to vote in any subsequent snap polls.

Since the 4 million individuals are currently unregistered, there are no data sets with regard to their voting patterns/behaviours. These unpredictable new votes may or may not work against PN.

In order to err on the safe side, it would be more strategic for snap polls to be held this year.

Reason 3: The fresh success in containing COVID-19

Shortly after Tan Sri Muhyiddin bin Haji Muhammad Yassin took over the helm, his leadership faced a major test in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has done a sufficiently good job thus far and Malaysia has been hailed as one of the top five countries in the world to have successfully contained COVID-19.[9]

COVID-19 will be fresh on the minds of the voters and it may be strategic to capitalise on this as a talking point in favour of the PN government.

Strategy aside, snap polls would place power back in the hands of the electorate. The issue of the legitimacy of the PN government can be resolved determinatively at the ballot box.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared on Malaysiakini, and The Malaysian Insight


The Final Date To Convene The Next Parliamentary Sitting

The Speaker of the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat), Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff bin Md Yusof, has stated that he will contact Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to enquire whether the first meeting of the 3rd session of the 14th Parliament, scheduled for 9th March 2020, will proceed or be postponed.[1]

The last sitting of the last session of the House of Representatives was on 5th December 2019.[2] Meanwhile, the last sitting of the last session of the Senate (Dewan Negara) was on 19th December 2019.[3]

Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution states:

“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall from time to time summon Parliament and shall not allow six months to elapse between the last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first meeting in the next session.”

Some have equivocated “Parliament” in Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution with the House of Representatives, and concluded that the six months will lapse on 5th June 2020.[4]

However, Article 44 of the Federal Constitution on the Constitution of Parliament states:

“The legislative authority of the Federation shall be vested in a Parliament, which shall consist of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and two Majlis (Houses of Parliament) to be known as the Dewan Negara (Senate) and the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).”

In the present case, reading Articles 55(1) and 44 of the Federal Constitution together, it would appear that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (“YDPA“) has to summon Parliament before the expiry of 6 months from the last sitting of the last session of the Senate rather that of the House of Representatives.

The Eleventh Schedule to the Federal Constitution defines “month” to mean calendar month according to the Gregorian calendar.

However, as will be examined below, there are conflicting cases with regard to the calculation of a “month.”


PAS and its proposed vote of confidence

Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, deputy president of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), has openly stated that PAS intends to table a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament.[1]

According to PAS’ secretary general, Dato’ Takiyuddin Hassan, the proposal to table a vote of confidence arose as a result of rumours that certain quarters were not happy with Tun Dr Mahathir.[2]

It would be reasonable to assume that the dissatisfaction (if true), has to do with inter alia Tun Dr Mahathir’s non-committal vis-a-vis the promised handover of premiership to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.[3]

Commanding the confidence of the majority

A Prime Minister has to, in the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA)’s judgement, “command the confidence of the majority of the members of [the Dewan Rakyat].”[4]

In the event the Prime Minister “… ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the [Dewan Rakyat], then, unless at his request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament, the Prime Minister shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet.”[5]

Such constitutional provisions, not uncommon in other countries,[6] have led to the creation of a parliamentary mechanism known as the ‘vote of no confidence.’[7]


The Education Portfolio & Its Landmines

In the wake of Dr Maszlee Malik’s resignation as Minister of Education,[1] various names have been proposed as his replacement. Possible candidates touted include[2]:

i) Saifuddin Abdullah, the current Foreign Minister;

ii) Mustapa Mohamed, the former International Trade and Industry Minister;

iii) Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a notable economist;

iv) Mohd Sham Mohd Sani, former Vice Chancellor of the National University of Malaysia;

v) Nurul Izzah Anwar, Member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh.

It cannot be denied that Dr Maszlee brought about some notable reforms during his 20 month tenure.[3] However, it was also marred with controversy. During his press conference on 2nd January 2020, Dr Maszlee was quoted as having said:

“I have been seen to be the cause of many crises, including the Jawi calligraphy issue, Internet at schools and the free breakfast programme.”[4]

It is undeniable that the Education portfolio is rife with Catch-22s, resulting in this particular ministerial position being a less than desirable one.


The Zakir Naik Indoctrination

A controversial examination question involving Dr Zakir Naik (“DZN“), allegedly from an Ethnic Relations paper, recently surfaced. The English translation of the question, found in the said paper, is as follows:

“Zakir Naik is one of the icons of the Islamic world, he is very active in spreading true Islam and following the Quran and Sunnah of Rasulullah S.A.W. He is able to reason and to answer every question that is asked to him. However, in Malaysia, he is no longer allowed to deliver his preaching. In your opinion, as a Malaysian, why does this happen?”

The question, controversial in and of itself, goes further to provide multiple choice answers to the question namely:

“1) Malaysians do not bother to receive information

2) Malaysians were sensitive and feel threatened for no reason

3) Malaysians just follow the crowd without verifying any information

4) Malaysians are ignorant about their own religion.”

This is, unfortunately, an example of nothing more than pure indoctrination. The examiner’s opinions about DZN are presented as facts and the examiner’s biases and presupposition pervade the multiple choice answers provided. Actual facts about DZN, on the other hand, are not taken into account.


Fear Not Amendments to/Repeal of the Sedition Act

In his speech at the National Ummah Unity Convention, held on the 25th of August 2019 at KL International Hotel, Mr Aminuddin Yahya, Chairman of the Gerakan Pembela Ummah (UMMAH),[1] inter alia listed 7 threats being faced from UMMAH’s perspective. The full transcript of the speech, in the national language, can be found on UMMAH’s Facebook page.[2]

For summary purposes, the 7 threats translated into English are as follows:

Threat 1: Liberalism Movement

Threat 2: Christianization

Threat 3: Human Rights Movement

Threat 4: Movement To Amend Laws

Threat 5: A Critical Economy

Threat 6: Extremist Movement

Threat 7: An Uncertain Future

This article intends to respond to a certain point made in relation to Threat 4 (i.e. Movement To Amend Laws). According to Mr Aminuddin, amendments to laws and policies such as the Sedition Act, the National Culture Policy,[3] and the abolition of the death penalty, if successful, would continue to the marginalize the position of the Royalty, the Malays, and Islam.