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]

On 28th March 1979, a vote of no confidence was tabled against then United Kingdom prime minister James Callaghan. He lost the vote by 1 vote (311 votes for the motion and 310 votes against the motion). Parliament was subsequently dissolved and a general election was held.

Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Malaya has pointed out that there have been successful votes of no confidence, in Malaysia, at the state level. These cases include “Stephen Kalong Ningkan (Sarawak, 1966); Datuk Harun Idris (Selangor, 1976); and Datuk Mohammad Nasir (Kelantan, 1977).”[8]

The ramifications of PAS’ proposed vote of confidence

Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, a retired Federal Court judge, has opined PAS’ proposed motion of confidence would have no effect whatever its outcome.[9]

In the event he is right, a failed vote of confidence could motivate certain quarters to push for a subsequent vote of no confidence. In the event he is wrong, and the YPDA is of the opinion that Tun Dr Mahathir has ceased to command the majority of the Dewan Rakyat, then either the Executive has to resign or Parliament will be resolved leading to a general election.

It is, however, worth noting that, according to the Dewan Rakyat’s Standing Orders, “on every sitting day Government business shall have precedence over Private Members business.”[10] In effect, this could mean that PAS’ proposed motion may not see the light of day.

Alternatively, PAS’ proposed vote of confidence could be used by Tun Dr Mahathir to further solidify his premiership. With PAS and possibly even the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) backing the proposed vote of confidence,[11] it would be unwise for any Member of Parliament from the Pakatan Harapan coalition to vote against the motion lest it leads to an unexpected general election two years from the 14th General Election.



Editor’s Note: This article also appeared on The Malaysian InsightNew Straits Times, and The Malaysian Reserve

[1] Zakiah Koya, “PAS to push for vote of confidence in Dr M.” TheStar.com.my. The Star. Accessed February 11, 2020. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/02/09/pas-to-push-for-vote-of-confidence-in-dr-m

[2] Ho Kit Yen, “PAS to table vote of confidence in Dr M’s leadership in Dewan Rakyat.” FreeMalaysiaToday com. FMT. Accessed February 11, 2020. https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/02/08/pas-to-table-vote-of-confidence-in-dr-ms-leadership-in-dewan-rakyat/

[3] Anuradha Raghu, “Mahathir Shows No Sign of Handover of Power, Choice of Successor.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg. Accessed February 11, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-12-15/mahathir-shows-no-sign-of-handover-of-power-choice-of-successor

[4] Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution

[5] Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution

[6] For example, in the United Kingdom, The Cabinet Manual, 1st edn (London: Cabinet Office, 2011), p.2 states: “The government of the day holds office by virtue of its ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons.”

[7] Mark Tushnet, Thomas Fleiner, Cheryl Saunders, Routledge Handbook of Constitutional Law (Routledge, 2013), Chapter 6 – Systems of Government: “Should this confidence be withdrawn (by what is usually called a ‘vote of no confidence’), a (written or unwritten) constitutional rule prescribes that the executive (i.e. Prime Minister and major cabinet ministers) must resign.”

[8] Shad Saleem Faruqi, “Negotiating a vote of no confidence.” TheStar.com.my. The Star. Accessed February 11, 2020. https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/reflecting-on-the-law/2015/10/29/negotiating-a-vote-of-no-confidence

[9] V. Anbalagan, “Confidence motion is meaningless, says Sri Ram.” FreeMalaysiaToday.com. FMT. Accessed February 11, 2020. https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/02/11/confidence-motion-is-meaningless-says-sri-ram/

[10] Standing Order 15(1)

[11] Adam Abu Bakar, “Umno hints support for PAS’ confidence vote in Dr M.” MSN.com. MSN. Accessed February 11, 2020. https://www.msn.com/en-my/news/national/umno-hints-support-for-pas-confidence-vote-in-dr-m/ar-BBZP0if