KUAL LUMPUR, SEPT 24 – The appointment of Mohamed Azmin Ali as Selangor menteri besar (MB) was flawed as he went through a selection process, constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas told the International Malaysia Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur today. “What happened in Selangor was absolutely wrong,” the lawyer said in reply to a question from the floor. About 700 delegates, including foreigners, are attending the three-day meeting organised by the Malaysian Bar. He said it was for the party to choose the leader and that was the end of the matter. A delegate raised the appointment process of the Selangor menteri besar, saying he was taught in law school that the chief executive of a state was appointed if he commands the confidence of the majority.

The delegate said the appointing authority must use its discretionary powers in accordance with the parliamentary process. He said it appeared that there was selection and then appointment for the post, in referring to Azmin’s appointment as the MB. “Is this according to the constitution? ” asked the delegate. Thomas, one of three speakers who discussed the topic “The Federal Constitution of Malaysia after 50 years” said one had to look at the United Kingdom, Australia and India to understand what happened in Selangor. He said the Queen had no say as to who became the prime minister of England when John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher in 1990. “The Queen (as head of state) has no role in selecting the head of government.”

Thomas said similarly, the governor-general of Australia, who is also the head of state, had no discretion in appointing Julia Guillard as prime minister. “He did not reject her because she was a woman.” Thomas said the Indian president did not reject Narendra Modi as prime minister. “Well, he did not say to the party that he did not like Modi’s outfit and asked for three other names.” He said even Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak would have said, “Are you kidding? ” Lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah , who is PKR legal adviser, said there was an “interesting” departure from convention as the chief executive of the state (menteri besar) had been appointed when he was not nominated.

The Subang MP borrowed a quote from the Sultan of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah, who had said that monarchs appointed and did not select the prime minister. “Unfortunately, many Malaysians are not clear about it. They said the ruler’s decree must be followed.” Law professor Dr Azmi Sharom, who was a panel member, said it was not sedition to point out a mistake. Azmi is facing a sedition charge for his remark on the 2009 constitutional crisis when he made comments on the Selangor MB impasse last month. “You are absolutely right that there has to be comment from constitutional experts. Constitutional monarchs must hang on to history and preserve the tradition,” he said in reference to the question raised by the delegate.

Azmi said what happened in Selangor was not desirable and legal experts must express their views. Another speaker, Datuk Dr Cyrus Das, said the issue was politicised by both sides of the divide. “We never got an objective assessment of the matter because politicians also put forwards their views,” said Das, a former Bar Council chairman. Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, DAP and PAS) had initially nominated Kajang assemblywoman and PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as Selangor menteri besar. But, PAS nominated three names on the request by the palace but PKR and DAP stuck with Dr Wan Azizah as their sole choice. Twenty-nine representatives had also signed statutory declarations in support of Dr Wan Azizah.

But, the Selangor palace appointed Azmin, the Bukit Antarabangsa assemblyman and PKR deputy president, as menteri besar, and he took his oath of office yesterday. Earlier, Thomas in his presentation took a swipe at Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s attempt to distort the national social contract and for implying that non-Malays had no place in this country. He said the Umno vice-president had deliberately overlooked the Federal Constitution and the social contract from the historical perspective. “His narrative is that non-Malays have no place in the national social contract and this is a complete distortion,” Thomas said, adding that the constitution was adequate in protecting the rights and interest of non-Malays.

“Unfortunately, the majority in Malaysia are suffering from a minority complex.” He said the founding members of this nation, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, and deputy prime minister Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, would turn in their graves over Zahid’s interpretation. On September 13, Zahid had warned non-Malays to respect and accept the “four thrusts” of the social contract, and that the sedition law would be used against those who questioned the rights and privileges of the Malays. The four thrusts were Islam, the Malay Rulers, Malays privileges and the national language.

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